February 14, 2012

Emily Dickinson's "The Snake"

A young woman in Amherst, Massachusetts published a poem on February 14, 1866. The front page of that day's issue of the Springfield Daily Republican included the first publication of a poem labeled "The Snake" (possibly a direct response to John Greenleaf Whittier's "Barefoot Boy"). It is one of only a handful of known poems which Emily Dickinson saw published in her lifetime.

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.

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