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

Updated on July 12, 2020
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Sketch of Emily Dickinson


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

The speaker in Dickinson's "Through lane it lay — through bramble" (#9 in Johnson's Complete Poems) 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.

Emily Dickinson's Titles

Emily Dickinson did not provide titles to her 1,775 poems; therefore, each poem's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel: "When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text." APA does not address this issue.


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 —

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.

Emily Dickinson


Life Sketch of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson remains one of the most fascinating and widely researched poets in America. Much speculation abounds regarding some of the most known facts about her. For example, after the age of seventeen, she remained fairly cloistered in her father's home, rarely moving from the house beyond the front gate. Yet she produced some of the wisest, deepest poetry ever created anywhere at any time.

Regardless of Emily's personal reasons for living nun-like, readers have found much to admire, enjoy, and appreciate about her poems. Though they often baffle upon first encounter, they reward readers mightily who stay with each poem and dig out the nuggets of golden wisdom.

New England Family

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, MA, to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Emily was the second child of three: Austin, her older brother who was born April 16, 1829, and Lavinia, her younger sister, born February 28, 1833. Emily died on May 15, 1886.

Emily's New England heritage was strong and included her paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, who was one of the founders of Amherst College. Emily's father was a lawyer and also was elected to and served one term in the state legislature (1837-1839); later between 1852 and 1855, he served one term in the U.S. House of Representative as a representative of Massachusetts.


Emily attended the primary grades in a one room school until being sent to Amherst Academy, which became Amherst College. The school took pride in offering college level course in the sciences from astronomy to zoology. Emily enjoyed school, and her poems testify to the skill with which she mastered her academic lessons.

After her seven year stint at Amherst Academy, Emily then entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the fall of 1847. Emily remained at the seminary for only one year. Much speculation has been offered regarding Emily's early departure from formal education, from the atmosphere of religiosity of the school to the simple fact that the seminary offered nothing new for the sharp minded Emily to learn. She seemed quite content to leave in order to stay home. Likely her reclusiveness was beginning, and she felt the need to control her own learning and schedule her own life activities.

As a stay-at-home daughter in 19th century New England, Emily was expected to take on her share of domestic duties, including housework, likely to help prepare said daughters for handling their own homes after marriage. Possibly, Emily was convinced that her life would not be the traditional one of wife, mother, and householder; she has even stated as much: God keep me from what they call households.

Reclusiveness and Religion

In this householder-in-training position, Emily especially disdained the role a host to the many guests that her father's community service required of his family. She found such entertaining mind-boggling, and all that time spent with others meant less time for her own creative efforts. By this time in her life, Emily was discovering the joy of soul-discovery through her art.

Although many have speculated that her dismissal of the current religious metaphor landed her in the atheist camp, Emily's poems testify to a deep spiritual awareness that far exceeds the religious rhetoric of the period. In fact, Emily was likely discovering that her intuition about all things spiritual demonstrated an intellect that far exceeded any of her family's and compatriots' intelligence. Her focus became her poetry—her main interest in life.

Emily's reclusiveness extended to her decision that she could keep the sabbath by staying home instead of attending church services. Her wonderful explication of the decision appears in her poem, "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church":

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —
I'm going, all along.


Very few of Emily's poems appeared in print during her lifetime. And it was only after her death that her sister Vinnie discovered the bundles of poems, called fascicles, in Emily's room. A total of 1775 individual poems have made their way to publication. The first publications of her works to appear, gathered and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a supposed paramour of Emily's brother, and the editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson had been altered to the point of changing the meanings of her poems. The regularization of her technical achievements with grammar and punctuation obliterated the high achievement that the poet had so creatively accomplished.

Readers can thank Thomas H. Johnson, who in the mid 1950s went to work at restoring Emily's poems to their, at least near, original. His doing so restored her many dashes, spacings, and other grammar/mechanical features that earlier editors had "corrected" for the poet—corrections that ultimately resulted in obliteration of the poetic achievement reached by Emily's mystically brilliant talent.

The text I use for commentaries
The text I use for commentaries | Source

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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