10. A Narrow Fellow in the Grass: Emily Dickinson

I wrote this on my last post, but it inspired me to post another Dickinson poem that really hits these ideas home.

You can do a lot of fun things with Dickinson. If you get her original works and compare them to the versions heavily edited by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd it gets students to think about the minutia of language. After they weigh in on which version is more “true” they also tend to feel smarter, because their opinions end up being backed by the text and they leave with a basic understanding of the poem. My wife often uses Dickinson poems to teach grammar; give them the text, and let them put in the “proper” punctuation. Of course, you can also just figure out the meaning.

This was originally published as “The Snake”, but I leave the title off and let my students figure out what she is describing. When I used the title “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” too many people giggle. It is a good poem to use when you require them to offer evidence. They come up with some crazy theories.

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 Boy, and Barefoot–
I more than once at Noon

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–


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