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?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Whitman, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" & Emerson's Letter

--This is an image of NYC from Brooklyn Heights during late 1830s. Brooklyn was, at this time, a city unto itself (later incorporated in NYC) and one of the nation's largest but its population largely worked in NYC; in other words, it was a commuter city.

--Think about commuting and how this poem imagines the relationship of the individual to the city, to the periodicity of commuting (going back and forth the same way every day) and time more generally (present and future).


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Whitman, "Song of Myself," Day #2

--Last class, we talked about Whitman's attempt to bridge the divides, particularly between self and other through his poetry and we focused on "embodiment," the notion that the poet physically embodies the nation. Some of the other ways of imagining a way to bridge this divide is through observation, participation and even merging into the identity of others. Find a couple of examples of any of these in the poem (first half or later) and consider what you think of/how you respond to Whitman's engagement with other people.

--One of the main divides that Whitman sought to break down is the conventional divide between body and soul, especially the privileging of soul over body and the vision of sex as demeaning or sinful. Select an example or two of images of sex here and consider what he is specifically saying about it.

--At the end of the 1855 preface (which would not be included in subsequent editions of LoG), Whitman asserts that the "proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it" (2209). Do you think he is confident, anxious or discouraged about his prospects for this by the end of the poem?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Whitman and 19th century American Poetry

--This is the title page of the first edition of Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." Instead of an author's name, it had this image of Whitman in working-class garb and none of the poems were titled. It was clearly intended as something different from conventional poetry of the period.

--Compare any of the comments on poetry offered in the section of Whitman's preface you read to examples from Longfellow, the most popular poet of the period. How does Whitman's vision of poetry differ from Longfellow's practice? Are there any similarities?

--In the preface, Whitman offers an idealized model of the American nation and its people as "the greatest poem." How does his poem "Song of Myself" embody this principle in form or content?

--Whitman presents himself as the American "bard," the poet as representative or speaker for the nation. How does he enact this principle in the poem?

--"Song of Myself" is a long poem (when first published, it didn't have section numbers as it does now). Do you perceive any structuring principle or order, or does it feel like just a bunch of 'stuff'? If there is order, what do you perceive as the principle or logic of that order? If not, why write it this way?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Herman Melville, "Benito Cereno"

--An image of Melville, who had a brief career as a sailor previous to becoming an author.

--This story takes off from a real historical event, but spins it in a slightly different direction. Told from the perspective of the American captain Amasa Delano, it is a story about slavery and racial violence, but the story's point about these subjects is not necessarily those put forward by Delano himself (as he proves to be not the most observant man). What do you take to be the lesson or point of this story?

--"Follow Your Leader" is the motto that carries multiple meanings here, invoking Aranda, Babo, and maybe even the Spanish who first "discovered" the Americas (and brought African slavery to the continent as well). What do you think is its meaning?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hawthorne, "House of Seven Gables," Day #3

--The story has been, from the preface onward, about breaking a cycle of injustice begun with the Puritans. While the Pyncheons may have misused their temporal authority to steak the Maules land and have the first Maule killed, the Maules have also apparently misused their supernatural powers, killing Alice Pyncheon. How does the end resolve this? To what degree do you find this a satisfactory resolution?

--In the end, the politics of the two 'artist' characters seem to reverse: Clifford becomes a radical and Holgrave more conservative. What do you think Hawthorne is saying about the possibilities of radical transformation of American society here?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hawthorne, "House of Seven Gables," Day #2

--This is an image of a mesmerist, doing his "stuff," realigning the magnetic currents within his patient. Holgrave is described as being a mesmerist and his telling of his story is supposed to affected Phoebe.

--Discuss Clifford, the lover of beauty. What does Hawthorne seem to think of Clifford's aestheticism, his drive to only experience that which is beautiful? What do you make of his experience at the arched window and why does Hawthorne seem to endorse Clifford's attempt to jump out and join the crowd below?

--Like Clifford, Holgrave is a figure of the artist (the narrator repeats calls him "artist"). What are his political views and what is the narrator's attitude toward them? How would we compare him and his attitude toward others to Clifford?

--The story "Alice Pyncheon" tells part of the history of the Pyncheon-Maule conflict: what is its lesson? In the telling of the story, we seem to have a recapitulation or re-enacting of the dynamic of the story--Holgrave has the opportunity to put Phoebe under his spell. Why does he not do so? What does this story, with its parallel between mesmerism and storytelling/writing, have to say about the artist and writing?