I dreaded that first Robin, so,
But He is mastered, now,
I’m accustomed to Him grown,
He hurts a little, though —

I thought If I could only live
Till that first Shout got by —
Not all Pianos in the Woods
Had power to mangle me —

I dared not meet the Daffodils —
For fear their Yellow Gown
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own —

I wished the Grass would hurry —
So — when ’twas time to see —
He’d be too tall, the tallest one
Could stretch — to look at me —

I could not bear the Bees should come,
I wished they’d stay away
In those dim countries where they go,
What word had they, for me?

They’re here, though; not a creature failed —
No Blossom stayed away
In gentle deference to me —
The Queen of Calvary —

Each one salutes me, as he goes,
And I, my childish Plumes,
Lift, in bereaved acknowledgment
Of their unthinking Drums —

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem I dreaded that first Robin, so,


  1. number 1 fan! says:

    At first glance i think emily’s poems look interesting but look very complicated. Then once you break the poems down and look deeper into them one realises how amazing they are and how much meaning she put into every word.
    I think this poem is truly amazing. Although it can be interpretated in many ways i feel that the main interpreation is of a sexual nature.

  2. Me says:

    This poem can be interpreted in many different ways, but I think Emily Dickinson personifies the “robin” as being a man and the poem is reminiscent of a developing relatiionship. Emily does not seem prepared for the relationship and she writes that he is “mastered” perhaps revealing a man and wife relationship where the man has the upper hand. I also think that this poem reflects a natural cycle, e.g. the forming of relationships and the loss of her virginity. In this poem it seems she is afraid of change-“i dared not meet the daffodils” as if she does not want to except the change of season reflecting perhaps her change of relationshiip with a man. I think the loss of Emily’s virginity is something that is apparant within the poem and the nature reflects fertilisation and perhaps pregnancy, something Emily seems afraid of.

  3. loz says:

    I feel that this poem has a sense of nostalgia as it concerns the loss of childhood. When Dickenson’s “childish plumes lift in bereaved acknowledgment of the unthinking drums” she is exploring the journey from innocence to experience, which is manifested through the enevitable cycle of nature.

  4. Alexis says:

    For me “I dreaded that first robin so” is the cry or scream for freemdom from a female oppressed by those around her ( a higher power) it feminst undertones seem clear especially in the last stanza “Each one salutes me as he goees…of their thinking drums”.

    The personna in the poem seems to go on some sort of journey into womanhood “mastering” her fear of the first robin (a symbol that could be seen as a romantic relationship) to the realisation of her own worth “…the tallest one could stretch to look at me.”

    And while the sexual connotations of pierecing, birds and bees could clearly over take the text as one of it’s key themes- (Of they depiction of a woman coming to terms with the idea of losing her vriginity) It seems to be that this text has so much more than that more the detailed description of a women dealing with letting some on into her life- even though they may tainted her with their “Yellow gowns…so foreign to her own” and allowing them to view a private part of her being. While allowing herself to be effortlessly drawn to the hauntingly beautiful “piano in the woods”

  5. J to the Bizzle says:

    The comment made by ‘mg’ of the United States interests me. Although I agree that the poem highlights Dickinson’s fear of change, I think it may stem from a worry deeper than just relationships. It could be interpretted that Dickinson uses the symbols of spring and nature to highlight time passing- a notion she is scared of as it brings about death and a sense of lonliness, both of which haunted Dickinson throughout her life. It could, therefore, be believed that Dickinson inverts the common idea of spring to in fact draw upon the thought that the passing of time is a negative thing, but not solely in terms of relationships.

  6. Careena says:

    I think Emily Dickinson is talking about marriage; she personifies the robin as a man perhaps. ‘But he is mastered now’ could mean that she is accepting the fact that she is married and she has to live with it, similar to the marriage vows “till death do us part”. Emily is saying that she is dedicated to her husband and that she feels that he owns her, she is ‘accustomed to him grown’ means that she owes him her body and the right to take her virginity. She says that she ‘dare not meet the daffodils’, maybe meaning that she dare not look at other men as it is a sin now that she is married. She fears that being married will change her and it will be an irrevocable change that can not be changed.

  7. Careena says:

    I think Emily Dickinson is talking about marriage; she personifies the robin as a man perhaps. ‘But he is mastered now’ could mean that she is accepting the fact that she is married and she has to live with it, similar to the marriage vows “till death do us part”. Emily is saying that she is dedicated to her husband and that she feels that he owns her, she is ‘accustomed to him grown’ means that she owes him her body and the right to take her virginity. She says that she ‘dare not meet the daffodils’, maybe meaning that she dare not look at other men as it is a sin now that she is married. She fears that being married will change her and it will be an irrevocable change that can not be changed.

  8. ♥♥♥clare♥♥♥ says:

    I believe the meaning of this poem lies in the various interpretations of what or who the Robin symbolises.
    If we take the poem at face value and take the Robin to be nothing more than a robin then the poem clearly centres on the beauty and boldness of nature. With Dickinson being such a clear lover of nature, this reading is completely possible, with repeated reference to aspects of spring, the daffodils, bees and blossoms.
    However, I believe there is much more to this poem than just an appreciation for the seasons. Many of her poems centre on themes of death, love and relationships.
    If the robin becomes symboic of a male figure then the whole reading of the poem is turned on it’s head. “He hurts a little though” becomes a possible reference to either a sexual encounter or to a painfull emotional one. The interesting use of the verb “mangle” in the second stanza implies a transformation from childhood to maturity brought about by her first sexual experiance.
    I believe it is more likely that the male figure and her encounter with it is that of her father, or to other dominant male figures in her life of which there were many. Many feminist ideas are shown throughout this poem, the idea of “gentle indefference” implies disrespect towards her and the domminance and monotonous image of the “unthinking drums” could be interpreted as the cold, unfeeling attitude of men towards women in society at the time.
    “The yellow gown” could be interpreted as a wedding gown which feels “foreign” to her, and she is forced to raise her “childish plumes” to the men that pass through her life.

    These are just a few readings and i know there are many more.

  9. Dame Helen says:

    ‘I dared not meet the daffodils,’ here Dickinson is expressing fear of change, the word ‘dared’ poses the idea of fear and the image of ‘daffodils’ represent nature and the passing of seasons. Perhaps the fear could be about change brought by a relationship underlined in the first stanza, ‘But he is mastered now,’

  10. Paddy F says:

    “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!

  11. Rial says:

    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.

  12. mg says:

    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

  13. margaret says:

    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…

  14. Greg says:

    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.

  15. John says:

    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.

  16. Miriam says:

    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).

  17. Swampfaye says:

    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.

  18. James says:

    I had always assumed that Dickinson feared the coming of the Spring because it would throw into relief what she had endured through the Winter. The Spring serves to remind her, or highlight through comparison, all that Dickinson denies herself through her withdrawal from society.

    She has accepted that she can no longer partake in the rich vitality of a society emerging from its Winter slumber, so she must be content to watch, to remember when she could enjoy what others benefit from. I have always assumed that her references to the pianos in the woods related to the harmonic music of returning birds, which would drift in to her room and remind her of what lies ahead – a season of growth, fertility and celebration, all of which lie beyond her immediate grasp.

    Her reference to the Queen of Calvary reiterates her role as sufferer here, and though she wishes all of Nature to pass her by, or to leave her alone, it will not. These events recognise and greet her – “salute” – unaware of the difficulties they provoke. Anxiety sufferers often feel cut off from the world, and see it as uncaring. They want to go outside and play in the sunshine but the fear is almost unbearable.

    Just as an earlier post assumed this poem was about sex (Dickinson could be extremely playful at times) I have always thought she was exploring her agoraphobia through this piece. When it is winter nobody spends any significant time outside so Dickinson was able to soothe her anxiety. However, when Spring arrives, so does her desire to enjoy the outside world run headfirst into her panic when faced with external environments.

    Dickinson must have been fascinated by her mental condition. Fear of fear itself must have played upon her constantly: “dread”, “dared not”, “Could not bear”. I believe this poem possibly explores her fascination with a world that frightened her, a world which seemed indifferent to her mental sufferings – but of course it would be because her fear was all in her head.

  19. Rae says:

    I was on eMule.com looking though Emily’s poems when I came upon the first line… “I dreaded that first robin, so” and the first thing I thought of… “spring!”

    but then I kept reading… by the last line of the first stanza I saw “He hurts a little, though”

    and then I thought it was about losing her virginity (although, because her letters were never released [burned by her own wishes, I think?] there is litter information about a lover)

    but I could gather…
    robin would refer to spring which often symbolizes mating, love, motherly essence (womanhood… arrived when virginity is lost)

    the Robin could possibly be sex, the first robin being when she first had sex.

    In addition, we gather that the Robin is a he by the fourth line context clues.

    I dreaded that first robin so,
    (she dreaded the first time having sex)
    But he is mastered now,
    (it doesn’t hurt after awhile…)
    And I’m accustomed to him grown,–
    (I’m not going to read into that, you can)
    He hurts a little, though.
    (think about that)

    I thought if I could only live
    Till that first shout got by,
    (going on through the same idea as the fourth line)
    Not all pianos in the woods
    Had power to mangle me.
    (it really hurts! I’m not trying to be immature or anything but I truly think that is what this poem is about)

    In addition, you can’t base your whole perception of the poem on the first line… especially when robin is understood to be a metaphor. Therefore, the fact the metaphor changes throughout the length of the entire product shows that the robin=spring parallel is not necessarily the most acceptable analogy.

    I dared not meet the daffodils,
    For fear their yellow gown
    Would pierce me with a fashion
    So foreign to my own.
    (this could be understood to be her fear of pregnancy. moderately self-explanatory)

    I could not bear the bees should come,
    I wished they’d stay away
    In those dim countries where they go:
    What word had they for me?
    (BEES!! ok… first a mention of a BIRD then a BEE! the Birds and the Bees? Cliche, and I’m not sure if that analogy dates back that far, but the simple choice of words can mean a lot!!)

    ok… so spring is understood but I would like to put up the idea of a deeper (har har) meaning? Loss of virginity… a common thing in our beloved spring

  20. rachel says:

    We needed to read the poem “I dreaded that first Robin so” by emily dickenson for our honors english class. I thought that maybe it was about the coming of spring (but I could be off) and i figured that had to be a metaphore for something, possibly pain or death….if anyone has any idea what this poem is about please email me at azul1084@yahoo.com or aim – xsilentwhisper7x….thank you so much

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