Analysis of A Bird Came Down the Walk by Emily Dickinson

 

Emily Dickinson was an American poet who had the ability to use simple language in a subtle and unusual way and see great significance in simple and everyday happenings and situations. A Bird Came Down the Walk is such celebration over a simple incident of a bird walking along a side-walk after its morning meal. Dickinson’s wide range of imagery and the philosophical value added to the lines are significant features in the poem. To Emily, nature is a living force, its inmates, particularly animals and birds are personalities with their own quirks and eccentricities, but also has dignity and pride.

 

You can read about the themes in the poem here.

 

Let’s discuss the stylistic devices and the poetic connotations between the lines:

A Bird Came Down the Walk

A Bird: an ordinary bird, it is about a simple incident but the reader is kept curious as nothing can be guessed by the title. Reader might have the question - why did a bird walk down the lane instead of flying in the sky? The title seemingly is about an experience someone had.

 

A bird came down the walk:

He did not know I saw;

He bit an angle-worm in halves

And ate the fellow, raw.

 

Personification: A bird came/ He did not know (the bird is seen as human to show the etiquette it possesses like to human society.)

Juxtaposition: civilized manners vs wild cruelty (poet compares the reality of animal world with the human world.)

Rhyme scheme: ABCB

Point of view: 3rd person - showing the poem is like an observation. However, the writer intervenes at several points with his insights and actions.

Kinesthetic imagery: A bird came down the walk, He bit an angle worm in halves, ate...raw.

 

Poet sees the bird’s action similar to a person walking down a side walk. However, that civilized picture is quickly distorted by the wild action done by the bird, eating an angle worm in halves. Nevertheless, this is presenting nature as it is. A worm is the food of a bird (nothing to create a fuss, isn’t it?), when it comes to the terms of human world, (as the speaker’s voice reveals) that the action committed by the bird is not acceptable. 

 

And then he drank a dew

From a convenient grass,

And then hopped sidewise to the wall

To let a beetle pass.

 

Alliteration: drank a dew (shows the elegance)

Visual imagery: convenient grass (having food without much effort, shows the self-sufficient nature of the nature.)

Kinesthetic imagery: all the actions done by the bird creates a moving picture in the mind of the reader.

 

Through the stanza, the poet reveals that the nature too has its own way of elegance and etiquette similar to human world. This further implies the close observant nature of the speaker who does not miss any single movement of the bird. The bird leaving the beetle pass is an obvious eye opener to the human world who most of the times consume resources beyond their necessities.

 

He glanced with rapid eyes

That hurried all abroad

They looked like frightened beads, I thought;

He stirred his velvet head

 

Like one in danger; cautious

I offered him a crumb,

And he unrolled his feathers

And rowed him softer home

 

 

Visual imagery: frightened beads, velvet head

Enjambment: run on line

Kinesthetic imagery: rapid eyes, stirred his velvet head, unrolled his feathers

Simile: looked like frightened beads, like one in danger

Metaphor: frightened beads (eyes full of fear)

Symbol: crumb (a small part of bread, a man made food)

Anaphora: and (creates a quick pace indicating the quick actions of the bird)

Assonance: rowed him softer home (highlight the dignity and grace of the bird)

Disturbed rhyming scheme: 4th stanza (disturbed rhyming scheme indicates the disturbance of natural order due to the action done by the speaker.)

 

However, the bird is not in its comfortable zone, the sky. It sees the observer and leaves immediately sensing the danger. The poet zooms-in further to the face of the bird which is an indication that the narrator goes closer to the bird. The speaker offering a crumb is ironic as he/she has already seen that the bird has just had its supper and let the beetle pass. This intervention of the speaker is seen in few places of the poem. The bird, living its own life and finding its own food- when the poet-persona offers live food, he flies away with dignity and grace.

The speaker trying to feed the bird puts an end the beautiful demonstration of nature. The action is symbolic because nature has its own self sufficient way, the interventions can only harm this natural order. Therefore, the poet may be suggesting let the nature be as it is. The bird leaving without caring about the crumb provides an anti-climax providing a lesson to the people. 

 

Than oars divide the ocean,

Too silver for a seam,

Or butterflies, off banks of Noon,

Leap, plashless, as they swim.

 

Metaphor: oars divide the ocean – bird opening up its feathers to enter the blue sky/ Too silver for a seam (seam less, leaving no mark)

Contrast: bird’s movement are contrasted with the movement of butterflies off the banks of the river in the evening

Dickinson’s masterful usage of words to provide an enchanting epilogue to the poem. It shows how nature sustains smoothly without damaging the natural beauty. The bird mingling with its comfortable zone creates no stir in the environment but enhances its beauty.

So, this universal experience can be projected to anywhere. It is the duty of the human not to intervene the natural order of the nature as it can only harm the nature not a help. What is your views about the poem? Share your wonderful thoughts to enrich this analysis. Share the post if you find this useful. 

 

Download the worksheet of the poem here:

 

 

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