English 471R

Eminent Authors: Whitman and Dickinson

Utah Valley State College
Fall 2007
Section 001
MWF 1:00-1:50, LA 102

Click here for schedule

Instructor: Ryan Simmons
Office: LA 109H
Phone: 863-6290 (x6290)
E-mail: simmonry@uvsc.edu
Office hours: MW 2:00-3:00, TTh 11:30-12:30, or by appt.


Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Little, Brown, 1960. ISBN 0316184136

----. Selected Poems. New York: Dover, 1990. ISBN 0486264661

Pollack, Vivian R., ed. A Historical Guide to Emily Dickinson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. ISBN 0195151356

Reynolds, David S., ed. A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. ISBN 0195120825

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass and Other Writings. Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Michael Moon. New York: Norton, 2002. ISBN 0393974960

Course Description

In many ways, no two poets could seem more opposite than the contemporaries Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman: one extremely public, the other exceedingly private; one a writer of expansive poems, the other a composer of precise verse. Yet the similarities between these two formative American poets may be more important than the differences. Both ambitiously attempted to redefine what poetry was capable of achieving, and more generally to expand what it is possible to say. And both did so by investing a great part of themselves into their poetry.

This course will take an in-depth look at the influences, the methods, and the results of Dickinson’s and Whitman’s poetry. We will start with a look at writers who influenced each poet; then we will closely read the poems of Whitman and Dickinson. This portion of the course will also place the poets in historical, cultural, and biographical contexts, and will include a unit on Whitman and Dickinson in visual culture. Toward a more comprehensive understanding of the poems and the circumstances in which they were produced, we will read selected critical essays on each poet. Finally, we will assess the legacy of Dickinson and Whitman, in part by scrutinizing the work of poets influenced by them.

Course Requirements

Exams (30%): Two exams, a midterm (10% of your course grade) and a comprehensive final (20%), will be given. The ability to remember and use key concepts from the course is important, but more important is your ability to reflect on critical questions and support your interpretation of texts and your own critical position.

Online Journal (20%): At least once a week, you are expected to contribute a journal response to course readings; these journal entries must be submitted online at a Blackboard Vista site that has been developed for our course. (Submitting your journal electronically requires you to have a UV Link ID and access to the Internet, both of which are automatically available to you as an enrolled student. If you need help with this, let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction.) I will provide instructions for accessing our Blackboard Vista site in class, and will also be available to guide you through the process individually if you’d like. Offline entries are permissible if you are momentarily unable to access the Web, but generally you should try to post entries online. Journal entries should be analytical in nature—raising questions, advancing hypotheses, exploring implications, etc. In most cases, they should concern themselves with readings we are about to discuss, although occasionally you may follow up on a class discussion after the fact. Because all participants’ entries will be visible online to everyone else in the class, the entries should also be dialogic—that is, you should read and, as appropriate, respond to each others’ ideas, thoughts, and questions.

PLEASE NOTE: Entries made within twenty-four hours of one another will be regarded as a single entry. In general, trying to catch up on missing entries late in the semester will have an adverse effect on your grade; trying to submit a majority of your journal entries in a short period of time is a waste of your effort, as it will result in a failing grade for the journal. Please keep in mind the main purpose of the online journal: to enhance in-class discussion. You are expected to keep on top of the journal throughout the semester; occasional minor lapses may be overcome, but flouting the purpose of this requirement is out of bounds.

Participation (20%): This portion of your grade measures the contribution you’ve made to classroom discussions on a day-to-day basis. Quality counts as well as quantity. Keeping up with the reading assignments, being involved in classroom discussion, and respectfully engaging with others’ points of view are factors that count in your favor. Missing class repeatedly will seriously impair this portion of your grade; so can habitual tardiness. Each participant will also be responsible for helping lead class discussion at least once or twice, which will be factored in as part of your participation grade.

Essay (30%): The culminating project of the course will be a medium-sized (8-10 pages on average), researched, analytical essay on a topic of your choice that pertains to the literary careers of Walt Whitman and/or Emily Dickinson. Possible approaches include analyzing prevalent themes or poetic techniques, interpreting the poets’ work in historical context, and exploring the issue of literary influence on or by either poet. A graded draft is due in November and is worth 10% of your course grade; a revision of that draft, due near the end of the course, is worth 20% of your course grade.

Essay Policies

  1. Essays must be typed and double-spaced and include a title (but not a title page) and page numbers. Essays are not graded on length, but rather on their ability to capture and persuade a reader. This ability arises from correctness of prose, and also from factors including clear expression, thoughtful organization, originality, completeness, and adequate support (including the incorporation of research materials).

  2. In order to receive a passing grade, an essay must articulate and support an original analysis, moving well beyond summary of other writers’ ideas and words.

  3. Material from outside sources must be cited completely and correctly using MLA style.

  4. I am always willing to read and critique work in progress, and to answer questions about your writing. When turning in an essay to be graded, you are expected to submit the best work you are capable of doing, given time constraints; thus, revisions will not be accepted after an essay has been graded.

  5. Late papers: You have three free “late days” upon entering the class. The assigned essay drafts are due at the start of class on their respective due dates. Beginning immediately thereafter, each class day an essay is turned in late counts as one late day used up. These days may be used up with one essay (turning it in three days late) or divided among more than one essay. No penalty is given for late essays turned in within these parameters, but once your late days are used up, no additional work will be accepted after its due date—late papers after that will receive no credit. (Late days may not be used for exams or other course work.)

    The three late days are provided to allow for normal problems such as illness, printer failure, forgotten notebooks, competing deadlines in other courses, etc. Once they are used up, no additional late days will be granted, regardless of the reason for being late, and any subsequent late papers will receive no credit.

Academic Honesty

Any course work that is found to violate UVSC’s standards of academic honesty will be dealt with as laid out in the college’s statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities, which appears in the UVSC catalogue. Please read these standards, and the consequences for violating them, carefully, noting that the repercussions are always severe. In particular, be aware that plagiarism is a severe violation of both college policy and the policy of this course.

Plagiarism, or the use of others’ words or ideas without proper attribution, is an impediment to your education and to the educational mission of UVSC. Under the policy of the English and Literature Department of UVSC, work that has been plagiarized must receive a failing grade. A distinction is made between unintentionally plagiarized work, which it is the student’s responsibility to correct under the instructor’s supervision so that it may be considered for a passing grade, and intentional plagiarism, which will be forwarded to the Office of Student Life as a disciplinary matter in accordance with UVSC’s statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities. Please refer to http://www.uvsc.edu/engl/studentresource/plagiarismpolicy.html to read the department’s full statement on plagiarism, and speak to your instructor if you have any questions about avoiding plagiarism.

Disability Accommodation

If you have a disability that may influence your ability to meet the requirements of this course, please contact the UVSC Accessibility Services Department (Room BU 145) as soon as possible. Any necessary accommodations, as arranged by the Accessibility Service Department, will be made.


W 8/22 Introduction to course
F 8/24 Bhagavad Gita, excerpt from chapter XI; Holy Bible, Song of Songs chapter 3; Shakespeare, excerpt from Richard II Act 2, Scene 1; Wordsworth, "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey"; Bryant, "To a Waterfowl"; Longfellow, "A Psalm of Life"; Emerson, "Hamatreya"; Thoreau, "Conscience" (handout)
M 8/27 Emerson, "The American Scholar" (available via Blackboard Vista)
W 8/29 Reynolds, "Walt Whitman, 1819-1892: A Brief Biography" (Historical Guide pp. 15-39); Whitman, Preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass (Leaves pp. 616-636)
F 8/31 Continue with 1855 Preface; Emerson, letter to Whitman (Leaves p. 637); Whitman, "Leaves of Grass: A Volume of Poems Just Published" (Leaves pp. 793-95), "Walt Whitman and His Poems" (available via Blackboard Vista), "Walt Whitman, a Brooklyn Boy" (available via Blackboard Vista)
M 9/3 NO CLASS - Labor Day
W 9/5 Whitman, first section of 1855 Leaves of Grass (Leaves pp. 662-710)
F 9/7 Continue with 1855 Leaves of Grass; also consult 1892 version of the opening poem, now titled "Song of Myself": focus on sections 1, 7, 15, 19-21, 24, 37-38, 50-52 of the 1892 version and note changes (Leaves pp. 26-78)
M 9/10 Fern, "Fresh Fern Leaves" (Leaves pp. 798-800); Griswold, review of Leaves of Grass (available via Blackboard Vista); Norton, "Whitman's Leaves of Grass (available via Blackboard Vista); Moon, "The Twenty-ninth Bather: Identity, Fluidity, Gender, and Sexuality in Section 11 of 'Song of Myself'" (Leaves pp. 855-863)
W 9/12 Whitman, "Inscriptions" section and "Starting from Paumanok" (Leaves pp. 3-25)
F 9/14 Whitman, "From Pent-up Aching Rivers," "I Sing the Body Electric," "A Woman Waits for Me," "Spontaneous Me," "Once I Pass'd through a Populous City" (Leaves pp. 79-91- 94)
M 9/17 Loving, "The Political Roots of Leaves of Grass" (Historical Guide pp. 97-119)
W 9/19 Whitman, "In Paths Untrodden," "Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand," "For You O Democracy," "When I Heard at the Close of the Day," "I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing," "I Heard It Was Charged Against Me," "We Two Boys Together Clinging," "Why Think You I Take My Pen in Hand?" (Leaves pp. 96-97, 99-101, 105, 108, 110-111, 114)
F 9/21 Killingsworth, "Whitman and the Gay American Ethos" (Historical Guide pp. 121-51)
M 9/24 Whitman, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life," "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" (Leaves pp. 135-40, 206-15, 227)
W 9/26 Whitman, "Beat! Beat! Drums!," "Cavalry Crossing a Ford," "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night," "The Wound-Dresser," "Long, Too Long America," Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun" (Leaves pp. 237-38, 252-53, 255-56, 259-62)
F 9/28 Whitman, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," "O Captain! My Captain!," "Prayer of Columbus"; Erkkila, "The Poetics of Reconstruction: Whitman the Political Poet after the Civil War" (Leaves pp. 276-84, 354-56, 890-900)
M 10/1 Whitman, "There Was a Child Went Forth," "Out from behind this Mask," "To a Common Prostitute," "Thoughts," "Others May Praise What They Like," "Passage to India" (Leaves pp. 306-08, 321-22, 325-26, 331, 345-53, 395)
W 10/3 Whitman, "The Sleepers," "A Noiseless Patient Spider," "To One Shortly to Die," "To a Locomotive in Winter" (Leaves pp. 356-64, 377, 378-79); Last day to drop course
F 10/5 Wilde, "The Gospel According to Walt Whitman" (Leaves pp. 807-10); Pound, "A Pact"; Hughes, "Old Walt"; Sandburg, "Chicago"; Ginsburg, "A Supermarket in California"; Alexie, "Defending Walt Whitman"; Fried, "A Story Having to Do with Walt Whitman" (handout)
M 10/8 Walt Whitman in visual culture
W 10/10 Whitman in popular culture: Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
F 10/12 NO CLASS - Fall break
W 10/17 Holy Bible, Revelation ch. 20; Shakespeare, Sonnet 130; Donne, "The Flea"; Herbert, "Jordan"; Bradstreet, "Upon the Burning of Our House"; Taylor, "Upon Wedlock, & Death of Children"; Browning, "A Year's Spinning"; Hopkins, "Pied Beauty"; Bronte, Jane Eyre excerpt (handout)
F 10/19 Pollak and Noble, "Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886: A Brief Biography" (Historical Guide pp. 13-63); Dickinson, correspondence with T. W. Higginson (handout)
M 10/22Miller, "The Sound of Shifting Paradigms: On Hearing Dickinson in the Twenty-first Century" (Historical Guide pp. 201-34)
W 10/24 Dickinson, excerpts from Selected Poems: "Safe in their alabaster chambers" (p. 3), "Wild nights! Wild Nights!" (p. 5), "I felt a funeral in my brain" (pp. 8-9), "I'm nobody! Who are you?" (pp. 9-10), "The Master" (p. 11), "I died for beauty, but was scarce" (p. 20), "Dying" (p. 21), "Going to him! Happy letter!" (pp. 21-22), "The brain within its groove" (p. 25), "The Railway Train" (pp. 27-28), "A light exists in spring" (pp. 39-40), "Experience" (p. 41), "The Bee" (p. 42), and compare corresponding poems from Complete Poems: 216, 249, 280, 288, 315, 449, 465, 556, 585, 812, 875, 916, 1224
F 10/26 Cameron, “Amplifed Contexts: Emily Dickinson and the Fascicles” (available via Blackboard Vista); correspondence between Emily Dickinson and Susan Gilbert Dickinson (handout); Dickinson #s 365, 417, 505, 564, 670
M 10/29 Dickinson #s 65, 77, 135, 214, 227, 241, 297, 305, 448, 478, 490, 516, 569, 581, 613, 745, 883, 955, 1129, 1212, 1287, 1451, 1452, 1472, 1563, 1715, 1750
W 10/31 Dickinson #s 26, 67, 91, 95, 199, 249, 280, 288, 303, 435, 441, 456, 640, 670, 732, 810, 855, 937, 953, 981, 1072, 1088, 1110, 1124, 1567, 1737
F 11/2 Paglia, excerpt from Sexual Personae (available via Blackboard Vista); Dickinson #s 280, 384, 479, 487, 489, 565, 632, 1406, 1727
M 11/5 Dickinson #s 70, 79, 158, 234, 239, 267, 301, 324, 338, 374, 376, 437, 497, 501, 508, 553, 636, 690, 823, 1052, 1201, 1408, 1539, 1544, 1551, 1601, 1603, 1606, 1624, 1657, 1719, 1732
W 11/7 Eberwein, “‘Is Immortality True?’: Salvaging Faith in an Age of Upheavals” (Historical Guide 67-102)
F 11/9 Dickinson #s 228, 259, 285, 294, 318, 320, 327, 328, 362, 411, 419, 443, 547, 611, 657, 668, 703, 761, 841, 862, 875, 915, 986, 993, 1045, 1138, 1521, 1755
M 11/12 Dickinson #s 118, 204, 358, 409, 444, 476, 502, 528, 579, 596, 688, 754, 970, 1205, 1354, 1511, 1529, 1549, 1583, 1725
W 11/14 Wolosky, “Public and Private in Dickinson’s War Poetry” (Historical Guide 103-31)
F 11/16 Dickinson #s 49, 125, 172, 252, 258, 341, 360, 389, 477, 510, 531, 561, 572, 586, 609, 650, 686, 712, 718, 747, 786, 816, 1078, 1100, 1113, 1149, 1272, 1558, 1726, 1742, 1757
M 11/19 Walker, “Dickinson in Context: Nineteenth-Century American Women Poets” (Historical Guide 175-200); ESSAY DRAFT DUE
W 11/21 NO CLASS - Thanksgiving break
F 11/23 NO CLASS - Thanksgiving break
M 11/26 Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily”; Di Filippo, excerpt from The Steampunk Trilogy (available via Blackboard Vista)
W 11/28 Frost, “The Birds Do Thus”; Stevens, “Anecdote of the Jar”; Moore, “The Fish”; Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow”; Roethke, “Root Cellar”; Plath, “The Applicant”; Sexton, “The Bells”; Lowell, “Epilogue”; Brooks, “We Real Cool”; Powell, “[darling can you kill me: with your mickeymouse pillow]”; Dacey, “Amherst with Fries”; Kennedy, “Emily Dickinson Leaves a Message to the World” (handout)
F 11/30 Emily Dickinson in visual culture and music
M 12/3 Luce, "The Belle of Amherst"
W 12/5 "The Belle of Amherst"
  • Tu 12/11=1 late day
  • W 12/12=2 late days
  • Th 12/13=3 late days
W 12/12FINAL EXAM: 1:00-3:00

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