A poem 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.

Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) was born into a distinguished Amherst, Massachusetts, family: Her grandfather was a founder of Amherst College and her father a distinguished attorney and U.S. congressman. A brilliant student, Emily Dickinson entered Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary when she was 17 but withdrew within the first year, possibly because of poor health but possibly also because her refusal to sign an oath professing her Christian faith marked her as an apostate and made life at the seminary uncomfortable. In 1862, Dickinson submitted some of her poetry to the Atlantic Monthly and began corresponding with its editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who admired her work but wished her to revise it so that it was more conventional, which Dickinson refused to do. She published only a few of her poems during her lifetime. Far less Romantic in language and tone and far more modern in sensibility and phrasing than the poetry of other 19th-century American poets, hers is clearly the work of a poetic talent of the highest caliber. “Snake” is believed to have been composed in 1865. The existing manuscript version, to be found in the Belknap Press edition of The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson, reads “boy” instead of “child” in line eleven. The version of the poem printed here is in the public domain.

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