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 type of poem is "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"?

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This is one of Emily Dickinson's more intriguing poems, written in six quatrains with a regular rhyme in the second and fourth lines alone. The majority (though not all) of the rhythm is iambic, with the stress falling on the second syllable of each foot. However, what is more interesting when we think of what kind of poem this is, is the way in which, like with some other of Dickinson's poetry, it presents us with a riddle that we need to read the poem very carefully to answer. It is interesting that the poem never once uses the word "snake," but reading between the lines we can infer that the poem describes this creature by talking about how it looks and its habitat, and then recalls a childhood encounter with a snake. The poem ends by telling us that it is the only creature in nature that causes terror in the speaker:

But never met this fellow,

Attended or alone,

Without a tighter breathing,

And zero at the bone.

Note the assonance in this last phrase, combined with the strong and exact rhyme of "alone" and "bone" brings a sudden, chilling end to the light tone that came before the final stanza. The snake is shown as a figure that produces terror in the speaker and ends the poem with a sudden shock.

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What exact style of poem is "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass," free style or blank verse, rhyme maybe?

Dickinson's meter is famously irregular, but one way to think of it is as a form of ballad meter, which uses alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. There are examples in the first two stanzas of this meter:

a NAR row FEL low IN the GRASS

o CCAS ion NAL ly RIDES

or, second stanza

the GRASS di VIDES as WITH a COMB

a SPOT ted SHAFT is SEEN

Dickinson doesn't really follow all the "rules" for ballad meter. For one thing, ballad meter generally follows an ABCB rhyme scheme, but in the poem only the final two stanzas follow this pattern. And Dickinson uses many lines that depart from the iambic tetrameter/trimeter scheme.

Less important than a technical analysis of meter is an appreciation of how Dickinson's rhythm affects the meaning of the poem. If you read the poem aloud, it's clear that there is a kind of jerky quality to the rhythm, as Dickinson adheres to and departs from the ballad meter form. This quality reinforces her dream-like meditation on the snake (is it a snake or a whip? Is nature "cordial" or frightening?).

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What exact style of poem is "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass," free style or blank verse, rhyme maybe?

The most consistent feature of the poem is the iambic rhythm pattern - sets of two syllables with the accent on the second in each set. This means it is not free style, a poem with no specific rhyme or rhythm structure. Blank verse uses the iambic rhythm structure, but usually with a pentameter line, meaning five sets of two syllables or a total of ten syllables per line. "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" does not follow this standard, since lines of the poem might have six, seven, or eight syllables.

A nar-row Fel-low in the Grass
Oc-ca-sion-al-ly rides
You may have met Him - Did you not
His no-tice sud-den is
The only absolutely true rhyme in the poem is in the final stanza, using the words "alone" and "bone." In other stanzas, there are close rhymes based on similar vowel or consonant sounds but not a perfect match. "Rides" and "is" both have the final "s" consonant but are not truly rhyming words due to the different vowel sounds preceding the consonant.

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