illustration of a gray snake moving through a field of green grass

A Narrow Fellow in the Grass

by Emily Dickinson
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Why is the poetry of Emily Dickinson so appealing and thought provoking?

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One of the great strengths of Emily Dickinson's poetry is its spareness and how in very few words she can evoke a particular feeling or universal observation. She was a close observer of the natural world and many of her poems succinctly communicate its wonders. For example, in " ...

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One of the great strengths of Emily Dickinson's poetry is its spareness and how in very few words she can evoke a particular feeling or universal observation. She was a close observer of the natural world and many of her poems succinctly communicate its wonders. For example, in "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass," the poet doesn't identify the subject of the poem as a snake, yet she convincingly describes the sight and sensation of a snake parting the grass and how unsettling that can be to the person who observes it with the phrases "tighter breathing" and "zero at the bone."

"The Bustle in a House" is another short poem with considerable impact. In just two quatrains of very short lines, Dickinson captures the common phenomenon of grief in an apt analogy of house cleaning. She presents "the morning after death" as a brisk sweeping up of emotions, including love for the deceased, that won't be used again "until eternity."

For a woman who chose to live mostly in solitude or in the company of just her immediate family, Dickinson was a keen observer of what public life is like. She understood its transient nature and wrote of it in more than one poem; however, the following four-line poem encapsulates her thinking with laudable economy:

Fame is a bee.
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.
In essence, the poet observes that fame can bring both joy and pain, but also that it is fleeting.
Dickinson's work is often recognized for her many meditations on mortality. One of her most powerful and evocative poems on this subject consists of just two lines:
In this short Life that only lasts an hour
How much - how little - is within our power
The poem is impactful because it so concisely captures a universal emotion; the realization of life's paradoxical nature. Our lives are brief, and in our lifespan, there is so much we can control while at the same time, so much we cannot control. This is a compact observation of the human condition.
The appeal of Dickinson's poetry may lay in its directness and accessibility. Her diction is typically not lofty, but it does reflect profound thinking about the human experience. The poems are short, but not simplistic.

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