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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What feelings do “tighter Breathing” and “Zero at the Bone” suggest in "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"?

Quick answer:

“Tighter Breathing” and “Zero at the Bone” suggest the feeling of fear. The speaker has had encounters with many different animals over the years, but none that inspires such fear as the snake in the grass.

Expert Answers

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“A narrow Fellow in the Grass” details an encounter with a snake. Though written by a female poet, Emily Dickinson, the speaker is a male. We know this because of the following lines:

But when a Boy and Barefoot

I more than once at Noon.

Initially, the poem deals with descriptions rather than emotions. The speaker describes, in impressionistic detail, how the snake tends to surprise people as it moves about in the grass, dividing it as a comb parts hair. The long, spotted creature is seen for the briefest of moments before slithering away to pastures new.

The speaker then goes on to tell us that the snake likes to live in boggy marshland and cool barn floors. But when the speaker was a boy, he also used to see the snake out in the sun, in broad daylight. On one such occasion, he mistook the snake for a discarded piece of a whip before it suddenly slithered off.

From these somewhat detached descriptions of the snake, we might reasonably infer that the speaker isn't scared of this creature. But in actual fact, he feels nothing but fear every time he sees one. He has encountered many creatures in his time, but none of them have left him feeling breathless and frozen with fear. That's how the snake makes him feel, whether the speaker's alone or in company:

But never met this Fellow

Attended or alone

Without a tighter Breathing

And Zero at the Bone.

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