Emily Dickinson - 19th Century American Transcendentalism

19th Century American
December 6, 2010
Three types of “stress”
 Metric
stress: hymn (or “common”) meter
(iambic tetrameter alternated with iambic
Ex: “Doom is the House without the Door”
(Barker 82)
 A stressed metal
“Dare you see a soul at the White Heat?” (in
Franklin 401)
 The stress of divergent religious traditions
(Calvinism and a more personal spirituality)
A Chronology
1850 (Dickinson is 20): she receives Emerson’s
first collection of Poems from a friend
 1857: Emerson visit Amherst for a lecture, stays
with Dickinson’s brother, Austin, and her sisterin-law, Susan, though a coy Dickinson never
leaves her home to meet him
 1861: Dickinson’s first published poem appears in
Republican (entitled “The May-Wine”)
 1880 (four years after her death): Higginson and
Mabel Loomis Todd publish the first series of her
Poems. There are 11 editions by 1892.
Dickinson as a Transcendentalist
 Close
reader of Emerson and admirer of
 Created literary work that relied upon the
contents of individual consciousness
 Language becomes a tool for direct
understanding of reality via sensuous
perception of the physical world
 Language is constantly “mined” for new
symbolic meanings (see Barker 87 and Wolosky
135 on this)
 Her life provides the model for the Romantic
“Perception of an Object Costs”
Perception of an object costs
Precise the Object's loss –
Perception in itself a Gain
Replying to its Price –
The Object Absolute –
is nought -- Perception sets it fair
And then upbraids a Perfectness
That situates so far --
“I like a look of Agony”
I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it's true—
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe—
The Eyes glaze once—and that is Death—
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.
“She staked her feathers-gained
an arc”
She staked her Feathers—Gained an Arc—
Debated—Rose again—
This time—beyond the estimate
Of Envy, or of Men—
And now, among Circumference—
Her steady Boat be seen—
At home—among the Billows—As
The Bough where she was born—
“Wild Nights! Wild Nights!”
Wild Nights—Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!
Futile—the Winds—
To a Heart in port—
Done with the Compass—
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden—
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor—Tonight—
In Thee!
Wendy Barker explains Dickinson associates the "sun",
"day", and "night" as representing the social norms, and
cool climate with privacy. Is this seen at all throughout the
poems we were assigned for this week?
How do Dickinson's beliefs about woman's rights overlap
with those of the Transcendentalists? Specifically with
those of Margaret Fuller. Are these opinions evidenced at
all throughout the poems we were assigned for this week?
In the last stanza of Dickinson's "Dying! Dying in the night!"
who is "Dollie"?
Dickinson like some of the Transcendentalist chooses to
capitalize various words throughout her works. What is her
intent in doing this, since the capitalization is not
consistent throughout her work? For example, "My Life had
stood- a Loaded Gun-" all the nouns are capitalized, yet
these same nouns "Him", "Night", "Day", are seen in other
works written in lowercase.
What could it possibly mean for an intellectual-being being at odds with
the light of day? In much of Dickinson’s poetry the sun is a devitalizing
force, and darkness is light. It is certainly oxymoronic to detest the very
substance that gives life. By today’s standards, is Dickinson depressed: If
so, is depression an essential tool for the construction of her poetry?
The lack-luster of everyday existence, including that of most of her
immediate family, their religiosity, her father’s dominance, and the
imposition of the Calvinist church (this is possibly part of what Dickinson
called the prosy of prose) encouraged Emily Dickinson’s redefinition of
language and life through her poetry. Does her revolt against prose define
her as an individualist, or better yet a transcendentalist?
Nature—sometimes sears a Sapling—
Sometimes—scalps a Tree—
Her Green People recollect it
When they do not die—
Fainter Leaves—to Further Seasons—
Dumbly testify—
We—who have the Souls—
Die oftener—Not so vitally—
In the above poem Dickinson uses 12 m-dashes. Is there a purpose?
In our assigned reading, Wendy Barker speaks of Emily Dickinson
wanting to pick strawberries “But— ‘worrying’ if I stained my
Apron—/ God would certainly scold” What are “Dimity
Convictions”, are these convictions merely a constraining device?
Being engulfed in her own human nature which seems strongly
opposed to the dogma of Calvinism; and in her individual search
for truth, can the reader see her existence as an endemic force
of transcendentalist precepts. Could her life in any way parallel
the life of Frederick Douglas?
What is meant by the term “lunacy of light” is there a metaphor
in this phrase concerning the light of day, or is it some sort of
double meaning that considers as well a state of mind?
Why is the speaker in Dickinson’s poem say “I am afraid to own a
Body —/ I am afraid to own a Soul —/ Profound — precarious
Property —/ Possession, not optional —… Does her reluctance
scorn Walt Whitman’s brazenness in his proclamation in Song of
Myself: “I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the
Soul”— can the reader in any way see a virtual literary affront in
these two pieces?
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