16 pages 32 minutes read

Emily Dickinson

A Bird, came down the Walk

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1891

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

“A Bird, came down the Walk” is a lyric poem by Emily Dickinson. Born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson gained a reputation as “recluse” in her early 20s and published only a few poems during her lifetime. Despite her reputation for keeping to herself, Dickinson’s work is celebrated today for its unique voice. Though many of Dickinson’s poems appear to investigate the outside world, they are often reflections of the speaker’s inner life. This sets Dickinson apart from American contemporaries like Ralph Waldo Emerson or Walt Whitman, who develop a Romantic understanding of the natural world through their poetry.

“A Bird, came down the Walk” features some of the most salient characteristics of Dickinson’s poetry: an elegant lyrical voice and keen observations of the natural world. The poem, unpublished and untitled at her death in 1886, gets its title from its first line. “A Bird, came down the Walk” was first published in 1891’s Poems: Second Series, edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson.

Poet Biography

Emily Dickinson was born on December 10th, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Dickinson attended Amherst Academy as a youth and proceeded to study at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley from 1846-1847. Dickinson’s family was well-connected in Amherst. Much of Dickinson’s early life was spent making social calls. Between 1845 and 1852, when Dickinson was in her early twenties, she attended the local Calvinist church. While expressing doubt regarding religion, her poems’ structure and substance imply a profound influence from religious hymns and psalms.

In the mid-1850s, Dickinson’s mother grew chronically ill. Dickinson corresponded with friends during this time, but was nervous to leave her sick mother. Dickinson maintained this solitary habit well after her mother passed away in 1882. By the 1880s, Dickinson was well-known in the community for her so-called reclusive behaviors. The few accounts of her during this time report her wearing white, a color normally reserved for funerals. Dickinson grew feeble later in life and died in 1886 at the age of 55.

Of the nearly 1,800 poems Dickinson wrote, only 10 were published in her lifetime, each of which were adapted to conform to the prevailing poetic conventions of the day. Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson edited three volumes of Dickinson’s poetry and published them between 1890 and 1896. “A Bird, came down the Walk” appeared in the second of these volumes, entitled Poems: Second Series, which sold through five editions in two years. In 1955, a complete set of Dickinson’s poetry was published, retaining all the idiosyncrasies of her original manuscripts.

Poem Text

Dickinson, Emily. “A Bird, came down the Walk.” 1891. Poetry Foundation.

Summary

“A Bird, came down the Walk” is a lyric poem that presents its speaker’s encounter with a bird. The speaker first sees the bird coming “down the Walk” (Line 1) and watches as the bird eats the “Angle Worm” (Line 3) he finds. In the second stanza, the speaker continues to watch the bird as it drinks “Dew” (Line 5) from the “convenient Grass” (Line 6). The bird goes on to move aside to “let a Beetle pass” (Line 8).

The speaker’s attention shifts to the bird’s mood in the third stanza. They observe the creature’s “rapid eyes” (Line 9) that attend to various things in the distance. The speaker later describes the eyes as “frightened Beads” (Line 11).

In the fourth stanza, the speaker “offered [the bird] a Crumb” (Line 14). While it is not clear whether the bird takes the speaker’s offering, he reveals “his feathers” (Line 15) and flies off. The speaker ends the poem by comparing the bird’s movement in the air to being “softer” (Line 16) than “Oars [that] divide the Ocean” (Line 17), or the movements of “Butterflies” that “Leap, plashless as they swim” (Line 20) through the air.

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