"A Bird came down the Walk" by the poet Emily Dickinson is a five-stanza poem concerning her perceptions upon seeing this winged creature go about its daily activities. It is her observation of the natural world as it coexists with man's increasingly modern society approaching the 20th century. She sees the bird approaching from down a sidewalk in her community.
She sees the bird in its natural, splendid beauty engage in acts that it must engage in to survive. Although the bird looks like a peaceful creature, it must forage for food to live and therefore goes after a worm and devours it. Consequently, this taints her view somewhat of this creature that she realizes has a killer instinct as well.
She also sees the gentleness in the bird, who acquiesces to a beetle:
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—
In essence, the bird mirrors the actions that humankind takes. We can be harsh and gentle, alternatively, as it suits our purposes. The bird in the poem looks around to see who has witnessed its actions; we often do the same in our interactions in society. Sometimes we act harshly and then feel ashamed and guilty for what we have done. Sometimes we know we have to be aggressive and do what it takes to survive – within reason and within the law. In this poem, the bird is doing what birds do, it is what is inbred in them, and the author observes these actions and is somewhat surprised at the complex personality of a bird that she looked upon as a gentle creature.
At first, this poem appears to be nothing more than a simple reflection on nature. Dickinson employs simple themes about domestic life and nature in many of her poems. In this first two stanzas, the speaker watches as a bird happily eats a worm, hops down the garden path, and drinks from grass. In the third stanza, the bird suddenly becomes aware of the human presence and becomes frightened and cautious. In the fourth stanza, the speaker attempts to make a connection with the bird by offering it some crumbs. Unfortunately, this action frightens the bird who then flies off. The final stanza compares the bird's wings cutting through the air to oars cutting through water.
Many readers feel that this poem simply reflects” the danger, beauty, and fragility of nature.” However, I feel that there is another element at work here. Those who have studied Dickinson know that her neighbors considered her to be an eccentric recluse. Her hermit-like behavior became so prevalent in her later life that she rarely left her room and was “unable” to even speak to guests. It is important to note that the bird is happy to exist by itself and only becomes fearful when approached from an outside presence. I believe that Dickinson is making a subtle comparison between her own nature and that of a bird who would exist by itself and fly away from others. The bird is not only admired by the speaker who appreciates its "velvet head" but is also personified with emotions.