“A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” is believed to have been written in 1865. A year later, it was published anonymously under the title “The Snake” in a journal called the Springfield Republican. The natural world is portrayed vividly throughout Dickinson’s work, and this poem closely examines one of nature’s most infamous creatures, the snake.
The poem begins with a description of the shock of encountering a snake. Although the poem’s speaker never actually uses the word “snake,” the scene is familiar enough for most readers to relate to it. The snake is almost magical as it moves, ghost-like, through the tall grass. The speaker sees only flashes of the snake’s scaly skin, but there is evidence of its presence as the grass separates in its wake.
The poem goes on to illustrate how snakes can be deceptive. The word “barefoot” makes the speaker seem even more vulnerable to the serpent’s potential threat. Mistaking a snake for the lash of a whip on the ground, the speaker reaches down to grab it and is startled to see it slither away.
The snake, one of the most notorious creatures in the natural world, has long been a symbol of treachery. Although the poem’s speaker claims to be a lover of nature, it seems that the snake, while fascinating, is impossible to love. In fact, the speaker reacts to the snake as if it were a living manifestation of the terror of the unknown, for it is both startling and chilling.