A line by line analysis of the Poem "A Bird Came Down the Walk" plus a Video plus a Sinhala Translation of the Poem

An Analysis of the Poem 'A Bird came down the Walk' by Emily Dickinson plus a Sinhala Translation of the poem and a Video

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 the Walk— He did not know I saw— He bit an Angleworm 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 around— 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.Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10, 1830, into a prominent, but not wealthy, family. She was an introvert, meaning she kept to herself most of the time and rarely went outside of her home. However, she was gifted with a powerful imagination and intelligence and she had written more than 1800 poems. Her poetry is marked by acute observation and rich imagination.

This poem is based on a very ordinary incident. A bird eats a worm and flies away refusing a crumb offered by the poet who turns this apparently commonplace incident into a poetic masterpiece with her rich imagination.

The poem begins with the line:”A bird came down the Walk-“. Do you find anything unusual in this line? Well, to me, it strikes rather odd. For one thing, we normally say ‘a bird flied down’. It seems the poet wanted to attribute some human quality to the bird. This is further reinforced by the word “Walk”. A walk, as a noun, refers to a route or lane used for leisurely walking. It is similar to a jogging track used by people for jogging or walking. Thus, the bird is compared to a person who is having a lesurely walk in the evening. This creates slight humour which contrast sharply with the tension created by the third and fourth lines where the bird “bit an Angleworm in halves/And ate the fellow, raw.” Further, the bird’s apparently ‘civilized’ behaviour contrasts sharply with his ‘wild’ behaviour in eating the Angleworm ‘raw’.  The word “raw” gets an additional weight because it rhymes with the word “saw” in the second line. Whether it is ‘civilized’ or ‘wild’, this natural behavior of the bird who is so far unaffected by the presence of the speaker as the poet says “He did not know I saw-“. Further, the word “fellow” contributes to the playful tone. Obviously, the poet is not ‘shoked’ by the bird’s act. In fact, he presents the nature as it is, both its beauty and wildness, as an observer. The poet may be also suggesting the cruelty hidden behind the façade of civility in the society in this stanza. The rhyming pattern abcb continues in the subsequent stanzas.

Now let’s look at the first two lines of the second stanza:

And then he drank a Dew

From a convenient Grass—

The bird’s human-like quality is further emphasized in these two lines. Normally we, humans, take pride in the fact that we are superior to all other species of animals. However, the poet seems to suggest in these lines that animals are no less superior to humans, in their own way. The use of the indefinite article ‘a’ also deserves our attention here. Normally we expect ‘a drop of dew’ in the first line. However, the use of ‘a Dew’ together with the alliteration of the‘d’ sound seem to enhance the poise and refinement of the bird. The sparkling beauty of the dew also symbolizes the beauty of the pristine nature unspoilt by industrialization. In the next line the poet uses an unusual phrase: ‘a convenient Grass’. The word ‘Grass’ (again ‘a’ glass) rhymes strongly with ‘glass’ which suggests an echo-pun on glass. This creates a picture of a person drinking from a glass. Further, the bird finds his food and drinks easily, may be more easily than humans. These lines also remind me about another poem by D.H. Lawrence. In this poem called ‘Snake’, Lawrence, the narrator is mesmerized by the graceful behavior of the snake. This is how he describes the way the snake drank water from his water trough:

He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body, 

The soft alliteration of the‘s’ sound together with the slow, graceful rhythm creates a tantalizing effect.

This graceful behaviour of the bird in our poem is further highlighted in the next two lines:

And then hopped sidewise to the Wall

To let a Beetle pass—

Here, the bird gets aside to let a beetle pass- a very courteous movement indeed! Our bird seems to know his manners! Doesn’t this suggest that animals have their own ‘etiquette’? Surely, the poet seems to be marvel ing at the beauty and gracefulness of the untamed nature in these lines. Further, in these two stanzas, the poet seems to anthropomorphize the bird. In other words she attributes human qualities to the bird.

You might also wonder why the poet has used dashes in these lines. The poem is written in iambic trimeter in the first three lines and iambic tetra meter in the third line in every stanza except the last stanza and the dashes are occasionally used to break the rhythm. This breaking of the rhythm suggests that the bird is uneasy and even unsteady in the ground as its natural habitat is the sky.

In the third stanza, the poet describes the bird’s frightened behavior after eating the worm:

He glanced with rapid eyes

That hurried all around—

They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—

He stirred his Velvet Head

The bird’s glancing around with rapid, frightened eyes suggests both caution and fear. As some critics suggest, it is because the bird feels guilty and he is afraid of the consequences of his ‘cruel’ act. I don’t agree with this idea because it is quite natural for a bird to eat a worm. Surely we don’t expect them to buy sausages from a supermarket? Rather, it may be a fear common to all animals since they are constantly exposed to various dangers, especially from predators. In the famous Novel ‘Village in the Jungle’ (of Beddegama), Leonard Woolf says:

‘For the rule of the jungle is first fear, and then hunger and thirst. There is fear everywhere…’

Even human beings are afflicted with three main types of fear, according to Rathana Sutta: ‘sambutam tividham bhayam’.

The poet cmpares the bird’s eyes to ‘frightened bead’. The poet personifies the bead in this line. A bead with its tiny hole and rolling motion is a stunning image to describe bird’s eyes as it is light and lustrous.  However, it also suggests a certain hard quality in the bird. This contrasts sharply with the ‘velvet head’ which suggests certain fluffiness and beauty.

The Fourth stanza opens with the line:

Like one in danger, Cautious,

We are tempted to ask ‘what is the danger?’and the reason for his being ‘cautious’. Well, as I mentioned before, a bird’s natural domain is the sky and thus, he tends to behave rather clumsilly and nervously in the ground. As such, the above line aptly describes his behaviour in the ground. The next line marks the turning point in the poem:

I offered him a Crumb,

So far, the poet was just observing the bird as a passive onlooker. But now she intervenes in the action and offers him a crumb. The poet’s action may be also symbolic. It might symbolize man’s intervention with nature and perhaps, his attempt to tame the nature. The action of offering a crumb is also suggestive of the man’s condescending attitude towards animals. However, instead of eating the crumb, the bird takes flight immediately:

And he unrolled his feathers, 

And rowed him softer Home –

The bird contemptuously rejects the crumb and begins to fly towards home. The bird’s action might symbolize man’s futile attempt to tame the nature. These two lines also begin a series of spectacular images used to describe the bird’s flight. Once in the sky, the bird begins to appear in all its glory and splendour as it is his natural domain. The smooth actions of ‘rolling’ and ‘rowing’ together with the assonance of the ‘o’ sound contribute to the fluidity of the movement. The bird takes off into the sky with so much ebullience ‘like a duck takes to water’, as the saying goes.

The last stanza is the most memorable one in the poem. The poet savours image after image of exquisite beauty which describe the breathtaking flight of the bird:

Than Oars divide the Ocean,

Too silver for a seam,

Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon, 

Leap, plashless as they swim. 

In the first line, the bird’s feathers are compared to the oars which are used to propel a boat forward. The movement of oars creates hardly any disturbance in the water; likewise, the bird’s wings too do not make any disturbance or impact on the sky; Its flight is ‘seamless’. It does not leave any mark in the sky just like oars which do not leave any ‘seam’ or mark on the water. The comparison between the ocean and the sky is quite striking. The bird’s flight may also symbolize perfect harmony in nature. The assonance of the ‘o’ sound in the first line and the alliteration of the‘s’ sound in the second line also contribute to the lyrical beauty of the lines. The word ‘silver’ has the connotations of gracefulness and glamour in addition to beauty.

 In the next two lines, the bird’s flight is compared to another scene of breathtaking beauty: that of butterflies fluttering in the banks of a river. First he compared to bird’s flight to an inanimate object (oars) and now he compares them to an animate thing (butterflies). The poet makes an implied comparison between the butterflies and fish when she says ‘they swim’. It again suggests the smoothness and the gracefulness of the bird’s flight through the sky. ‘Plashless’, a rather uncommon word, means smooth or fluid.

Through this poem, the poet seems to highlight the both the beauty and the danger of the untamed nature. Another famous poem called ‘A narrow Fellow in the Grass’ also deals with a similar theme.

Hope you have enjoyed my analysis. As you can see, appreciating a poem doesn’t mean just explaining the poem and giving a note covering its theme and techniques only. Instead, we must pay close attention to the words used by the poet and how he has organized them create a particular effect and how it contributes to the overall meaning. In short, a poem should be treated as a living thing with a soul.

 A Translation of the Poem:

විහඟකු ආවයි පාර දිගේයා 

දුටුවේ නැත ඔහු මා ළඟ සිටියා

විකුවා පණුවෙක් ඔහු දෙකඩ වන ලෙසින්

ගිල දැම්මා හාදයාව අමු අමුවෙයා

ඉක්බිති ඔහු බීවානේ පිනි බිඳුවක්

අසල පිහිටි තණපත කෙලවර රැඳුණු

පසෙකට වෙලා බිත්තිය දෙසටම පනිමින්

ඉඩ සැලසුවා යන්නට කුරුමිනියාට

යුහුසුළු දෙනෙත් කරකවමින් ඔහු බැලුවා

ඒ මේ අත හාත්පසම පිරික්සමින්

තැතිගත් පබළු ලෙස ඒ නෙත් මට පෙනුනා

විල්ලුද හිස සෙලෙව්වා ඔහු මා දුටුවා

ලෙසින් කෙනෙකු අනතුර ගැන ඉව වැටුණු

පිරිනැමුවා ඔහු හට පොඩි පාන් කැබැල්ලක්

තටු විහිදා පැන නැංගා අහස කරා

පැද යනවා විමන කරා  මා දුටුවා

නිසයුරු දෙබෑ කරනා ලෙස හබල් වලින්

නැතිවෙයි  ලකුණු මං බබලන රිදී තලෙන්

මද්දහනේ ගං වෙරළේ සමනලු මෙන්

පනිමින් පිහිනමින් ඔබ මොබ කොමල ලෙසින් 


 Copyright@R.C. Fernando