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Analysis and comments on I dreaded that first Robin, so, by Emily Dickinson

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[41] 42

Comment 13 of 413, added on February 7th, 2008 at 5:26 AM.

I feel that this is about feminism. 'I

josephine from United Kingdom
Comment 12 of 413, added on February 7th, 2008 at 12:14 PM.

If we carefully look at this poem we can see that although it appears to be
a poem that could be seem as feminist, that there is a running theme of a
male presence throughout 'I dreaded that first robin so'. One
interpretation is of males being the 'robin', the 'pianos in the woods',
the 'daffodils', the 'grass' and the 'bees'. These things in nature could
be personified as a man as they all affect Emily Dickinson in some way,
whether it is a fear of a sexual act or of falling in love. The poem also
has the fear of nature coming round again which brings her closer to death,
which is another thing she is fearful of.
Emily Dickinson can also refer to the 'he' that 'salutes her' and goes by
her as any man that would not treat her with respect and an 'unthinking
drum'. The 'tall' man looking for her in the grass would be 'the tallest
one' referring to the man as being perhaps God or the Grim Reaper, who she
can't hide from even in nature.
So this poem has a female element shown by Dickinson when she makes
references to males that are like bees with stings or daffodils that are
foreign to her. As she belives although it is inevitable she will fall in
love, she wouldn't want anyone distrupting her current way of life.

Nix from Armenia
Comment 11 of 413, 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…as a result, Dickinson became a withdrawn person, somewhat of a recluse.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
presence.

- “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
it.

- “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
‘spinster’?

- “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!

Paddy F from United Kingdom
Comment 10 of 413, added on February 15th, 2007 at 9:13 AM.

I think this poem is about her yearnings to be a lesbian. There are lots of
references to being 'hurt' by 'piercing', indicating the male phallus, and
that she is extremely uncomfortable with this. the references to nature are
symbolic of the 'coming' of the male, which is about being impregnated, and
its clear that she has a fear of this. The daffodils also don't accept her,
which I take to mean that she isn't following 'fashion' by being
heterosexual. I get the feeling that she just wants to push away all parts
of the overbearing patriarchal society that constricts her. If we look at
another of her poems, we see the same desire to rid herself of the threat
of masculinity:
'If only I could but brush away
the strands your life consumed,
each comb, each groom,
each tremendous pull -
would lift my eyes so gay.

If only I could but sweep aside
Dead leaves upon my Heart,
And cast them scattered
With joyous sound -
On your retreating tide.

I think this tries to say the same thing about 'sweeping' aside the
shackles of heterosexuality, and joyously throwing them into the eternal
sea.

Rial from United Kingdom
Comment 9 of 413, added on June 1st, 2006 at 7:51 PM.

the poem is really about how dickinson doesnt want change. she doesnt want
spring to come because in spring it is the time where new relationships
start. Since she was rejected by many guys, she doesnt want spring to come
because it will cause her many pain and suffering. That is why she compares
herself to the Queen of Cavalry. She doesnt want change because she doesnt
want to see other people with relationships. The six stanzas describe how
she will suffer and how she rejects change. At the last stanza she accepts
change because it is Nature, since nature was her beauty to her. Well that
is what i think in my interpretation. But i think there are many
interpretations to this poem.=D

mg from United States
Comment 8 of 413, added on May 8th, 2006 at 1:31 PM.

thank you, all these comments have just saved myself and my friend ellie in
an english assignment, we didnt understand the poem, now we do. and all
these two A level english students can add to your debate is that perhaps
"Robin" was the name of her first lover...

margaret from United Kingdom
Comment 7 of 413, added on April 3rd, 2006 at 1:43 PM.

I tend to agree with the comments from Swampfoye. But , I would add the
following: Dickinson seems to be saying that, despite her resistance to
feeling better about herself and her life, Nature lifted her up. Nature did
not care about her profound insecurities and self-pity. It embraced her in
a positive way. The poem is optimistic about the healing powers of the
physical beauty of the world outside. Humans may be judgmental, but Nature
is not.
The poem shows an accelerating trust in Nature that culminates in
capitulation--reluctantly, but willingly feeling better about oneself.

Greg from United States
Comment 6 of 413, added on March 24th, 2006 at 12:32 PM.

I had always thought that "Queen of Calvary" meant that she was speaking
from the point of view of herself lying in the grave, who died in the
winter, and was afraid of the pain it would cause her the first time a
robin, harbinger of spring, chirped. She was reconciled to her own
wintertime death because she left behind winter's desolation, but she
feared that the first robin would bring up a bitter sense of loss, since
she won't be around for summer.

So the first and second verses are about her fear that sound she can no
longer hear will cause her pain; the third and fourth are about how the
yellow color of the daffodil will do the same, and how she wanted the grass
to hurry up and grow over her grave, either to keep the flowers from seeing
her in death, or to keep her from seeing the flowers -- I can't quite tell
which; the fifth could be her reference to sex, since the bees visiting the
flowers often seem to refer to sex in her poems, and here she says they
have nothing to say to her now.

In the sixth and seventh, she says they all came back; none deferred to her
fears, and all salute her, even though they don't realize it, and she
returns the salute, even in her bereavement.

But Miriam from UK has a very interesting idea in thinking it's Winter,
personified. That fits, too. ED certainly personfies Summer in "The birds
reported from the south...".

Or maybe it's LAST summer personified? In that case, why would she be the
Queen of Calvary? Well, that would continue the thought in "The birds
reported from the south" that Summer mourns for her dead.

John from United States
Comment 5 of 413, added on June 12th, 2005 at 5:31 AM.

I have to disagree with those of you who say that this poem is about the
loss of Dickinson's virginity. For a start, I do not think that she is
writing this from her own perspective, as it is clear (as someone pointed
out) that she loved nature. In my opinion Dickinson has adopted the persona
of 'winter' here, and is imagining, if it has or could have 'feelings' what
it would be 'thinking'. This becomes clear especially in the third stanza
when it is mentioned that the fear of the daffodils is because they might
'pierce me with a fashion So foreign to my own', ie the flowers are going
to grow, piercing through the wintery frost and hard soil, and bringing
colour into the world of 'shadow' (this is the actual title of the poem)
that winter has enjoyed. The referral to the bees also, and the 'dim
countries' reinforces the idea that this is the season of winter speaking,
as she asks 'what word had they for me?' - she wants to know what is
happening in the place that winter must establish itself next. The next
clue as to this is the speaker self titles themselves the 'Queen of
Calvary'. I don't see how this could be Dickinson herself, although she had
an obsession with death, I do not think she would refer to herself as that.
Instead, it could be reinterpreted perhaps as the 'Queen of Death', hence,
winter. In short I would say the poem describes the reluctance of winter to
leave and make way for spring (ie the gradual process of death being
replaced by new life and shadow by colour, etc etc).

Miriam from United Kingdom
Comment 4 of 413, added on May 2nd, 2005 at 7:13 PM.

After her other poems celebrating her fondness for the weather, nature and
the changes, she can’t possibly be saying she dreads the spring? This one
man, perhaps, that she’s noticed, singled out, she was afraid of until ‘he
is mastered now’ – has she got control of him? ‘I’m some accustomed to him
grown’ – She was afraid of sex – but she grew accustomed to him. (Most
women do) - He hurts a little though – perhaps this is about her losing
her virginity.

In the second paragraph, she thinks if she could just make it through the
FIRST time, she could survive the loss of her virginity, that she could
overcome both nature and nurture.

She is keeping her relationship unknown – she isn’t like the others – She
can’t even dare to look at them. They are so far above her. The bee’s
perhaps are all the attention that she gets, when really she wants them all
to go away so she could just be alone with him, the Robin. And even though
she is ‘Queen of Calvary’ and making her suffering so obvious – but the
other courters, other men, still pass, with admiration, even as she pouts,
like a child.


Swampfaye from United States

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Information about I dreaded that first Robin, so,

Poet: Emily Dickinson
Poem: 348. I dreaded that first Robin, so,
Volume: Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Year: 1955
Added: Jan 9 2004
Viewed: 30122 times
Poem of the Day: Nov 27 2002


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