I don’t believe that worms in Emily Dickinson’s poetry must all be phallically symbolic. Intentionally or unintentionally, she may never have made this worm/penis connection.
But some critics insist this is so. Some say Dickinson had a dread of male sexuality, or that she harbored an incestuous desire for her brother, or that she is gay.
In one poem she wrote, “I came upon a Worm — Pink, lank and warm –” and in another poem she wrote about “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” that made her feel “Zero at the Bone–” Psychoanalysts and literary critics alike made the appropriate connections.
She loved other people with a 19th century sensibility. She used intimate language with her family and friends, but that was the way of the world back then. The love she expressed for her sister-in-law exuded an intimacy that a modern person may find odd and perhaps gay. Her empathy with others was often so strong, she suffered along with them through their illnesses and deaths.
She also loved nature; her garden, birds, and flowers. She spent many days in her garden or gazing out at it from her window.
But she always had an eye on eternity. This sweet life on earth is so temporary that it seems to mean so little in the face of eternity.
The lowly worm is a garden companion in life and a great leveler at the end of life. The worm approaches the corpse in the ground, crawls through the flesh, decomposes the temporal body back into dust. How efficient and necessary. And what can be more intimate than this final intercourse between worm and flesh lying together in the grave? Human lust is just a flicker in the flame.