While typing up my Conversation Starter, I found this YouTube video, which asks, “How would Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson have fared if they met in real life?” Based on what we’ve read over this last month, both in their poems, and the second opinions of countless others, do you think this video provides an accurate description of such a date? If not, please explain what would’ve been different if Whitman met Dickinson.
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?
This is my entry for the Hymn Meter Challenge, as I perform “I heard a fly buzz when I died” (F591A) to the theme from Gilligan’s Island.
So apparently Dickinson’s been a little bit of a hot topic in film the past 30 or so years. In doing some extra research on her, I stumbled across a few examples of her being featured in various movies.
This following example has already been talked about on the blog, but still one worth checking out so here’s another plug for it.
Found this gem online and because I’m still angry (and will be until the day I die) that my Creative Writing: Poetry class last semester was so dead set on RIPPING apart (I’m not bitter) any piece of writing without a title, I thought I’d share here.
Seems relevant enough.
Sorry @ the ghost of Emily Dickinson–there are no exceptions in poetry apparently.
I was reading about Emily Dickinson online, and found a few tips on how to read her work, from Crash Course English Lit, and PBS NewsHour. The latter is partly biographical, in fact. I hope you enjoy them! Did you find anything new, or helpful, in either video?
Given that this week starts the portion of this semester devoted to Emily Dickinson, I would like to present the one thing I knew about her prior to the start of this class: a second-season episode of Hey Arnold!, from 1997, entitled “Phoebe Cheats.” Why do you think Dickinson is the poet used in this episode? How do you read the “haunted trophy” element of the piece?
One of the things that I found interesting while reading the biography and information about Emily Dickinson was the fact that most of her work was not published until after her death. I liked how they talked about the fact that it is ambiguous whether or not she actually wanted her work published or not. This method of only showing those close to her, her poems make it seem like there is something intimate about her pieces. Do you think these poems are all personal and are meant to connect directly to those that she sent them to, or do you think this was the only way she felt she could get her work out into the world since publishing work as a woman was difficult at the time? Also, what do you make about the fact that only one-third of her work was sent in these letters? Why do you think the other two-thirds of her work she kept to herself?
One of the links that Dr. Scanlon wanted us to look at was tips on reading Emily Dickinson’s work. Did you find reading and understanding Dickinson’s work challenging? Also, the way in which Dickinson described poetry– “if I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physical as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?” — do you find this as an accurate representation of what her work does? Did you have physical reactions to her work?
While I was reading Dickinson’s work, I found her very progressive and she came across to me as a feminist in a way. She fought against traditional writing techniques and made her own stylistic choices, she also never published anything under her name. Do you think deciding not to publish under her name was her way to break the stigma that women could not be writers or do you think she was being submissive in a way and was only pretending to be someone else in order to get her work out into the public?
I thought Dickinson all together was really interesting and her work was just as interesting. I never had much exposure to Dickinson before this, maybe a few poems in high school, but never to this extent. It was really nice to finally take a look at her work and study it in depth now. I know I have asked a bunch of stuff in this post, but I just have a lot of questions that I want to get other opinions on, but I am going to add one more: what, so far, do you find the most interesting about Dickinson and her work?
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