This Dickinson poem displays some of the poet’s most lyrical verse and includes her full appreciation of the natural world. Compared to other ballads the poet wrote throughout her career, ‘A Murmur in the Tree—to note’ is one of the easiest to read and interpret. Dickinson uses fairly straightforward language to celebrate nature’s more mysterious qualities.
A Murmur in the Trees—to note Emily Dickinson A Murmur in the Trees – to note – Not loud enough – for Wind – A Star – not far enough to seek – Nor near enough – to find – A long – long Yellow – on the Lawn – A Hubbub – as of feet – Not audible – as Ours – to Us – But dapperer – More Sweet – A Hurrying Home of little Men To Houses unperceived – All this – and more – if I should tell – Would never be believed – Of Robins in the Trundle bed How many I espy Whose Nightgowns could not hide the Wings – Although I heard them try – But then I promised ne'er to tell – How could I break My Word? So go your Way – and I'll go Mine – No fear you'll miss the Road.
Explore A Murmur in the Trees—to note
‘A Murmur in the Trees— to note’ by Emily Dickinson is a beautiful poem about nature’s magic.
Throughout the five stanzas of this poem, Dickinson describes the magical creatures who lived in the forest, how their footfalls differ from human steps, and how only those who are attuned to nature signs and have patience may experience this kind of magic.
The poem ends with a passionate assertion that those who are unwilling to stray from the “Road” can live life in the way that they’ve chosen. But, the speaker is going to live her life very differently.
Structure and Form
‘A Murmur in the Trees— to note’ by Emily Dickinson is a five-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing the end sound from stanza to stanza. The poet also chose to use ballad meter throughout. This means that the odd-numbered lines contain a total of eight syllables which can be divided into four sets of two. The first syllable of each set is stressed, and the second is unstressed.
The even-numbered lines, where Dickinson uses iambic trimeter, follow the same syllable arrangement but contain a total of six syllables. Both elements of Dickinson’s structure, the rhyme scheme, and meter, are the traditional elements needed for ballad meter or hymn meter.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “A,” which starts lines one and two of stanza two.
- Repetition: the use of the same element in multiple lines within a poem. For example, “A long, long” in stanza two.
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Nor near” in line four of stanza one and “hurrying home” in line one of stanza three.
- Personification: seen through the poet’s description of the trees murmuring.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of stanza three and lines one, two, and three of stanza four.
- Caesura: a division in the middle, or in any spot, within a line of poetry. For example, “Not audible, as ours to us” and “But dapperer, more sweet.”
A Murmur in the Trees – to note –
Not loud enough – for Wind –
A Star – not far enough to seek –
Nor near enough – to find –
In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker begins by introducing a few magical elements that she interprets in the world around her. She hears a mysterious murmur in the trees, the source of which she is not certain. The wind carries an element of magic as it blows through the trees, and in the distance, she sees a light. Perhaps it’s a star, or more likely, it is related to the fairy people she describes in the following stanzas.
A long – long Yellow – on the Lawn –
A Hubbub – as of feet –
Not audible – as Ours – to Us –
But dapperer – More Sweet –
Throughout the stanza, the poet uses several examples of caesura. This is seen through the inclusion of dashes in the middle of the lines. Each line contains one or more pauses that are meant to slow the reader down and help emphasize parts of the text.
The speaker describes the light casting a long yellow stripe on the lawn and hearing a “hubbub” as if several people are walking around her. But, the poet writes “as of feet.” This simile suggests that it’s not exactly the sound one would expect from human feet, but it’s similar.
The sound of these feet, which belong to mysterious forest folk, likely fairies or sprites, our “not audible” as human footsteps would be, but our “dapperer” and “More Sweet.” This is a light-hearted and magical image that immediately helps readers interpret the wistful tone.
A Hurrying Home of little Men
To Houses unperceived –
All this – and more – if I should tell –
Would never be believed –
The fairies, or whichever magical creatures Dickinson was envisioning, are described as “little men” who are “hurrying” to their “unperceived” homes. They hide amongst us, Dickinson says, and unless you have the patience and outlook to see them, you’re not going to.
Specifically, the speaker states that you have to see these things, or hear them, to believe them. Those who are unwilling to listen are not going to believe.
Of Robins in the Trundle bed
How many I espy
Whose Nightgowns could not hide the Wings –
Although I heard them try –
The speaker to addresses these lines to an intended audience, who is described with the second-person pronoun ”you” in the fifth stanza. They say that they could tell you about the “robins in the trundle bed” and their magical goings-on, but she “promised ne’er to tell,” she reveals.
This is the strangest of the few images Dickinson includes in the poem, and its otherworldliness is well-suited to the mystical and magical version of the world she’s describing.
But then I promised ne’er to tell –
How could I break My Word?
So go your Way – and I’ll go Mine –
No fear you’ll miss the Road.
In the final stanza of this five-stanza poem, Dickinson addresses “you,” saying that you should go your way and that she will go hers. Those who have no interest in the natural world, or the patience to see its true beauty and magic, will continue their simple lives with “No fear you’ll miss the Road.” But, Dickinson, and those like her who are entranced by the magic of nature, will live life differently.
In these lines, the “Road” alludes to a structured path that most people walk. It is without the mystery and magic of the previous lines.
The purpose is to emphasize the beauty and magic of nature. Dickinson describes the natural world with personified images, allusions to magical creatures, and more. She promotes a way of living that allows for an appreciation of nature’s more mystical qualities.
The tone of this is wistful and appreciative. Throughout, Dickinson uses fairly simple language to describe nature and the magical elements one is sure to find in its depths if one spends the time looking.
The message is that one should live in a way that allows for mysteries to remain unsolved and appreciated for their beauty. If one walks only on a straight and narrow “Road,” they are going to remain safe and sure-footed. But, they will also miss out on the most incredible scenes the world has to offer.
Dickinson wrote this poem to share her appreciation for nature. Unlike some other ballad poems the poet wrote throughout her career, this piece is entirely wistful and passionate in its appreciation of nature.
The poem is a five-stanza ballad. This is seen through Dickinson’s use of a traditional ballad, or hymn, rhyme scheme: ABCB and the use of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimester.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Emily Dickinson poems. For example:
- ‘How the old Mountains drip with Sunset’ – celebrates the beauty of the natural world. She focuses specifically on a sunset and how impossible it is to capture it in words or paint.
- ‘A Narrow Fellow in the Grass’ – a thoughtful nature poem. Dickinson uses a male speaker to describe a boyhood encounter with a snake.
- ‘How happy is the Little Stone’ – personifies a stone. She describes its rambling adventures, evoking joy and whimsy in the reader.