Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Whitman and Dickinson

ENGL 283.401
instructor(s):
TR 12-1:30

"Publication - is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man -," wrote Emily Dickson, and declined to publish. Whitman rose to the occasion of Emerson's challenge: "I look in vain for the poet whom I describe," and published and republished LEAVES OF GRASS throughout his poetic career. As they have been mythologized, Dickinson was parodically feminine and reticent; Whitman parodically masculine and public. To approach the art of these two American poetic geniuses, we will look at their work in the context of the literary marketplace. We will read most of their poetry and selected correspondence; we will also read some of Whitman's prose. We will look as well at the market for poetry in the 19th century and consider the poetic conventions that both poets knew. The elaborate interplay between private selfhood and published selfhood will furnish a theme for organizing the course. How Whitman and Dickinson's poetry refuses to be contained will be equally instructive. The class will be run as a seminar, with much of the discussion conducted by the students. Written assignments will include several short papers and a take-home exam. We will use a listserv and a class homepage for discussion and resources. Electronic submission of papers and a final World Wide Web project will be optional.