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Emily Dickinson's "Through lane it lay – through bramble"

Emily Dickinson's poems inform my own worldview as a poet and scholar. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Introduction and Text of "Through lane it lay – through bramble"

The speaker in Emily Dickinson's "Through lane it lay – through bramble" takes her listener/reader through an imaginary journey that on the superficial level remains a journey of fantasy filled with danger, as it is colorfully allusive to mythological creatures attempting to attack a flock of children as they venture home.

But Dickinson never leaves her readers moving gleefully from the adventure story stage; thus, her simple adventure is actually performing as an extended metaphor likening the life of human beings on this earth to a dangerous journey through a mythological forest.

Through lane it lay – through bramble

Through lane it lay – through bramble –
Through clearing and through wood –
Banditti often passed us
Upon the lonely road.

The wolf came peering curious –
The owl looked puzzled down –
The serpent's satin figure
Glid stealthily along –

The tempests touched our garments –
The lightning's poinards gleamed –
Fierce from the Crag above us
The hungry Vulture screamed –

The satyr's fingers beckoned –
The valley murmured "Come" –
These were the mates –
This was the road
Those children fluttered home.

Commentary

Dickinson's speaker employs an extended metaphor that likens the human's path through life on a troubled planet to a simple walk through the woods—a woods that is, however, anything but ordinary.

First Stanza: A Jaunty Riddle

Through lane it lay – through bramble –
Through clearing and through wood –
Banditti often passed us
Upon the lonely road.

In the opening stanza, the speaker begins rather quietly and again almost hinting that this poem will be another jaunty riddle. She inserts that nebulous "it," only stating where it "lay" and led: in a lane and rambled through "bramble"; it also ran through a "clearing" and also through a "wood."

The speaker then identifies the "it" as a "lonely road," in the same breath as asserting that the little group of folks was often passed by marauding robber gangs, or "banditti." She employs the rare spelling for "bandits." One can imagine the poet running upon that word and laying it away for later use in a poem. Dickinson did enjoy the appearance of cosmopolitanism; she was amused by the charm of worldly engagement, even as she peered intensely into the ultra personal, the ultimate individual soul.

Second Stanza: A Fantastic Journey

The wolf came peering curious –
The owl looked puzzled down –
The serpent's satin figure
Glid stealthily along –

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The speaker continues the fantastic journey. After describing the "lonely road" on which the travelers are moving, she now describes animals that the group encounters. Wolves that seem quite nosey come and stare at them. From up in trees, "puzzled" owls peer down at them. They even observe snakes slithering "stealthily along."

The speaker skillfully now begins to drop hints that this is no ordinary walk through the woods. After providing imagery that has thus far remained quite literally earthly, she employs the term "serpent" for snake.

The term "serpent" adds heft to the image of the creature that simply glides upon the earth because that term immediately identifies that creature as the creature from Genesis–that evil one who tempted the first pair of human beings to ignore the only commandment placed upon them by their Creator-God.

Third Stanza: A New Direction

The tempests touched our garments –
The lightning's poinards gleamed –
Fierce from the Crag above us
The hungry Vulture screamed –

The speaker continues to deviate her description from an ordinary jaunt through the woods. Now she asserts that their clothes were disheveled by "tempests" – not merely did a storm blow up and get them wet.

The storms were "tempests," or many violent storms, a term which again increases the severity the situation and likely alludes to the Shakespeare play, "The Tempest," which featured a convoluted tale of intrigue and romance, in other words, a simulacrum of the world with its trials and tribulations along with intrigue and romance.

As the speaker describes the lightning from these "tempests," she employs the term "poinards." That French term "poignard" means dagger. When anglicized, the correct spelling of the term is "poniard." Yet for some reason Dickinson has once again baffled her readers with an obvious departure from the accurate spelling of the term. And again one wonders why Thomas H. Johnson, the editor who restored Dickinson's poems to the forms that more closely represent her originals, did not quietly correct that spelling.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the spelling "poinards," the speaker uses the term for the continued purpose of supporting the extended metaphor of a treacherous journey through life on earth. Just as the storms are "tempests," the lightning gleams in daggers.

The claims of the scenarios must remain somewhat exaggerated in order to deepen and widen the metaphor from simple journey through the woods to complex journey on the path of life through a threatening world. The speaker thus continues to convey her audience from that simply walk through the woods to the journey on the path of life through a menacing world.

Fourth Stanza: Human Lust

The satyr's fingers beckoned –
The valley murmured "Come" –
These were the mates –
This was the road
Those children fluttered home.

The final movement finds the speaker addressing the issue of human lust. Just as the first pair was hassled by the serpent and urged to commit the one sin that would banish them from their garden paradise, all of the children resulting from that pair's falling are hassled and urged to commit that same sin repeatedly. This "road' through life is replete with the fingers of lust luring, "beckon[ing]" the children to "come" into that "valley" of lustful pleasure.

The not-so-subtle images of "fingers" and "valley" complete the metaphor and remind the audience that those "mates" on this road have caused "those children" the misery of having to "flutter" on their way home. The only bright and optimistic hope is that those children are, in fact, on their way home, and that they will finally begin to realize that those satyr "fingers" plunging into those "valleys" only beckon one to death, not to the pleasure promised by those liars.

The text I use for commentaries

The text I use for commentaries

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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