Emily Dickinson’s Encounter with a Narrow Fellow in the Grass

You’re walking innocently barefoot through the grass– is that a whip unraveling in the sun? What do you do, when you stoop to pick it up and suddenly it moves!?


“A Narrow Fellow in the Grass”

by Emily Dickinson

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him,—did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,–
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.


This poem is more often referred to by its first line “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass”, but was originally published as “The Snake”.

I love Emily’s Discovery Channel imagery of a snake parting the grass, and comfortably slithering over boggy acres and floors too cool for corn. I like the reminiscing narrative as well. The speaker recalls walking through the grass barefoot as a child and noticing a whip (or lash) that seems to be coming apart in the sun. The child stoops to pick it up– it moves! The reaction described in the last two lines, is what I truly enjoy best about this poem.

“Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone”

Is there any more apt way of describing the shock of suddenly seeing a snake? It makes me perfectly picture the stiff breath and frozen feeling of fright. When I read it, I even find myself imitating that moment.