Comment 11 of 209, added on March 14th, 2007 at 1:53 PM.
“I dreaded that first Robin, so,” – Emily Dickinson
This poem was written in circa 1862, when Emily Dickinson’s production of
poems was at its apex. By this time her lifestyle had changed and there
are suggestions that she had been affected…
- perhaps a suggestion of rejection
- a spiritual or religious rejection
…as a result, Dickinson became a withdrawn person, somewhat of a recluse.
Clearly, as the “Queen of Calvary” (Calvary being the mountain on which
Christ was crucified, suggesting extreme suffering – an embodiment of
torment) she found aspects of life painful and difficult, I ask you to
question whether in this poem, she finds confronting the boldness and
audacity of nature a painful experience. Although there are many
suggestions of her losing her virginity, the imagery is transparent, and
can be interpreted in many ways.
Some possible readings of the poem…
- A quiet, socially withdrawn hermit suddenly confronted by the richness,
the profusion, the unruliness of nature. Something which, at this time in
her life, was completely opposite to her, she felt threatened and
challenged by it.
- The “Robin” which she so dreads, could symbolise the change from winter
to spring, its rich red breast and urge to survive emphasises for
Dickinson, the richness of life. It evokes in her, anxiety.
- “But he is mastered now” – Dickinson has become used to the sight of the
Robin, it is a common sight in spring and she knows that she has to adapt.
She is “some accustomed” but still feels somewhat uncomfortable in its
- “Till that first Shout got by” – could be an image of / a reference to
birdsong. In contrast with the winter, the birdsong of spring is
significantly much louder, also, take into account that she lived in rural
Massachusetts, in spring, the birds would flock in by the thousands.
Perhaps the apparent happiness of the birdsong depresses her. Furthermore,
Birdsong is territorial (Birds ‘sing’ to ward off other birds from their
nesting areas), perhaps she feels as if her space, her home, has been
invaded by these hostile, protective birds. Her reference to “Pianos in
the woods” suggests that too, like the Robin, she eventually gets used to
the bird song. “Pianos” is another term for a ‘soft sound’.
- “I dared not meet the Daffodils” – the “Yellow Gown(s)” of the daffodils
are bright, colourful, fashionable (for the season), makes her feel dull
and dowdy. The bright colours “pierce” her vision, they dazzle her. In
comparison to her traditional, simple clothes, the daffodils seem
“foreign”, they are bold and elegant and majestic – and they do not hide
- “I could not bear the Bees should come” – again, she compares the bees to
herself and is depressed/threatened. The bees have a purpose – they are
here to pollinate, create new life, make honey, reproduce – they are the
fertilisers of Mother Nature, and what is she? A reclusive spinster – she
feels inadequate, unproductive.
- “I wished the Grass would hurry” – this is a problematic stanza for me.
Perhaps Dickinson urges the grass to grow so she can hide herself in it, a
sort of camouflage. Perhaps she feels that if the grass is taller than she
is, it cannot see her – but at the same time, it will smother her,
overshadow her and ultimately look down on her.
- “They’re here, though; not a creature failed -” Despite her feelings,
nature is unavoidable. Nature is not kind to her, it does not respect her
(deference) and so, she suffers – and so she thinks – she suffers more than
anyone, she is the “Queen” of suffering. Nature existentially crucifies
her. NB: Nature is amoral, indifferent to her – why should it stay away
just for her? It is important to consider whether Dickinson realises this.
- “Each one salutes me, as he goes” – Although she is hostile to nature, it
is not hostile back. They acknowledge her – the plants and bees and birds.
And it is the boldness of nature, its productivity, freshness, vitality,
that makes her feel ultimately “childish”. In comparison, she is not as
serious as nature, she is just a ‘half-cracked poetess’.
- “Lift, in bereaved acknowledgement” – bereaved because… she realises that
opportunities to make something of her life have gone – is she too old for
love and productivity? Has she been stained by the lowly status of
- “Of their unthinking Drums” – for me, this is an image of the loudness of
nature, its extravagance; how all the colours, smells, noises, feelings or
nature really jump out at Dickinson, how they contrast painfully to the
dreariness of her life. This boldness however is “unthinking” – nature is
unaware of her, it doesn’t flaunt itself on purpose – that’s just the way
it is. The birds sing, the bees buzz, the grass grows and the daffodils
salute her and dazzle her with their colours – but not intentionally. Her
conflict with nature is entirely personal.
So, to conclude, I think that this poem is a personal poem, a somewhat poem
of confession. It is Dickinson’s “cri de Coeur” (cry from the heart).
Developing into a recluse and being affected by what could possible be a
love/sexual rejection, she looks at her own life and sees how dull she is,
compared to the vitality of everything around her. It is vital to explore
how she presents nature (as this is a core theme of hers) in other poems.
In “There’s a certain slant of light” she explores how winter affects her –
perhaps she suffers seasonal affective disorder. If however, this poem is
a poem about sexual intercourse, and losing her virginity, I believe that
there is only so much to write about. There are limited quotations to
comment on other than that of “Piercing” “shout” and the personification of
“Him”. It may be an underlying theme, although the poem, at least to me,
is dominated by nature. In an exam, I would certainly take this stance on
the poem, as it is also easier to link with other poems.
Hope this helps somebody!
from United Kingdom