Mitchell’s Conversation Starter

Over the course of the past month, I learned about how Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson portrayed themselves, both in their poems, and in real life. Whereas Whitman sang the praises of the human body, and photography, only two photographs of Dickinson exist, on account of how shy she was first thought to be. It turns out that, for all the times people considered the two to be polar opposites, they both were dealing with similar issues when it came to romance. In fact, their lives, and poems, could be seen as metaphors for someone discovering their personal identity.

For starters, Whitman dabbled with the more human side of romance when he penned “Calamus” for Leaves of Grass in 1860. “Calamus” was a series of poems about the sensual side of same-sex relationships, back when it was not so much a taboo subject, as much as it was unheard of at the time. Its themes included how people “[move] from claims of full disclosure … toward [both] revealing and concealing a ‘secret’ at the center of [their] identity” (Killingsworth 123). In other words, Whitman’s “Calamus” poems marked the inclusion of confessions, or coming out of the closet, into the gay culture of today.

This is emphasized in the poem, “Trickle Drops,” which compares the revelation of the narrator’s latent homosexuality to blood from a flesh wound: “From my breast, from within where I was conceal’d, press forth red drops, confession drops, / Stain every page, stain every song I sing, every word I say, bloody drops” (Whitman 104). To the narrator, admitting that they were gay at all was as painful as cutting or puncturing their skin, yet the relief of being honest about it was worth the blood being spilled as a result.

Dickinson, on the other hand, lived a rather contradictory life to how history saw her decades after her death. According to the Emily Dickinson Museum, she had “several significant male [and female] friends” in her younger days. The Dickinson Electronic Archives implied that the only other photo of her was one she shared with one of those friends, Catherine Anthon.

As for her poetic style, that can be summarized in this short poem, from R. W. Franklin’s The Poems of Emily Dickinson:

“Wild nights – wild nights!

Were I with thee

Wild nights should be

Our luxury!” (Fr269A)

Dickinson’s poetic style was short, direct, and to the point, providing big images with few words, compared to the bombastic, photographic imagery in Whitman’s portfolio. I read this example as Dickinson wanting to live her life to the fullest, regardless of what people say of her.

Overall, the lives and poems of both Whitman, and Dickinson, were metaphors for discovering one’s personal identity. What other poems, or places, interested you where the poets revealed their sexuality? What other forms of identity, besides sexuality, were the poets developing in their entries? Did it surprise you to see these poets, 150 years ago, expressing aspects of identity that society did not accept? How would the two react to the “identity politics” of today?

Words: 506

Christina’s Conversation Starter

For my conversation starter, I wanted to share with the class an experiment I conducted out of curiosity. Throughout the course of this semester, we have looked at several poems by WW and ED, and it has struck me on several occasions where gender comes into play with their writing styles. I hypothesized, based on my own readings, that individuals with no prior knowledge of either author or their gender would find, as I had, an initial impression of the author’s gender based on the language that the author used. I therefore chose the following poems by WW and ED inspired by assigned readings. The poems I chose by both authors are about the Civil War and use war language. I asked a total of four people to read a sample of poems, (the order was WW, ED, ED, WW): “CAVALRY CROSSING A FORD”, J639 – “My Portion is Defeat — today –”, F524A – “It feels a shame to be alive”, “AN ARMY CORPS ON THE MARCH”. I  asked  the following set of four questions after they had read all of the poems:


Which, if any, of the poems do you think were written by a man?

Which, if any, of the poems do you think were written by a woman?

Were there any words or phrases that made you guess man?

Were there any words or phrases that made you think woman?


The participants were of varying ages and genders: my mother, 64-years-old; co-worker, female 32-years-old; cousin, male 18-years-old; and family friend, male 43-years-old. None of the participants had any prior knowledge of poems by either author. Their responses showed agreement concerning the first two questions, assigning gender to the poem’s author, but the responses to word or phrase choice questions differed significantly. Each person I polled after reading the sample of poems guessed that the first and last poems were written by a man, and the two middle poems were written by a woman. When I asked them to identify which words or phrases led to to making that guess, they were all initially stumped by the question. My mother finally said that for her, ED’s use of the word “defeat” in the context it was used, and the phrase “battle’s horrid bowl”, both from F524A, gave her the sense that the author was female, while my co-worker noted that the titles are what she felt gave her the strongest sense. My cousin said that WW’s poems used language that made him picture a battlefield, while ED’s poem made him think of “the people back home.” My last participant said that he felt ED’s poems were romantic and WW’s poems were observant.


It is interesting, at least to me, that this set of poems, written in the same time period by authors influenced personally by war, could have such different tones attributed to them by the supposed gender of the author. Moving into open discussion, I am curious if you think knowing the gender of the authors going into a class like this, for example, influences our readings and interpretations? Do you have an argument that contradicts my hypothesis about ED and WW’s use of gendered language? Have you had similar are opposing thoughts while reading the assigned poetry this semester? I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this topic, and I look forward to reading responses!

Word count: 556

Volcanoes be in Sicily

It was mentioned to me, after my conversation starter, that flowers weren’t the only metaphor used for sexual imagery.  Dickinson may have used volcanoes in a similar way. However, volcanoes can also be interpreted as imagination or emotion. So how did you read “Volcanoes be in Sicily”? Which words or phrases specifically gave you that interpretation?

Some reminders and hints about upcoming assignments

  • USE YOUR RESOURCES! From your syllabus:

UMW Writing Center

The UMW Writing Center offers assistance on all types of writing projects. If you are an online or commuter student, you can schedule online or face-to-face appointments. Please ensure you are choosing the appropriate appointment type and date.

Phone: 540-654-5653
Office Location: Hurley Convergence Center (HCC), Room 430

  • Reminder about assessment on essays 2 and 3: because the turn-around time is nearly impossible for me, I will be relying heavily on the grading rubric to carry the feedback.  If you want more detail or explanation, of course ask and I will be glad to provide it!


  • Hint for your final project:
    • for artifacts from the Whitman archive: Click on the image of the original publication/book for the page(s) you want.  When it opens full size, you can right click to save it, then upload that image to VoiceThread easily.
    • for artifact from the Dickinson archive: If you want to use the scriptural image, you can right click it and save just as with Whitman pages.  If you want text also, as I have generally done on VoiceThread, you will need to screenshot/edit when you have the text tab open to get both or to focus on just text.  (You can drag the scriptural image closer to the text to keep it contact.) If you use Firefox, there is a new screenshot option in the browser (choose Page Options, the three dots up in the url bar).  There are also free screen shot apps or you can search to see how to capture the screen on your own computer.
    • What is most important to me is your commentary.  If capturing archive images is becoming a major stressor while you complete your final project, then just copy the text you want and paste it into a word doc to upload (pdf sometimes works better if you want to save as pdf).  This eliminates the possibility of manuscript images, but needs must.


Curiosity Post- how much time each week do YOU put into your classes?

One student shared with me that, between both of their 5 week online classes, they put in over 8 hours of writing, reading, discussion post conversation, and group collaboration DAILY. This being my first attempt at more than one online class in a 5 week period, I am wondering…is this typical? Is it reasonable? Is that the experience most people are having this semester? Do any of you work and/or have families as well?

I ask these questions, not to complain, but to ask for advice. I work and I have a son. I am desperately trying to keep up with all assignments for both classes, but  I’m lacking in some areas, specifically keeping up with discussion boards.  I just don’t HAVE 8 hours to devote. Does anyone have any hints, tricks, tips, or coping mechanisms they have found that help? If so, please share in the comments!

Alexis Zager’s Conversation Starter

This week, we were introduced to more of Emily Dickinson’s poems. These poems presented to us, the readers, had a wider variety of themes and subjects.  Many of these subjects entertained themes of death, such as  F591A (“I heard a buzz as I died).  However, one of Emily Dickinson’s  most well known poems  deals with eternal rest– “Because I Could not Stop for Death”. If you  would like to read it, I will set up a link to the poem at the end, it’s definitely a great poem to read.  This is not Dickinson’s first poem discussing death as the subject of her poem, nor the first one that puts Death into a more friendlier light. While, there are quite a few aspects to this poem that greatly differentiate it from her other poems, “Because I Could not Stop for Death” incorporates a certain theme that tends to be repeated multiple times throughout her other poems. Why is this one her most famous? Other than the language used throughout it, what makes it stand out among the rest of her poems?

When I first read this piece of poetry, I didn’t look too far into it or look up information about it’s background. To me, at the time, it was just a poem exploring the thought of Dickinson meeting up with kindly death, whom offers her a ride into Eternity. Dickinson then decides to leave her toil and leisure behind, solely to explore the passage Death has to offer.  So at my first read, I assumed this poem was Dickinson saying how kind Death is, that one should not worry about where he leads them. The only lines that felt out of place to me were lines nine to eleven, which were “We passed the School, where Children Strove  At Recess- in the Ring- We passed the Field of Gazing Grain-“. The reason I thought this was due to how mundane these lines were compared to carriage ride with Death. It was only after looking at Dickinson’s biography and at a few analysis pages did I come up with a theory of why she included these lines. This was her painting a scene of normality, a scene that anyone driving by carriage or car in this modern age would see if they looked out their window. She wanted the image of her riding with Death to contrast with the usual outlook. Though this does bring up the question if this is all she intended for these lines, to be just scenery. Or did she have a deeper meaning behind these lines?

Then there are lines twelve through thirteen, where she exposits “We passed the Setting Sun- Or Rather-He passed Us-” . At first, I thought it was part of the scenery and meant to be taken as her being brought to some sort of afterlife. Then I remembered that the sun in other literary works meant one’s life force. So Dickinson could be saying that her life is passing by her and soon she will cease to exist. Or this could be a marker for how far she and Death are from the living world and how close to Eternity they are. However, I could be wrong, maybe there are other ways to view these lines. If so, I would love to know.

Amazingly enough, this is my new favorite poem from Emily Dickinson. It is not due to it’s relatability or the language used throughout it, but due to its message. We all fear death because to us it is the end of our run in this life. However this doesn’t mean our inevitable demise is a bad thing or that it is truly the end. In this poem, Dickinson flat out tells the reader that it is not Death that marks our end, but it is what brings us to a new world, or eternity as Dickinson puts it. So now I am curious to see if others have come to the same conclusion on this poem’s meaning or have come up with different concepts. Please let me know, I would love to see others perspectives on this great poem.

Poem link:

Word Count: 694

Soo Ji’s Conversation Starter

This week, we have been introduced to many of Emily Dickinson’s main themes. Some of the themes I personally found interesting were mental health and selfhood. In her short poem (F620A) from which Dr. Scanlon took this week’s subtitle, Dickinson writes that “Much Madness, is divinest Sense” (Line 1). This poem is a difficult poem to read without knowing Dickinson’s biography. Dickinson was often called mad in her lifetime and even after her death. This poem, then, can be seen as a defense of her reclusion from public life. Instead of being part of society and publishing her work for others, Dickinson shared her work privately with her family and friends. Dickinson also never titled her work. After considering Dickinson’s biography, I found the way Dickinson talks about mental health and selfhood, which is-what is called madness can be interpreted as the truest sanity. It is called madness because it has been defined by the perspective of the majority who are continually seeking for what is right and what is wrong. Do you agree with my understanding of the poem? Do you notice anything else that we can relate between the poem and Dickinson’s biography?

This poem is, however, not just concerned with the judgments of “Madness” or “Sense.” Dickinson in depth criticizes how the majority made the judgment of Dickinson’s insanity “straightaway” only because she chose to “demur” from public life: “Tis the Majority in this, as all, Prevail- / Assent-and you are sane-/ Demur-you’re straightaway dangerous-” (Lines 4-6). In this sense, the last line of the poem, “And handled with a chain-,” can be interpreted as the description of how the majority took Dickinson’s freedom. The use of the word “chain” suggests that it is not just a loss of freedom, but potentially there is violence to it. As we all know, Dickinson is concerned with many themes that can be never defined with words such as nature, God and faith, death and loss, etc. What do you think Dickinson is trying to convey through the last line of the poem, especially through the word “chain”? Do you agree that the use of the word “chain” has a hint of violence?

Lastly, I found the themes of Dickinson’s poems “Much Madness is Divines Sense” and “I hide Myself within My Flower” very similar. In her poem “I hide Myself within My Flower” (F80C), Dickinson writes that she hides herself within her flower, which fades from “your vase.” Dickinson then describes how she “almost feels a loneliness” when the “You” feels “unsuspecting” for her.  From my understanding, Dickinson hides her true self within her public self because the “You” and/or the world, without suspect, thinks that Dickinson will fade at some point if she chooses to withdraw from public life. This is just my understanding of Dickinson’s poem “I hide Myself within My Flower.” What are your thoughts on this poem? Do you find any similarities or differences between these two poems?

Emily Dickinson Philosophy on Poetry Meme

Hello everyone! I found this Meme on Google that I believe is one of the core philosophy’s of Emily Dickinson. I wanted to ask this pertinent question of whether or not you guys stand by this philosophy of Emily Dickinson and if so why? And if you disagree with this philosophy of Emily Dickinson why?