Topics in American Literature I


In this course we will be looking intently at two deeply inventive American writers who on the face of it would seem to have little in common. Both Whitman and Dickinson inaugurated powerfully persistent traditions in American poetry: the one seemingly masculinist and public, the other seemingly feminine and private. Yet as we pay close attention to their lives, poems, letters, and language, we will aim to recover a truer account of their emotional and intellectual ambitions, and of their enduring achievements. We will ask questions such as the following: what are the limitations on Whitman's vision of American racial and sexual democracy, and what did Dickinson mean when she wrote that "The Soul selects her own Society" and called her country "Truth"? Whitman wanted to influence "poets to come," and he did, while Dickinson's imagination of her future audience was more ambivalent. What have poets such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, and Allen Ginsberg seen in Whitman? What have poets such as Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Muriel Rukeyser, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sylvia Plath seen in Dickinson? Stay tuned for a fuller understanding of the impact of both poets in their own time, in the twentieth century, and in our present moment. There will be a midterm paper, a final paper, and shorter writing assignments along the way. Faithful class attendance and participation are required, naturally! Satisfies the Nineteenth Century requirement.
Course Attributes: EN H; AS HUM; FA HUM; AR HUM; EL NC