E Emily Dickinson

In The Garden by Emily Dickinson

‘In the Garden’ by Emily Dickinson skillfully depicts nature. The poet focuses in on a garden and the bugs and birds one might see there.

Dickinson is well-known for her poems on grave subjects like death and incarnation for which it can be seen in her poem In The Garden continues. As she spent most of her time in isolation, she grieved over the death of all those who lost their ghost during her lifetime. Dickinson’s life was not easy; she was very much afraid of death for it was taking all her loved ones away from her one by one, and leaving her in isolation to grieve.

She was so much grief-stricken that just when she was trying to overcome the death of her some near and dear ones, news of the death of her other loved ones came and shook her emotionally by breaking her heart even more. While Dickinson tried her best to get away from this ever-lasting agony and pain, her poems reflect her deep pain and agony through the use of literary terms and scenes. And when the readers go through her poems they too go through what she felt at the time of writing them.

In The Garden by Emily Dickinson



Structure wise, the poet has used many important poetic devices in this poem. One of the most important literary devices used in In The Garden is imagery; the poet takes you to a whole new world of watching the action of a bird. In fact, she shows you the action of a bird through her writing and that too by picturizing the entire scene before you. Here I remember the bloody fight shown by Gerald Durrell between Geronimo and Cicely.

All of us see a lot of birds eating a lot of worms and insects every day, but hardly we take note of these scenes, imagine them or even pay attention to any such event around us. However, the poet has brought forth the scene so skillfully that the entire scene looks like a reality for the readers, especially when words like ‘drank a dew’, ‘angle-worm in halves’, etc. are used in the poem.

In addition, alliteration is one of the figures of speech used in this poem – ‘drinking dew,’ while ‘saw-raw’ and ‘grass-pass,’ are the rhyming scheme used in the poem.

If the poet tried representing death through the bird, the poem itself is a metaphor.


In The Garden Analysis

Stanza One

(first published version of the poem)

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

Stanza 1 brings the bird into the picture; the poem introduces a bird from the wildlife to the readers. He comes down and sits on the surface of the ground. Without a second thought, he begins to eat an angleworm on which he survives. The poet is shocked to see this act of nature, which does not even let the bird cook his food. Also, the worm had absolutely no idea that it was about to die and become someone’s food in a few seconds. However, it happens beyond its control.


Stanza Two

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

Stanza 2 shows how the bird gets rid of his thirst after feasting on the worm. He finds a grass with dew and suffices his thirst by drinking the dew. But as soon as he sees a beetle, he lets it go without any disturbance.


Stanza Three

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad,–
They looked like frightened beads, I thought;
He stirred his velvet head

Stanza 3 is another scene wherein the beetles look like frightening tiny beads to the poet. Even though they are allowed to pass safely by the big bird, they fear his presence. If the poet has used the example of a bird to describe death in this poem, it means that even if death allows you to live for a long period of time, you are still afraid of its presence because you know in the end; it is beyond your control.


Stanza Four

Like one in danger; cautious,
I offered him a crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home

Stanza 4 brings the poet into the scene; she gets up from her chair and offers a crumb to the cautious bird that looks at her for a few moments, unrolls his feathers, and flies away. It has got nothing to do with what the poet has to offer to him; for him, all that mattered was the raw food that he ate a while ago; the rawness attracts him and that’s what he survives on.


Stanza Five

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

The last stanza is a continuation of stanza 4; it is a description of how softly and elegantly the bird flies away as the poet moves forward to offer food to him. Just like the butterflies fly elegantly in the noon and the horizon is created by sewing the fabrics of ocean and sky, the gentleness of the bird’s wings carries it back to his home.


Historical Perspective

From the historical point of view, it is quite astonishing to know that today Dickinson is known for her poetry, but during her days, she was well-recognized as a talented gardener who loved gardening at the most. Those who attended her funeral on May 19, 1886, considered her as a gardener of great skill and not as a poet. Many people did not even know she wrote poetry.

In The Garden is a beautifully written poem, which picturizes the encounter of the poet with a bird in a garden. In the poem, the poet comes across a bird on the walk that feasts on a worm, and quenches his thirst by drinking dew from the grass, and moves aside to let a beetle pass. The poet notices each and every action of the bird.

Since the poet was always recognized for her poems on death, In The Garden may depict death in some way because by the end of it, she states that despite offering food to the bird, it flew away without accepting the crumb, which might mean that despite being good and kind to others, you are bound to die one day. Death will surely knock the door of your life and snatch your soul away from your body. It is unbridled and cannot be controlled by anyone.

Besides, the poet also sees that the flight of the bird is “softer” than that of a boat being rowed on the water or that of butterflies plunging soundlessly into space.


Personal Commentary

Personally, I feel dearly attached to In This Garden because it creates a movie in front of your eyes; by picturizing each and every movement of the bird, such as feasting on a worm you had been noticing for quite some time, allowing the beetles to pass and then dejecting you by rejecting the crumb that you extend your hand to offer out to it. Besides, this poem also depicts what the poet is well-known, that is the death of a worm. However, this is what Nature is, and what our world is; feasting on the weaker but frightening from the stronger.

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
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