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A Bird came down the Walk

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A Bird came down the Walk

"A Bird came down the Walk" is a short poem by Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) that tells of the poet's encounter with a worm-eating bird. The poem was first published in 1891 in the second collection of Dickinson's poems. Helen Vendler regards the poem as a "bizarre little narrative" but one that typifies many of Dickinson's best qualities.

Contents

Summary

The poet encounters a bird on the walk who eats a worm, drinks a dew from the grass, and steps aside to let a beetle pass. The bird then glances about, apparently frightened. The poet offers the bird a crumb but the bird takes flight. The poet observes that the flight of the bird is "softer" than that of a boat being rowed on the water or that of butterflies plunging soundlessly into space.

Critique

Helen Vendler describes the poem as a "bizarre little narrative" and likens the poet to a reporter observing a murderer in the act, and later, pretending fear that the murderer may be dangerous to herself and must be mollified by a "crumb". The bird takes flight and Vendler regards what follows - the description of the bird in flight - as "the astonishing part of the poem". Vendler notes that the poem typifies Dickinson's "cool eye, her unsparing factuality, her startling similes and metaphors, her psychological observations of herself and others, her capacity for showing herself mistaken, and her exquisite relish of natural beauty."

Harold Bloom notes that the bird displays a "complex mix of qualities: ferocity, fastidiousness, courtesy, fear, and grace", and writes that the description of the bird's flight is that seen by the soul rather than the "finite eyes".

Vendler observes that Dickinson wrote two versions of the middle portion of the poem. The version she sent to her literary mentor Thomas Wentworth Higginson has no punctuation after "Head" and a period after the word "Cautious". In Dicksinson's personal copy, there is a comma (not a period) after "Cautious". In the first version then, the bird is cautious, but in the second version, it is the poet who is cautious. In the fair copy, both a period and a dash follow "Head", and a comma follows "Cautious". The fair copy version is the one usually printed, and, as Vendler notes, this version accords with Dickinson's comic sense. Dr. Chuck Taylor, poet and professor, believes this naturalistic description of a bird to be also symbolic. The description of the bird taking flight lightly suggests the same potential ease of journey for the soul to heaven, in spite of imperfection, such as killing to eat, as the bird eats the angle worm.

References

A Bird came down the Walk Wikipedia


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