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Emily Dickinson & Walt Whitman. English 11 - Mr. Powell. Two Transitional Writers. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are included in the Romantic Period in our textbook. Yet they could also be placed comfortably in the post-Civil War era of American Realism.

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Emily Dickinson & Walt Whitman

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emily dickinson walt whitman

Emily Dickinson &Walt Whitman

English 11 - Mr. Powell

two transitional writers
Two Transitional Writers
  • Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are included in the Romantic Period in our textbook.
  • Yet they could also be placed comfortably in the post-Civil War era of American Realism.
  • This is because they were both involved in making the transition between Romanticism and Realism.
the poet of the inner soul
“The Poet of the Inner-Soul”
  • Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 and was destined to become one of the greatest poets of all time.
  • Like many authors, Dickinson was not known until after her death in 1886.
  • She was, in fact, a very reclusive and quiet woman who hardly ever left her home town.
  • The picture you see here is one of two known photos of Emily.
the belle of amherst
“The Belle of Amherst”
  • Amherst, Massachusetts was a quiet New-England town when Emily was born there.
  • Amherst is now known for the very fine Amherst College that is located there.
  • As mentioned, Emily spent nearly her entire life in Amherst.
  • She has been called the “Belle of Amherst.” A play about her is called by that name.
tending her garden
Tending Her Garden
  • To passersby, Emily was most frequently seen tending her garden at the home she was raised in.
  • Very few people knew that Emily Dickinson was secretly writing poetry.
  • Only a few people with whom she corresponded ever saw any of her poems.
7 poems
7 Poems
  • During her lifetime, only seven poems of Emily Dickinson’s were published.
  • These, in fact, were poems that she had written to other people who then had them published.
  • It is not known if she even knew that any of her poems had ever been published.
possible answers to the mystery
Possible Answers to the Mystery
  • Emily’s sheltered life may have been the result of the death of family members and friends.
  • The more likely notion is that she had had some failures in love.
  • Even though she shut herself away from the world, it is clear that she valued the few friends that she had.
failures in love
Failures in Love
  • The question of Emily’s sexual feelings has been a subject of a lot of recent writings.
  • There were at least three men in her life that could have “broken her heart.”
  • But her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert, to whom she wrote hundreds of letters, might have also been a love interest.
  • Though there is no proof of homosexuality, it is easy to see why something like that, which was so frowned upon in the 1800’s,could have driven her into her private world.
another possibility
Another Possibility
  • Emily was educated at Amherst Academy which had started taking female students two years before she enrolled.
  • The she entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.
  • The founder, Mary Lyon, ranked students of the basis of those who would receive God’s grace, those who had some hope, and those who had no hope at all.
  • She placed Emily in the last category.
her own religion
Her Own Religion
  • Not having “conventional” religious views may have also contributed to Emily’s isolation.
  • She refused to sign an oath to dedicate her life to Jesus Christ and she dropped out of school.
  • Even so, she clearly had a belief in God and heaven, but it was different than the views held by her peers.
her church was nature
Her Church was Nature
  • In a well-known poem of hers, Emily says:
  • Some keep the Sabbath going to Church- I keep it, staying at Home- With a Bobolink for a Chorister- And an Orchard, for a Dome- Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice- I just wear my Wings- And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church, Our little Sexton-Sings. God preaches, a noted Clergyman- And the sermon is never long, So instead of getting to Heaven, at last- I'm going, all along.
the men in emily s life
The Men In Emily’s Life
  • Her father, a lawyer, to whom she was very close was probably the model for what she looked for in male friendship. His death was a devastating loss.
  • The first man was Benjamin Newton who studied law under her father. He taught her to see what was “good and beautiful” in nature and encouraged her to write poetry.
man 2
Man #2
  • She began a friendship with Charles Wadsworth of Philadelphia. He was married and they corresponded regularly.
  • He visited her twice.
  • She called him her “dearest earthly friend.”
  • In 1862, he moved to San Francisco, and she was devastated.
  • Soon afterwards, she withdrew from Amherst society.
  • Even her best friends rarely saw her unless it was out working in her beloved garden.
man 3
Man #3
  • The third man was the writer Thomas Wentworth Higginson who was known for encouraging younger writers.
  • She sent him a brief note with four of her poems with the message:
  • “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?”
  • He was fascinated and asked for more poems.
a meeting
A Meeting
  • Higginson maintained a long correspondence with Dickinson, and eventually he went to visit her in 1870.
  • The following frame is his description of first meeting her:

“A step, like a pattering child’s in the entry, and in glided a little plain woman with two smooth bands of reddish hair and a face of no good feature—in a very plain and exquisitely clean white pique and blue net worsted shawl. She came to me with two white day lilies, and she put them in a childlike way into my hand and said, ‘these are my introduction’ in a soft, frightened childlike voice—and she added, under her breath, ‘forgive me if I am frightened; I never see strangers and hardly know what to say.’”


Higginson said that, soon after this first moment, Emily talked easily and continuously. He later said “I never was with anyone who drained my nerve power so much…Emily Dickinson had more charm than anyone I every knew.”

her poetry
Her Poetry
  • Emily probably wanted to have her poems published but on her own terms, and it seemed that publishers were unwilling to take a risk with them—they were very unconventional at the time.
  • Higginson thought that Walt Whitman (next) influenced her poems, but she said that she never read his poetry because she heard his poetry was “disgraceful.”
her own style
Her Own Style
  • It seems that Emily invented her own style for her poems.
  • They have a sing-song quality and are similar, in many ways, to the old ballads of the English and Irish people.
  • They often alternate between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.
  • There is a gem-like depth of thought in her simple lines.
  • She knew what she wanted to say and was precise in her ways of saying it.
her letters to the world
Her “Letters to the World”
  • Without a publisher, Emily kept on writing her poetry privately.
  • In one poems she calls them “my letters to the world which never wrote to me.”
  • She tied them up in little blue ribbons and hid them away in drawers and boxes.
emily s death in 1886
Emily’s Death in 1886
  • When Emily died, her sister Lavinia was in charge of Emily’s estate.
  • Lavinia knew that Emily wrote some poems, but imagine her surprise when she started going through Emily’s stuff.
  • At first, Lavinia went through boxes and dressers and found about 900 poems.
  • But she kept finding even more.
  • Eventually the total swelled to over 1800 poems.
  • Not all of them were published until 1955, nearly seventy years after her death.
emily s legacy
Emily’s Legacy
  • Emily Dickinson is now considered one of the greatest American poets.
  • Moreover, she is America’s first major female poet and one of the first major female writers in all of Western literature.
  • Her “letters to the world” have finally found their audience.
walt whitman
Walt Whitman
  • If Emily Dickinson is one of America’s great poets, she has to share the spotlight with Walt Whitman.
  • Whitman may have changed the course of poetry more than any other single person.
  • Almost single handedly, he invented free verse, the poetry of no rhythm and rhyme that had dominated the last century.
  • Walt Whitman was born in 1819, about half way between the American Revolution and the American Civil War.
  • By 1855, when Whitman published his first edition of poetry, America had changed dramatically.
  • Whitman is the first poet that seemed to speak for all of the new United States.
a growing america
A Growing America
  • In 1783, the new country was a group of 13 new states clustered along the Atlantic coastline.
  • By 1855, America had grown to 30 states that stretched across the continent and was rapidly moving toward industrialization and urbanization.
  • It was a diverse country with people coming in from all over the world.
  • It was America’s diversity that fascinated Whitman.
  • He saw America as the greatest nation that ever was, and it was great because it was a “melting pot” of skilled, hard-working people from everywhere in the world.
the young walt whitman
The Young Walt Whitman
  • Before becoming a poet, Whitman held a variety of jobs and lived a kind of vagabond lifestyle.
  • He was very poor as a child and started having odd jobs as a teenager and young man.
  • He was a carpenter, a printer, a journalist, and even was a schoolteacher (shows how low he was getting).
interested in everything
Interested in Everything
  • Whitman was interested in ancient Egypt.
  • He loved the sea--
  • And opera.
  • He was fascinated by astrology and phrenology.
  • The sights and sounds of everything around him fascinated him.
  • He was interested in politics, and he delighted in the power of words to express one’s ideas.
the poet
The Poet
  • When he turned to writing poetry, Whitman had already lived a fuller life than many people live in a lifetime.
  • But his poetry was different—very different
  • He saw poetry as organic—growing naturally like flowers and other plants grow.
  • He invented what is now called Free Verse —poetry that has no rhythm or rhyme.
a little unusual
A Little Unusual
  • Until Whitman, poetry had always had rhythm and rhyme.
  • Most people who saw his poetry found it too weird, and many would not even consider it poetry.
  • Whitman needed a boost—a way of getting his work recognized.
leaves of grass
Leaves of Grass
  • His first book of poems was entitled “Leaves of Grass.” (1855)
  • Whitman paid for it entirely by himself because, like Dickinson’s poems, publishers thought they were too odd to take a costly chance on.
  • As a former printer, he saved more money by doing the typesetting.
  • He sent a free copy to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
support from an unusual source
Support from an unusual source
  • Emerson was considered America’s greatest thinker and was an unlikely person to back Whitman’s new style of poetry.
  • Yet Emerson was entranced by the poems and responded with a five-page reply.
  • It became the most famous piece of literary sponsorship in American history.
  • Emerson’s support then caused others to rethink and revisit Whitman’s poems.

Emerson’s reply included the following lines:

“I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere for such a start.

Emerson probably didn’t care much about knowing about Whitman’s long foreground, but he was right in assuming Whitman had lived a full and diverse life.

free verse
Free Verse
  • Free verse is Whitman's expression of the democratic concepts of a vast diverse America
  • "What we call poems." he wrote, "are merely pictures."
  • The "real poems," he insisted, "are the men and women in all the variety of human experience."
leaves of grass again and again and again
Leaves of Grass (again and again and again)
  • Nine times, he republished Leaves of Grass.
  • Nine times, it grew larger with the addition of more poems.
  • In many ways, as he put it, "The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem."
  • The volumes are a tribute to the country and to its people, especially the common working people.
the civil war
The Civil War
  • In December of 1862, Whitman was first exposed to the tragedy of The Civil War when he traveled to Virginia in search of his brother George who had been wounded in battle.
  • Whitman spent several days at camp hospitals of the Army of the Potomac just after the particularly bloody Battle of Fredericksburg.
He was so moved by the scene at the battlefield hospital that he traveled to Washington, D.C, and spent much of the next three years working occasionally as an unofficial nurse in several army hospitals.
  • Whitman made a great effort to get to know wounded soldiers, bringing them small gifts and writing letters for them
abraham lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
  • Whitman was also a great admirer of Lincoln.
  • Lincoln's death evoked a strong response in Whitman who wrote several poems about Lincoln’s death.
  • "O Captain, My Captain" is perhaps the best known.
  • "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," is also a well-known Lincoln memorial.
the american chorus
The American Chorus
  • In the following poem, “I Hear America Singing,” Whitman envisions America as a giant chorus.
  • Each person is like a soprano, an alto, and tenor, or a bass who is harmonizing their voice
  • Into the giant American song.

I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;Those of mechanics--each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or


The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or

leaves off work;The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the

deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench--the hatter

singing as he stands;


The wood-cutter's song--the ploughboy's, on his way in

the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;The delicious singing of the mother--or of the young

wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—

Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else; The day what belongs to the day--At night, the party of

young fellows, robust, friendly,Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious