Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

Perhaps because it is one of only a few poems that Dickinson agreed to publish in her lifetime, “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” has received a great deal of critical attention. The famous critical biographer George Frisbie Whicher, in his This Was a Poet, writes of the poem’s first publication in 1866. According to Whicher, no readers in Dickinson’s day appreciated the poem’s “quaint wizardry of precision,” nor did her contemporaries seem to recognize “that nothing at once so homely and so unexpected, so accurate in image and so unpredictable in its aptness, had yet appeared in American poetry.” In fact, Whicher, who calls the poem a “tiny masterpiece,” goes on to point out that the only notable comment made about the poem was a question concerning how Dickinson, a woman, could have known that a boggy field was bad for corn.

Another critic, Cynthia Griffin Wolff, writing in her literary biography Emily Dickinson, praises “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” as “perhaps the most nearly perfect poem addressing a nature possessed of some compelling mystery.” Wolff describes how the poem “moves the snake into some undefined psychological relationship with the speaker, a move away from simple realism toward a portent of danger.” According to Wolff, the poem begins with the “civilized” experience of an adult describing the motion of a snake, “then moves beyond the boundaries of arable land, into the swamp where not...

(The entire section is 383 words.)