Theory and practice
Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson
Aim of knowledge: 1. To make students get to know the major representatives of the poets of American High Romanticism.
2. To make students get the general idea about the features and significance of Leaves of Grass, and writing style and themes of Emily Dickinson
Aim of ability: training of the ability to analyze poems contrasting traditional writing styles and
Aim of quality: simulate the students’ interest in poems
Lecture, discussion, PPT presentation
Key points: Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Emily Dickinson’s writing style and themes
Difficulties: Whitman’s ideals about democracy and freedom and new individual images in Leaves of Grass
教 学 内 容
Step1 Preview Question
Discuss One's Self I Sing on P61 written by Whitman, I'm Nobody on P66 written by
Emily Dickinson and To Helen on P59 written by Poe, and compare and contrast these
three poems' similarities and differences. (From themes and writing styles)
Step2 Walt Whitman（1819—1892)
Ⅰ. His Life
Born in 1819 on Long Island, New York;
Poor & Semiliterate parents, only 5-6 years formal education, self-educated;
Worked as office boy, printing worker, school teacher, free-lance writer, carpentry, correspondent & other odd jobs;
Died in 1892, unmarried all his life.
Born on May 31, 1819, Walt Whitman was the second son of a house-builder.
Largely self-taught, he read a lot, becoming acquainted with the works of Shakespeare, Emerson and the Bible.
In 1836, at the age of 17, he began his career as teacher in Long Island. He continued to teach until 1841, when he turned to journalism as a full-time career.
In the fall of 1848, he founded a "free soil" newspaper
In 1855, first edition of Leaves of Grass, which consisted of twelve untitled poems and a preface.
second edition in 1856（thirty-three poems, a letter from Emerson praising the first edition, and a long open letter by Whitman in response）
“I was simmering(即将爆发),simmering, simmering,” he said, “Emerson brought me to a boil.”
“I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of Leaves of Grass. I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy... I greet you at the beginning of a great career…”
Whitman struggled to support himself through most of his life.
After his death on March 26, 1892, Whitman was buried in a tomb he designed and had built on a lot in Harleigh Cemetery哈利公墓 .
(Ⅰ) His Influence
1. He is recognized as a father figure who led the break from the past.
He has been compared to a mountain in American literary history.
2. Leaves of Grass, either in content or in form, is an epoch-making work in American literature:
→Its democratic content marked the shift from Romanticism to Realism.
→Its free-verse form broke from old poetic conventions to open a new way for American poetry.
Whitman’s writing style has a worldwide influence over modern poetry.
(Ⅱ) Influences upon Him
1. Influence from the Enlightenment
as embodied in Jefferson and Pain), ideals of the rights and dignity of the individual , toleration, humanitarianism（人道主义）, cosmopolitanism(世界主义) and idealism
2. Influence from Transcendentalism
reliance on insight and intuition, infinite power of man to gain knowledge by merging into nature
3. Influence from Emerson
1)The poet is a seer, universal man.
America is a poem in our eyes, American Poet is a universal man. (Emerson)
The greatest poet breathes into the world the grandeur and life of universe. (Whitman)
2) poetry is organic, natural.
Art should be based organically on nature , poetry grows out of nature; a poem is alive and passionate like the spirit of a plant/animal from nature. (Emerson)
The rhyme and uniformity of perfect poems show the free growth of metrical laws and bud… as lilacs and roses on a bush…(Whitman)
3)Both men believed in insight and intuition of man.
I greet you at the beginning of a great career,…I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion.
----Emerson, 21th July, 1855
Leaves of Grass (9 editions)——a collection of poems （9 editions ：12 poems -over400 poems）
It marked the birth of truly American poetry, which changed Whitman from a conventional, undistinguished man into one of America’s greatest and most original poets. It has attained almost universal acceptance as America’s greatest book of poems. It has been praised as “Democratic Bible” and as American Epic(共和圣经/美国史诗)
1. The Significance of the Title
1) Where there is earth, where there is water, there is grass.
2) Grass, the most common thing with the greatest vitality, is an image of the poet himself.
3) a symbol of the rising American nation, and an embodiment of his ideals about democracy and freedom.
1）Transcendent power of love, brotherhood, and comradeship
2）Imaginative projection into others’lives
3）Optimistic faith in democracy and equality
4）Belief in regenerative and illustrative powers of nature and its value as a teacher
5）Equivalence of body and soul and the unabashed exaltation of the body and sexuality
He extols the ideal of equality of things and beings, democracy, nature, labor and creation, openness, and freedom; celebrates man’s dignity, the self-reliance spirit, the individual value and brightest future of mankind; praises the expansion of America; emphasis on brotherhood and social solidarity (unity of nations in the world); expresses his pursuit of love and happiness, his ideas about death, and beauty of death; attacks the slavery system and racial discrimination
Viewpoints of democracy and individualism in Leaves of Grass
1）Walt Whitman is a poet with a strong sense of mission, having devoted all his life to the creation of the “single” poem, Leaves of Grass .
2）In this giant work, openness, freedom, and above all, individualism are all that concerned him.
3）His aim was to express some new poetical feelings and to initiate a poetic tradition in which difference should be recognized
4）The poet should behave as supreme individualist.
5）However, the poet’s essential purpose was to identify (identify A with B 使A与B 等同)his ego with the world, and more specifically with the democratic “en-masse” of America, which is established in the opening lines of “Songs of Myself.” Two people could be “twain yet one:” their paths could be different, and yet they could realize a kind of transcendent contact. Equally, many people could realize a community while remaining individuals.
3. Artistic Features
1) Poetic Style
① Most about man and nature, especially common people and ordinary Americans.
② Message was more important than form.
③ Use of conventional image
④ The use of a certain pronoun “I”: He uses the first person pronoun “I” to stress individualism, and oral language to acquire sympathy from the common reader.
2) Language Style
Free verse: Free verse has no regular rhythm or line length and depends on natural speech rhythms and the counterpoint (对照法) of stressed and unstressed syllables.
a. A looser and more open-ended （自由任意的）syntactical structure;
b. few compound sentences;
c. conversational and casual, in the fluid, expansive, and unstructured style of talking, like one of the ordinary men.
strong tendency to use oral English
vocabulary – powerful, colorful, rarely-used words, words of foreign origins, sometimes even wrong words
d. to create a different wave of feelings by cataloguing concrete things .
e. Musicality: a strong sense of rhythm + parallelism + phonetic recurrence.
Parallelism (repeat the idea with minor changes): The line is the rhythmical unit.
phonetic recurrence“同字起句法”: the repetition of words and phrases at the
beginning of the line, in the middle or at the end
I celebrated myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you
4. Appreciate Song of Myself
1) Song of Myself（1）
I celebrate myself, and sing myself (celebrate: praise; honor)
And what I assume you shall assume, (assume: admit; perceive)
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul, (loafe: (=loaf) wander; move freely)
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass. (a spear of: a narrow piece of)
My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death
Creeds and schools in abeyance, (the condition of not being in use or in force.)
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten, (sufficed: enough, they: the creeds and schools)
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard, (harbor: accept; admit) (at every hazard: whenever; in any case)
Nature without check with original energy. (check: considering)
2) Song of Myself（10）
Alone far in the wilds and mountains I hunt,
Wandering amazed at my own lightness and glee,
In the late afternoon choosing a safe spot to pass the night,
Kindling a fire and broiling the fresh-kill'd game,
Falling asleep on the gather'd leaves with my dog and gun by my side.
The Yankee clipper is under her sky-sails, she cuts the sparkle and scud,
My eyes settle the land, I bend at her prow or shout joyously from the deck.
The boatmen and clam-diggers arose early and stopt for me,
I tuck'd my trowser-ends in my boots and went and had a good time;
You should have been with us that day round the chowder-kettle.
I saw the marriage of the trapper in the open air in the far west,
the bride was a red girl,
Her father and his friends sat near cross-legged and dumbly smoking,
they had moccasins to their feet and large thick blankets hanging from their shoulders,
On a bank lounged the trapper, he was drest mostly
in skins, his luxuriant beard and curls protected
his neck, he held his bride by the hand,
She had long eyelashes, her head was bare, her
coarse straight locks descended upon her
voluptuous limbs and reach'd to her feet.
The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside,
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile,
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,
And went where he sat on a log and led him in and assured him,
And brought water and fill‘d a tub for his sweated body and bruis’d feet,
And gave him a room that enter‘d from my own, and gave him some coarse clean clothes,
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,
And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;
He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass'd north,
I had him sit next me at table, my fire-lock lean'd in the corner.
(1) Three Themes
① The idea of the self;
② The identification of the self with other selves;
③ The poet’s relationship with the elements of nature and the universe.
(2) Images & Symbols
① Houses and rooms represent civilization;
② Perfumes signify individual selves;
③ The atmosphere symbolizes the universal self.
The self is conceived of as a spiritual entity which remains relatively permanent in and through the changing flux of ideas and experiences which constitute its conscious life. The self comprises ideas, experiences, psychological states, and spiritual insights. The concept of self is the most significant aspect of Whitman’s mind and art.
Step 3: Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)
（1）Because I Could Not Stop for Death 《因为我不能等待死神》
（2）I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died 《我死时听到了苍蝇的嗡嗡声》
（3）I’m Nobody. Who Are You? 《我是无名小卒！你是谁？》
（4）This is My Letter to the World 《这是我给世界的一封信》
2. Appreciate I’m Nobody
(1) What do "frog"and "bog" mean?
(2) What is the theme of this poem?
(3) Do you want to be "nobody"or "somebody"? Explain your reasons.
3. Style and Themes
Her poems are characterized by the abundant use of dashes, and irregular and often idiosyncratic punctuation and capitalization and clear-cut and delicately original imagery, precise diction and fragmentary pattern.
Her themes include love, nature, friendship, death and immortality.
1) telling images, striking, suggestive and connotative sometimes incomprehensible
2) a severe economy of expression
3) direct and plain words, simple syntax
4) faulty grammar
5) Written largely in meters common to Protestant hymn books, her poems employ irregular rhythms, off- or slant rhymes
7) a careful balancing of abstract Latinate and concrete Anglo-Saxon words.
8) Her lines are gnomic(格言式的) and her images kinesthetic(动感的),
9) highly concentrated, and intensely charged with feeling.
10) Her greatest lyrics were on the theme of death, which she typically personified
11) as a monarch, a lord, or a kindly but irresistible lover, yet her moods varied widely
4. Contrast to Whitman Whitman
They are similar: both are unique, not imitative in themes and techniques
1) in themes both extolled (praised highly) an emergent America, its expansion, individualism and Americanness, their poetry part of American Renaissance, both had transcendental influence: death, eternity
2) techniques: break free of the convention of the iambic pentameter, show a freedom in form unknown before.
They are different:
They stood at the opposite ends (poles) on one axis:
Whitman keeps his eye on society at large, national, uses endless, all-inclusive
Catalogs; Dickinson explores the inner life of the individual, self/soul examining,
regional, simple and direct diction and syntax, experiments with language, use of images
society at large inner life of the individual
endless, all-inclusive catalogs the concise, direct and simple diction and syntax
Step 4: The Difficulties and Key Points
Key Points: Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Emily Dickinson’s writing style and themes
Difficulties: Whitman’s ideals about democracy and freedom and new individual images
in Leaves of Grass
Step 5: Homework
Appreciate Success Is Counted Sweetest on P65 and answer the following questions:
1. Why is success "counted sweetest by those who ne'er succeed"?
2. Who are "the purple host"?
3. Do you agree success is counted sweetest? Give us your opinions.