An Altered Look About the Hills, Emily Dickinson: Summary & Analysis

"AN ALTERED LOOK ABOUT THE HILLS" by Emily Dickinson captures the transformation of the natural world as the seasons change. Through vivid imagery and keen observation, Dickinson paints a picture of the shifting landscape and the subtle signs that mark the arrival of a new season. The poem reflects the beauty and wonder of nature's cyclical rhythms, inviting readers to appreciate the intricate details of the changing environment.


An altered look about the hills —
A Tyrian light the village fills —
A wider sunrise in the morn —
A deeper twilight on the lawn —
A print of a vermillion foot —
A purple finger on the slope —
A flippant fly upon the pane —
A spider at his trade again —
An added strut in Chanticleer —
A flower expected everywhere —
An axe shrill singing in the woods —
Fern odors on untravelled roads —
All this and more I cannot tell —
A furtive look you know as well —
And Nicodemus' Mystery
Receives its annual reply


"AN ALTERED LOOK ABOUT THE HILLS" portrays the changing of seasons and nature's transformation. The poem details the signs and subtle shifts that herald the arrival of a new season, from the altered appearance of the hills to the play of light and various natural occurrences. The poem captures the essence of seasonal transitions and their impact on the environment, invoking a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature's ever-changing beauty.

Critical Analysis

The poem begins by describing an "altered look" about the hills, signaling the noticeable changes in the landscape. The imagery of a "Tyrian light" filling the village suggests a warm and vibrant illumination, possibly alluding to the changing colors of the sky during sunrise or sunset.

The mention of a "vermillion foot" and a "purple finger" conveys the presence of vibrant and colorful elements in the natural world. These images evoke a sense of nature's artistry and its ability to paint the landscape with vivid hues.

The poem also depicts various natural occurrences that mark the arrival of a new season, such as a flippant fly on the windowpane, a spider at work, and the confident strut of Chanticleer (a rooster). These details highlight the intricacies of nature's activities and the cyclical rhythms that accompany each season.

The reference to an "axe shrill singing in the woods" suggests the sounds of human activity, possibly hinting at the gathering of firewood or the preparation for colder months.

The concluding lines mention "Nicodemus' Mystery" receiving its "annual reply," suggesting a sense of cyclical renewal and recurrence in nature's patterns, much like the biblical character Nicodemus who sought spiritual rebirth.


  • Nature's Rhythms: The poem celebrates the cyclical and ever-changing nature of the seasons, emphasizing the beauty and wonder of the transformations that occur in the natural world.
  • Observation and Detail: The poem demonstrates the speaker's keen observation and attention to detail, highlighting the small and subtle changes that occur in the environment as seasons shift.
  • Renewal and Continuity: The poem reflects the concept of renewal and continuity in nature's cycles, suggesting that the altered landscape and natural occurrences represent a recurring and predictable pattern.


  • Wonder and Awe: The poem conveys a sense of wonder and awe toward the beauty and intricacies of nature's changes, inviting readers to appreciate the subtleties of the shifting seasons.
  • Appreciation for Nature: The poem reflects the speaker's deep appreciation for the natural world and its ability to evoke a sense of awe through its transformations.

Literary Devices

  • Imagery: The poem uses vivid imagery to depict the altered landscape and the various natural occurrences that mark the change of seasons.
  • Metaphor: The metaphor of "Nicodemus' Mystery" receiving its "annual reply" suggests a parallel between the recurring mysteries of nature and the biblical character's spiritual journey.

Discussion Question

How does Emily Dickinson's use of imagery in "AN ALTERED LOOK ABOUT THE HILLS" help convey the beauty and significance of seasonal changes in the natural world?

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