I dreaded that first Robin

Emily Dickinson

’I dreaded that first Robin’ by Emily Dickinson is a surprising poem about nature. The speaker confesses to an unusual opinion about the season throughout the lines.


Emily Dickinson

Nationality: American

Emily Dickinson redefined American poetry with unique line breaks and unexpected rhymes.

Notable works include 'Because I could not stop for Death' and 'Hope is the Thing with Feathers.' 

Key Poem Information

Unlock more with Poetry+

Central Message: With life comes death

Themes: Nature

Speaker: Someone who sees spring as a reminder of death

Emotions Evoked: Disgust, Frustration, Pain, Stress

Poetic Form: Quatrain

Time Period: 19th Century

This spring-time poem takes a very different approach to the usually happy season, one that is filled with dread and distaste.

I dreaded that first Robin’ is a seven-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, or quatrains. While Dickinson did not give this piece a specific pattern of rhyme, but the lines are structured with a metrical pattern in mind. The first and third lines of each stanza contain four sets of two beats. The first of which is unstressed and the second stressed. This format is known as iambic pentameter. Lines two and four are also iambic, but they only contain three sets of two beats making them iambic trimeter. 

The lines are also unified through repetition. This is achieved through reused phrases and single words at the beginning and end of lines. For instance, anaphora, or the repetition of words at the beginning of a line, is used at the start of the first five stanzas. The first lines begin with the word “I.” It is not until the last two stanzas that Dickinson used another. A reader should also take note of the fact that certain words, such as “grown” are repeated multiple times. 

Dickson also makes use of her characteristic capitalization. Scholars are split on why Dickinson chose to capitalize on certain words, but in this case, it seems that she was trying to give increased agency to the life forms she was depicting. For example, the words “Robin,” Woods,” and “Daffodils,” as well as many others,  are all capitalized. They are the main characters of this piece, or at least the elements Dickinson wanted the reader to focus on closely. 

I dreaded that first Robin, so
Emily Dickinson

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 liveTill that first Shout got by—Not all Pianos in the WoodsHad power to mangle me—

I dared not meet the Daffodils—For fear their Yellow GownWould pierce me with a fashionSo foreign to my own—

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

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

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

Each one salutes me, as he goes,And I, my childish Plumes,Lift, in bereaved acknowledgmentOf their unthinking Drums –
I dreaded that first Robin by Emily Dickinson

Summary of I dreaded that first Robin

’I dreaded that first Robin’ by Emily Dickinson contains the words of a speaker who despises spring and everything it portends. 

The poem begins with the speaker describing how one dreaded robin flies past her at the beginning of every spring. This is how she knows spring has come. The bird has always been hateful in her mind, although she has somewhat grown used to him. The rest of the poem goes through a number of elements of the season she hates. 

The most prominent of these is the propagation of life itself. She does not want to see the daffodils growing outside nor the bees pollinating the flowers. Their actions, she knows, will only be beneficial to the growth of more flowers, something she definitely does not want. 

The poem ends with the speaker giving into the season. She knows there is no way to stop it from occurring so she must accept it with “bereaved acknowledgement.” 

Analysis of I dreaded that first Robin

Stanza One

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

In the first stanza of ’I dreaded that first Robin’, the speaker begins by utilizing the line that, as was customary, came to be used as the title of the poem. She states that there is one “Robin” she sees at the beginning of each Spring season. It is by his presence that she knows the season is coming. One of the most interesting parts of this piece is that Dickinson does not address nature as one might assume. She has a negative view of spring. Its arrival does not bring her increased happiness. 

This is clearly seen through the stated “dread” the speaker felt at the sight of the robin. The speaker used to feel even greater pain than she does now at his sight. It has lessened somewhat, but it still “hurts a little, though.” 

Stanza Two 

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

The speaker has come to the conclusion, over the preceding springs, that maybe she’ll be okay if she can only, 

[…] live 

Till that first Shout got by— 

She thinks maybe it’s just the first days of spring that are the worst. If she can get past them then the noise emanating from the wood would not harm her so severely. She refers to the noise as “Pianos” as if it is a cacophony that torments her every year. 

Stanza Three

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

In the third stanza of ’I dreaded that first Robin’, the speaker goes through a number of different elements of spring she feels fearful of. The first of these are the “Daffodils.” They are clothed in a “Yellow Gown” she hates and seems to threaten her with their shape. The brightness of the flower is offensive to her darker sensibilities, a direct reference to “fashion.”  

Stanza Four

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 —

The speaker urges the grass to grow faster in the fourth stanza. If it would, then she’d be free of the sight of the daffodils sooner. The “tallest one” would not be able to “stretch—to look at” her. 

She is also signaling a general desire for the season to progress as fast as possible. The sooner bring is over, the better. She’d like her landscape to return to darkness as quickly as possible. 

Stanza Five 

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?

In the fifth stanza, she turns to the “Bees,” another form of life emblematic to spring. If they come, then they’ll be able to carry more pollen from flower to flower, thus allowing them to reproduce. More bees equal more flowers, a thought the speaker can’t bear. 

She goes on to ask the bees to remain where ever it is “they go” when it’s not spring. It could be a “dim country” for all she cares. They have nothing to do with her and she has nothing to do with them. 

Stanza Six

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

There is a turn in the text in the sixth stanza. This is the first one that does not begin with the word “I.” It also includes the speaker’s resignation over the arrival of spring. She knows that, 

They’re here, though; not a creature failed 

No Blossom stayed away

All of her ill wishes made no difference. Here, the speaker refers to herself as the mother of Christ. She is a similar figure, in that she is forced to watch the destruction of the world she loves. Her role as “Queen” is somewhat ironic as Mary had no say over the crucifixion of Christ. 

Stanza Seven

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

The final stanza is her last acknowledgment of her failure to stop spring. It seems to her when the season does arrive that each life brought to fruition by spring “salutes” her as they go past. All the while she is stuck in “bereaved acknowledgment” that she can do nothing to stop the flourishing, vanishing, and eventually re-budding of spring now or in the future. 

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

Join the Poetry Chatter and Comment

Exclusive to Poetry+ Members

Join Conversations

Share your thoughts and be part of engaging discussions.

Expert Replies

Get personalized insights from our Qualified Poetry Experts.

Connect with Poetry Lovers

Build connections with like-minded individuals.

Sign up to Poetry+
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Got a question? Ask an expert.x

We're glad you like visiting Poem Analysis...

We've got everything you need to master poetry

But, are you ready to take your learning

to the next level?

Share to...