Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Abraham Lincoln, Speeches

--Both of these speeches are famous examples of American political oratory. Coming as they do at the end of the term, it's hard not to look at them through the lens of earlier material we've studied, so why not do it?

--Compare Lincoln's speeches and their vision of the collective bond or identity of the American nation with those of Winthrop's "A Modell of Christian Charity," Danforth's "Errand in the Wilderness," Jefferson's "Declaration" or Madison's "Federalist Letter #10."

--We have studied a range of romantic political rhetoric, including abolitionist and women's rights discourse. How do Lincoln's speeches fit (or not) with the spirit or forms of romantic reformist discourse?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Civil War Poetry

--In the previous poetry, Whitman asserted and struggled with his vision of himself as the bard, the poet who unified the nation. The civil war clearly signaled a crisis for Whitman as a person and a poet. He moved south and worked as a hospital aide and then worked in Washington. How do you see him changing as a poet, both in his subject matter and his presentation of his role as a poet in "Drum-Taps"?

--Melville turned to poetry after he became frustrated with the reception of his fiction and despite receiving even less attention for his poetry, stuck with writing poetry the rest of his life. What do these poems have to say about the coming of the war ("The Portent"), the waging of the war ("Utilitarian...), and what reactions to the war reflected about American culture ("The House-Top")?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dickinson, Fascicle 16

--Here's a sample of a Dickinson poem in manuscript.

--Compare reading Dickinson poetry in the groupings she imagined herself and the poetry grouped by theme or in context with other poetry written by women of the time. How is this a different way of seeing her work?

--What does the grouping of the poems in this fascicle do to the individual poems? How do you think the poems relate to each other? What does the document itself say?

--The version available online offers examples of the variant lines that Dickinson included in the fascicles. What does including variants do to the meaning of the poem or your reading of the poetry more generally?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dickinson, Themed Poetry

Considering Dickinson's poetry as structured by a series of general concerns (in this case, death, publication and marriage) is a common approach to her work. Look at the poems in one of these thematic groups and argue for what you think Dickinson is saying about it.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Emily Dickinson, Published Poems & Nineteenth-century Women's Poetry

--Emily Dickinson is paired with Whitman as the most important poets of nineteenth-century America and typically seen as radically different from her peers. There were many successful women poets of the period, Sigourney and Cary being relatively exemplary. Compare the Dickinson poems assigned for Monday with those of Sigourney and Cary. To what extent are Dickinson's poems significantly different in terms of form or content?

--Dickinson published very few poems during her lifetime and the ones selected for today represent a majority of those. If you were to study just these poems, what do you think they would tell us about Dickinson as poet or person?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Whiman, "Live Oak with Mosses" & "Children of Adam"

--This is an image of a live oak tree, after which Whitman named these poems. The live oak is notable not only for its size, but for its very extensive root system, which stops other trees from growing nearby. For that reason, it is an ambivalent symbol of individualism in these poems of "manly love."

--How do these poems offer a different vision of Whitman's sense of his poetic self from that of "Song of Myself"?

--These poems exist as a cycle, presumably narrating an experience of manly love. How would you describe the narrative here? Where is Whitman at the end of this cycle?

--The editor suggests that Whitman didn't publish this sequence as it was drafted because it was "too direct" about homosexuality, but he did publish all of these poems, plus others about manly love in the "Calamus" section of the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, so it doesn't seem that Whitman was shy about publishing a defense of homosexuality. The editor implicitly argues for the superiority of the "Live Oak, with Mosses" sequence as the original vision for the poems over those published. Which do you think should be privileged? The original vision or the published version?

--Compare how Whitman imagines heterosexual love in "Children of Adam" to homosexual love in "Live Oak, with Mosses." How are relations between men and women figured differently than male-male love relations?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Whitman, "Out of the Cradle..." & "As I Ebb'd..."

--This is the frontispiece of the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass from which the poems for next class come; bushy-bearded and greying, Whitman is less the "working-man poet" of 1855.

--"Out of the Cradle..." tells a story of the poet's childhood, an experience of nature that seemingly initiates him into poetry, but it is not a triumphant or happy story, but a sad one of death and loss. How does death initiate Whitman into poetry in this poem? How does this present a different vision of nature's lesson for the romantics than what we've seen before?

--In "As I Ebb'd..." Whitman presents himself in a moment of doubt and despair and finds a corollary to himself in the beach he walks upon, a notable counterpart to the grass of "Song of Myself." What does the beach say as a symbolic commentary about Whitman the poet?

--In general, the 1860 poems mark a different view of Whitman: no longer heroically self-assertive, but doubting, grieving, self-questioning. Do you like this persona more or less than the earlier vision of the confident national bard embodying all?