In the Garden

A bird came down the walk:
He did not know I saw;
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.

And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall
To let a beetle pass.

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

Than oars divide the ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or butterflies, off banks of noon,
Leap, plashless, as they swim.

The speaker observes the bird and tries to establish contact with the bird by offering it food. The bird flies off. A few of the speaker's details describe the bird as a wild creature in nature, and more details present his behavior and his appearance in terms of human behavior.

Stanza one

Because the bird does not know the speaker is present, he behaves naturally, that is, his behavior is not affected by her presence. We see the bird's "wildness" or non-humanness in his biting the worm in half and eating it. "Raw" continues to emphasize his wildness. Ironically the word "raw" carries an implication of civilized values and practices ("raw" implicitly contrasts with cooked food). Why mention that the bird ate the worm raw? Would you expect the bird to cook the worm? In contrast, the fact that the bird "came" down the walk sounds civilized, socialized.  Does this description sound like someone walking on a sidewalk?

Stanza two

The birds' drinking dew (note the alliteration) suggests a certain refinement, and "from a grass" makes the action resemble the human action of drinking from a glass. And the bird politely allows a beetle to pass.

Stanza three

In lines one and two, the description of the bird's looking around is factual description and suggests the bird's caution and fear, as well as a possible threat in nature. With lines three and four, the speaker describes the bird in terms of civilization, with "beads" and "velvet."

Stanza four

The idea of danger in nature is made explicit but remains a minor note in this stanza and in the poem. It occupies only half a line, "Like one in danger." "Cautious," the speaker offers the crumb. How is "cautious " meant? Does the speaker feel the need to be cautious? or does she offer the crumb cautiously? (One of the characteristics of Dickinson's poetry is a tendency to drop endings as well as connecting words and phrases; you have to decide whether she has dropped the -ly ending from "cautious.")

Her action causes the bird to fly off. Her description of his flight details his beauty and the grace of his flight, a description which takes six lines. Does the idea of danger or of the bird's beauty receive more emphasis, or are the danger and the beauty emphasized equally? Does it matter in this poem whether one receives more emphasis than the other, that is, would the different emphases affect the meaning of the poem?

I am suggesting that this poem reveals both the danger and the beauty of nature. Does the poem support this reading? What might Dickinson's purpose be in having the narrator see the bird in "civilized" terms? Is it a way of pushing away or of controlling the threat and terrors that are always present and may suddenly appear in nature?

Dickinson, Online overview
"For each ecstatic instant," p. 2
"I taste a liquor never brewed," p. 2
"Safe in their alabaster chambers," p. 3
"I heard a fly buzz when I died," p. 21
"It was not death, for I stood up," p. 22
"A bird came down the walk," p. 13
"I like to see it lap the miles," p. 27
"Pain has an element of blank," p. 31
"A narrow fellow in the grass," p. 44
"I'm nobody! Who are you?" p. 9
"After great pain a formal feeling comes" (handout)
"The soul selects her own society" (handout)
"The heart asks pleasure first," p. 24
"I'll tell you how the sun rose," p. 11
"Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn," p. 36
"Success is counted sweetest" (handout)
"I cannot live with you," p. 29
"He fumbles at your spirit," p. 11
"I felt a cleaving in my mind," p. 43
"My life closed twice before its close," p. 49
"Wild nights! Wild nights!" p.5
"She sweeps with many-colored brooms," p. 3
"Hope is the thing with feathers," p. 5
"I felt a funeral in my brain," p. 8
"I had been hungry all the years," p. 26
"I started Early--took my Dog--" (handout)
"My life had stood a loaded gun" (handout)
"Because I could not stop for Death," p. 35
"If you were coming in the fall," p. 23
**Supplemental Reading**
      Sample Midtern and Student Answers

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