A Bird Came Down the Walk by Emily Dickinson might seem like a very simple poem, almost resembling the likes of Daffodils by Wordsworth in terms of meaning and theme, but the meaning of the poem is quite complicated.
While Daffodils is a poem that tries to convey the beauty of a scene that has daffodil flowers fluttering with the wind, “A Bird Came Down the Walk” contains the dark side of nature.
Let’s take a look at the poem and then at the simplification and meaning.
A Bird, came down the Walk by Emily Dickinson
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.
A bird came down to walk He was not aware that I was seeing him Hit bit an Angle worm in half and ate it raw. And then he sipped the dew sitting on a grass blade and hopped to the side To let a beetle pass He looked around with eyes moving fast trying to look all around There was fear in his eyes and he kept moving his head here and there Like helping someone in danger I offered him a breadcrumb But he unrolled his feathers and rowed them to fly away home The flutter of his wings was softer than the oars That moves the boat without making a ripple in the ocean or the swift ways butterflies fly at noon swift, smooth, and an elegant way
Meaning of the Poem
After reading the simplified version of the poem, one might think that the poem is about how a bird comes down to eat and then flies away swiftly.
While it is true that the subject is the bird, the meaning of the poem has more to it. The poem is about the beauty and the brutality of nature, and how both exist together.
Let’s take a look at the stanzas of the poem and analyze it to better understand the latent meaning of the poem. We can divide the poem into two parts:
The first two stanzas talk about the bird as the prey. Here, the bird is a fearless creature who kills in an instant, showing the brutal and often terrifying side of nature.
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 –
The bird came down and it did not see the poet. Notice how brutally he kills the angle worm, tears it in half, and then consumes it raw. Since it is a worm we do not pay much attention to it.
But think about an animal doing this to another animal. We’d be taken back to see or imagine such a scene. But the bird does it in a heartbeat.
Then the bird drinks dew from the water. Notice the contrast between the two things. First killing and eating a worm raw, and then drinking the beautiful dew from a grass blade.
Not only that, but it moves aside to let the beetle pass. Readers can note how differently the same bird behaved. The same is true for almost everything in nature. But that’s not all. Now the predator becomes the prey.
The third and fourth stanzas are about the bird becoming the prey, of a predator. Dickinson says that the same bird that was capable of such brutality is now terrified of his own life.
He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. –
The bird keeps looking around to prevent a predator from killing him. His eyes look like “frightened beads” and his head keeps moving to keep him aware of his surroundings.
This line shows fragility and vulnerability, shown by the bird that recently devoured a worm raw. This contrast between beauty and danger is the core of the poem.
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers,
And rowed him softer Home –
Dickinson says that she offers him some bread crumbs as the worried bird looks like someone in danger and distress but it flies away.
In this stanza, we again get to see a contrast. Notice how helpless the bird looked before, and how it was so afraid and cautious? Things change the moment it feels threatened.
The bird unrolls his feathers and flies away swiftly. This helpless bird who was afraid was swift in moving away from the threat. Even though he possessed wings to fly, he was extremely cautious nevertheless.
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim.
The final stanza just tells how magnificently the bird flew away, or the butterfly flew. It shows how adept these creatures are in escaping and yet they are always so afraid.
It just goes to show how dangerous and beautiful nature is at the same time. Even the animals who kill and have the ability to move away are aware of the threat nature has for them.
The theme of the Poem
The theme of “A Bird, Come Down the Walk” is about the duality of nature; It is magnificent, and it is deadly. This combination is something that we do not see too often in humans.
If someone is dangerous, they are not considered to be magnificent. But in nature, these two qualities exist together. But the poem speaks about more dualities.
For example, the bird is a simple creature to us, afraid of us. But at the same time, it is a predator of the worm.
The bird possesses astonishing capabilities to fly away swiftly, so swiftly that it does not even create a ripple in the ocean of air. But having such prowess still does not help.
The bird is ever so scared and cautious of everything around it. It constantly sits in fear and distrusts everything unknown. This is another example of the duality presented in the poem.
But duality is not the only theme of the poem. It also talks about the beauty of nature and the creatures it has birthed. From the butterfly to the bird, nature has created everything so perfectly.
Emily Dickinson is an excellent observer, and by observing we do mean that she observes people or physical things, but she observes the underlying emotions and the reasons behind actions.
Perhaps it would be right to call her the poetic psychologist with a strong grasp on understanding the complex emotions humans feel, but do not know how to express them.
If you enjoyed reading this poem and the analysis, then why don’t you check out some other great poems by Emily Dickinson along with the analysis? Pick the next poem: