Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
This is a poem about making a journey into nature, one of the characteristic themes of American literature. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau—two members of the Transcendental movement in American literature, with whom Dickinson has frequently been compared—such an excursion into nature could put human beings in contact with the higher laws of the universe. Dickinson’s poem offers both an exploration and a critique of this view. Hers is a poem about coming into contact with nature—moving from a distance to proximity with nature—but more important, it is a poem which contrasts the perceptions of nature from a distance with the reality of nature experienced at first hand.
Although the poem begins with an Emersonian view of nature as accessible to human understanding, it moves from the perception of the snake as a familiar acquaintance to the snake as something which can freeze the speaker with terror. The poem recounts the dissolution of the speaker’s sense of ease and familiarity while in nature. The startling encounter with the snake, in fact, evokes his need to assert and reaffirm a sense of connection to the natural world. His assertion of a knowledge of “Nature’s People” indicates his desire for a personified nature that he can know. In short, the speaker needs to believe that nature can still function for him—as it did for other Transcendentalists—as the means for “transport” to some higher yet friendly...
(The entire section is 428 words.)
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