Week 11

“Say it! No ideas but in things.”

–William Carlos Williams, Paterson


“The basis of all bad reasoning is in the beginning”

–The Embodiment of Knowledge 


“How easy to slip
Into the old mode, how hard to
cling firmly to the advance”

—William Carlos Williams, Spring and All


This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
They were delicious
so sweet
and so cold



Dear Bill: I’ve made a
couple of sandwiches for you.
In the ice-box you’ll find
blue-berries—a cup of grapefruit
a glass of cold coffee.

On the stove is the tea-pot
with enough tea leaves
for you to make tea if you
prefer—Just light the gas—
boil the water and put it in the tea

Plenty of bread in the bread-box
and butter and eggs—
I didn’t know just what to
make for you. Several people
called up about office hours—
See you later. Love. Floss.

Please switch off the telephone.

Florence Williams’s “reply” to “This Is Just to Say” is included as a “Detail” in the partially published Detail & Parody for the poem Paterson, a manuscript at SUNY Buffalo; it first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (Nov. 1982), 145. Since WCW chose to include the reply in his own sequence it seems likely that he took a note left by his wife and turned it into a “poem.” The text is taken from a typescript in the Buffalo archive. (From the note to the poem in The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, vol. 1, 1909–1939, ed. A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan, 372.)



 They call me and I go.
It is a frozen road
past midnight, a dust
of snow caught
in the rigid wheeltracks.
The door opens.
I smile, enter and
shake off the cold.
Here is a great woman
on her side in the bed.
She is sick,
perhaps vomiting,
perhaps laboring
to give birth to
a tenth child. Joy! Joy!
Night is a room
darkened for lovers,
through the jalousies the sun
has sent one golden needle!
I pick the hair from her eyes
and watch her misery
with compassion.


The Crowd at the Ball Game

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them—

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius—

all to no end save beauty
the eternal—

So in detail they, the crowd,
are beautiful

for this
to be warned against

saluted and defied—
It is alive, venomous

it smiles grimly
its words cut—

The flashy female with her
mother, gets it—

The Jew gets it straight— it

is deadly, terrifying—

It is the Inquisition, the

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them

This is
the power of their faces

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought

Week 10

An “Image” is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. I use the term “complex” rather in the technical sense employed by the newer psychologists, such as Hart, though we might not agree absolutely in our application.

It is the presentation of such a “complex” instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art. . . .

Don’t use such an expression as “dim lands of peace.” It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.

–Ezra Pound, A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste

Week 9

Part One Commentaries


Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death,” (#712 in Thomas H. Johnson’s The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson) was written in 1863 and first published posthumously in Poems in 1890 by Roberts Brothers of Boston. This edition was assembled and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson and was titled, “The Chariot.” The lyric poem personifies Death as a gentleman caller who takes Dickinson on a carriage ride to her own grave. The U.S. was still fighting the Civil War in 1863, so Dickinson was living in a time of violence and of change. During the early 1860s, Dickinson had fully developed her, “flood subjects,” on the themes of living and dying. With enigmas of incredible insight, she repeatedly gives relationship to the ideas and experiences which exist in time, but never are a part of it (Johnson viii-ix). “Because I could not stop for Death” was part of her packet poems, verses written from 1858-1865, the years of great creativeness for Dickinson. These poems are two thirds of the entire body of her poetry. The packet for the year 1863, contained 140 poems. In 1862, she initiated a life-long correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who later went on to edit the first edition of her poetry (“A Timeline of Emily Dickinson’s Life”).

The poem is comprised of six quatrains, with a meter alternating between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. There is an internal rhyme throughout the poem especially in stanzas 1, 2, 4, and 6. Some of these stanzas only use eye rhyme. For example: “me” and “immortality”; “away” and “civility”; “chill” and “Tulle”; and “Day” and “Eternity.” The poem uses alliteration as well. For example: “May labor and my leisure too”; “At Recess — in the Ring —”; “We passed the Fields of Grazing Grain —”; “We passed the Setting Sun —”; “The Dews drew quivering and chill —”; “For only Gossamer, my Gown —”; “My Tippet — only Tulle —.” Anaphora is also used in the poem, as seen in lines nine, and eleven and twelve when Dickinson repeats, “We passed.” It is also seen when she repeats, “Ground” in lines eighteen and twenty. There is also the personification of Death and Immortality.

Allen Tate believes that it was one of the greatest poems in the English language (14). He writes that every image in the poem extends and intensifies the other images and that Dickinson was able to fuse sensibility and thought within the poem (15-16). Yvor Winters would later comment on Tate’s admiration of the poem by saying that the poem ends in a statement that is not offered seriously, and that to praise the poem is unsound criticism (289-290). Winters concludes that the poem is an example of a poem representing a mixed theme and falls below her finest achievement (288-89). Joanne Feit Diehl reads the poem through Freud’s “The Theme of the Three Caskets,” which she believes clarifies Dickinson’s relationship to desire and to the awareness of her own death. And commentator Martha Nell Smith reads the poem as a way for Dickinson to convey her comedic side. “That this poem begins and ends with humanity’s ultimate dream of self-importance – Immortality and Eternity – could well be the joke central to its meaning, for Dickinson carefully surrounds the fantasy of living ever after with the dirty facts of life – dusty carriage rides, schoolyards, and farmer’s fields… she pulls the sublime down to the ridiculous but unavoidable facts of existence, thus imbues life on earth with its real import” ( 95).

Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” reflects on the journey and reality of death through the personification of Death and Immortality and the simple act of going on a carriage ride. Many commentators have had their own takes on the poem, from comedic, to Freudian, however, the fact still remains that the poem is a greatly important one, and helps shape our understanding of Dickinson herself.

–Danielle Field

Bibliography and Further Reading “A Timeline of Emily Dickinson’s Life.” Emily Dickinson Museum. Emily Dickinson Museum (2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.); Emily Dickinson.. “712.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. (Boston: Bay Back Books, 1960. 350. Print.); Joanne Feit Diehl. Women Poets and the American Sublime. (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. Print.); Thomas H. Johnson. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. By Emily Dickinson. Ed. Johnson. (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1960. v-xi. Print.); Suzanne Miller, Cristanne Miller, and Martha Nell Smith. Comic Power in Emily Dickinson. (Austin: U of Texas Press, 1993. 95. Print.); Allen Tate. Reactionary Essays on Poetry and Ideas (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936.13-16, 22-25. Print.); Yvor Winters. “Emily Dickinson and the Limits of Judgment,” In Defense of Reason. 3rd ed. (Denver: Alan Swallow, 1947. 283-99. Print.).


Defrauded I a Butterfly—
The lawful Heir—for Thee—

Emily Dickinson’s short poem (#730 in the Johnson Edition) was written in 1863 but it wasn’t until 1890 that it was edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and T.W. Higginson in the First Series Robert Brothers 1890 edition. Perhaps Dickinson would still feel defrauded today if she knew how many people edited her original works and didn’t let her poetry hide it’s secret beauty, as a butterfly does while camouflaged.

[Lexi: attention to commentary template: this is more interpretive than providing context]

[from edickinson.org Publication History FP (1929), 65, with alternatives adopted for lines 4, 8 (“easier gained”), 14, and 25 and with stanza 5 in four lines, the last stanza in six (in later collections, as a quatrain). Poems (1955), 603-4, with the alternative for line 3 adopted; CP (1960), 389. MB (1981), 927-29, in facsimile. (J797). Franklin Variorum 1998 (F849A). FP (1929), 72, as a quatrain, with the notation “Sent with a Flower.” Poems (1955), 558; CP (1960), 358. MB (1981), 929, in facsimile. (J730). Franklin Variorum 1998 (F850A). –History from Franklin Variorum 1998]

Not only can one read this poem quickly, but there are barely any critiques or opinions on this secretive gem. The only commentary on this poem is a piece of art titled “Defrauded I a Butterfly”. Ishita Bandyo, a contemporary fine arts painter, created a painting with the title being the first line of Dickinson’s poem (Bandyo).  The bright, voluminous colors of Bandyo’s painting creates a pathway for thinking regarding Dickinson’s poem, and with just two lines,  nine words, and three dashes—this poem is full of color and life.

[Lexi: sentence structure?] [Mark: space between lines, nines]

Dickinson is  claiming that she is meant to be the butterfly, but that possibility has been taken away from her. Which when examining a butterfly, one must acknowledge its perfect symmetry, camouflage techniques, and ability to fly freely. This may be Dickinson’s cry for a balanced life, but a life that is also secretive and has no limits. Unfortunately this was all taken away from her, as the runner up for next in line, the “Heir”. This life of secret freedom, along with a balanced, even level to her life is accompanied by unjust beings or doings due to this was a “lawful” manner that she shall be “Heir.” However such is life, unjust and unfair events, actions, or reasons occur and even as free as the “Butterfly” is, the camouflage doesn’t always work, leaving one defrauded; falling short in their attempt.

—Emma Kash

Bibliography and Further Reading “Emily Dickinson Archive.” Emily Dickinson Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013. “Ishita Bandyo Art.” Contemporary Mixed Media. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.

[ Mark : lets drop the no publisher and no date (np nd), the source, web, and the date accessed

Here is information from edickinson.org Credits Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886. Poems: Packet XXX, Fascicle 38. Includes 20 poems, written in ink, ca. 1863. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Houghton Library – (160a, b) By my Window have I for Scenery, J797, Fr849; Defrauded I a Butterfly, J730, Fr850

Final version:

Bibliography and Further Reading Defrauded I a Butterfly. Poems: Packet XXX, Fascicle 38. Includes 20 poems, written in ink, ca. 1863. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Emily Dickinson Archive

Part Two: Modernism and Modern Poetry

To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world—and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are. . . . The maelstrom of modern life has been fed from many sources: great discoveries in the physical sciences, changing our images of the universe and our place in it; the industrialization of production, which transforms scientific knowledge into technology, creates new human environments and destroys old ones, speeds up the whole tempo of life, generates new forms of corporate power and class struggle; immense demographic upheavals, severing millions of people from their ancestral habitats, hurtling them half way across the world into new lives; rapid and often cataclysmic urban growth; systems of mass communication, dynamic in their development, enveloping and binding together the most diverse people and societies; increasingly powerful national states, bureaucratically structured and operated, constantly striving to expand their powers; mass social movements of people, and peoples, challenging their political and economic rulers, striving to gain some control over their lives; finally, bearing and driving all these people and institutions along, an ever-expanding, drastically fluctuating capitalist world market. In the twentieth century, the social processes that bring this maelstrom into being, and keep it in a state of perpetual becoming, have come to be called ‘modernization.’ These world-historical processes have nourished an amazing variety of visions and ideas that aim to make men and women the subjects as well as the objects of modernization, the give them the power to change the world that is changing them, to make their way through the maelstrom and make it their own. Over the past century, those visions and values have come to be loosely grouped together under the name of ‘modernism.’


—Marshall Berman, All that is Solid Melts into Air (1982)


“I to-day think it would be best not at all to bother with arguments against foreign models. . . . BUT [instead] TO JUST GO ON SUPPLYING AMERICAN MODELS.”

—Walt Whitman, Notebook Entry (1853)

“My utmost pretension is probably but to offset that old claim of the exclusively curative power of first-class individual men, as leaders and rulers, by the claims and general movement and result of ideas. Something of the latter kind seems to me to be the distinctive theory of America, of democracy, and of the modern—or rather, I should say, it is democracy, and is the modern.”

—Walt Whitman, “Carlyle from American Points of View” (1881) 


Introduction to The Wedge

The War is the first and only thing in the world today.

The arts generally are not, nor is this writing a diversion from that for relief, a turning away. It is the war or part of it, merely a different sector of the field.

Critics of rather better than average standing have said in recent years that after socialism has been achieved it’s likely there will be no further use for poetry, that it will disappear. This comes from nothing else than a faulty definition of poetry—and the arts generally. I don’t hear anyone say that mathematics is likely to be outmoded, to disappear shortly. Then why poetry?

It is an error attributable to the Freudian concept of the thing, that the arts are a resort from frustration, a misconception still entertained in many minds.

They speak as though action itself in all its phases were not compatible with frustration. All action the same. But Richard Coeur de Lion wrote at least one of the finest lyrics of his day. Take Don Juan for instance. Who isn’t frustrated and does not prove it by his actions—if you want to say so? But through art the psychologically maimed may become the most distinguished man of his age. Take Freud for instance.

The making of poetry is no more an evidence of frustration than is the work of Henry Kaiser or Timoshenko. It’s the war, the driving forward of desire to a complex end. And when that shall have been achieved, mathematics and the arts will turn elsewhere—beyond the atom if necessary for their reward and let’s all be frustrated together.

A man isn’t a block that remains stationary though the psychologists treat him so—and most take an insane pride in believing it. Consistency! He varies; Hamlet today, Caesar tomorrow; here, there, somewhere—if he is to retain his sanity, and why not?

The arts have a complex relation to society. The poet isn’t a fixed phenomenon, no more is his work. That might be a note on current affairs, a diagnosis, a plan for procedure, a retrospect—all in its own peculiarly enduring form. There need be nothing limited or frustrated about that. It may be a throw-off from the most violent and successful action or run parallel to it, a saga. It may be the picking out of an essential detail for memory, something to be set aside for further study, a sort of shorthand of emotional significances for later reference.

Let the metaphysical take care of itself, the arts have nothing to do with it. They will concern themselves with it if they please, among other things. To make two bald statements: There’s nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. When I say there’s nothing sentimental about a poem I mean that there can be no part, as in any other machine, that is redundant.

Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character. In a poem this movement is distinguished in each case by the character of the speech from which it arises.

Therefore each speech having its own character, the poetry it engenders will be peculiar to that speech also in its own intrinsic form. The effect is beauty, what in a single object resolves our complex feelings of propriety. One doesn’t seek beauty. All that an artist or a Sperry can do is to drive toward his purpose, in the nature of his materials; not take gold where Babbitt metal is called for; to make: make clear the complexity of his perceptions in the medium given to him by inheritance, chance, accident or whatever it may be to work with according to his talents and the will that drives them. Don’t talk about frustration fathering the arts. The bastardization of words is too widespread for that today.

My own interest in the arts has been extracurricular. Up from the gutter, so to speak. Of necessity. Each age and place to its own. But in the U.S.the necessity for recognizing this intrinsic character has been largely ignored by the various English Departments of the academies.

When a man makes a poem, makes it, mind you, he takes words as he finds them interrelated about him and composes them—without distortion which would mar their exact significances—into an intense expression of his perceptions and ardors that they may constitute a revelation in the speech that he uses. It isn’t what he says that counts as a work of art, it’s what he makes, with such intensity of perception that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity. Your attention is called now and then to some beautiful line or sonnet-sequence because of what is said there. So be it. To me all sonnets say the same thing of no importance. What does it matter what the line “says”?

There is no poetry of distinction without formal invention, for it is in the intimate form that works of art achieve their exact meaning, in which they most resemble the machine, to give language its highest dignity, its illumination in the environment to which it is native. Such war, as the arts live and breathe by, is continuous.

It may be that my interests as expressed here are pre-art. If so I look for a development along these lines and will be satisfied with nothing else.

-from Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams. 1954 by William Carlos Williams. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.


“We are led to believe in a lie

When we see with not through the eye.

The impressionist creates only with his eye and for the readiest surface of the consciousness, at least relatively so. If the effect has been harmonious or even stimulating, he can stop there, relinquishing entirely to his audience the problematic synthesis of the details into terms of their own personal consciousness.

It is my hope to go through the combined materials of the poem, using our “real” world as a spring-board, and to give the poem as a whole an orbit or predetermined direction of its own. I would like to establish it as free from my own personality as from any chance evaluation on the reader’s part. (This is, of course, an impossibility, but it is a characteristic worth mentioning.) Such a poem is at least a stab at a truth, and to such an extent may be differentiated from other kinds of poetry and called “absolute.” Its evocation will not be toward decoration or amusement, but rather toward a state of consciousness, an “innocence” (Blake) or absolute beauty. In this condition there may be discoverable under new forms certain spiritual illuminations, shining with a morality essentialized from experience directly, and not from previous precepts or preconceptions. It is as though a poem gave the reader as he left it a single, new word, never before spoken and impossible to actually enunciate, but self-evident as an active principle in the reader’s consciousness henceforward.

As to technical considerations: the motivation of the poem must be derived from the implicit emotional dynamics of the materials used, and the terms of expression are often selected less for their logical (literal) significance than for their associational meanings. Via this and their metaphorical inter-relationships, the entire construction of the poem is raised on the organic principle of a “logic of metaphor,” which antedates our so-called pure logic, and which is the genetic basis of all speech, hence consciousness and thought-extension.

These dynamics often result, I’m told, in certain initial difficulties in understanding my poems. But on the other hand I find them at times the only means possible for expressing certain concepts in any forceful or direct way whatever. To cite two examples:—when in “Voyages” (II), I speak of “adagios of islands,” the reference is to the motion of a boat through islands clustered thickly, the rhythm of the motion, etc. And it seems a much more direct and creative statement than any more logical employment of words such as “coasting slowly through the islands,” besides ushering in a whole world of music. Similiarly, in “Faustus and Helen” (II) the speed and tense altitude of an aeroplane are much better suggested by the idea of “nimble blue plateaus”—implying the aeroplane and its speed against a contrast of stationary elevated earth. Although the statement is pseudo in relation to formal logic—it is completely logical in relation to the truth of the imagination, and there is expressed a concept of speed and space that could not be handled so well in other terms. . . . New conditions of life germinate new forms of spiritual articulation. . . . Language has built towers and bridges but itself is inevitably as fluid as always.”

—Hart Crane, from “General Aims and Theories,” 1937

It is a terrific problem that faces the poet today—a world that is so in transition from a decayed culture toward a reorganization of human evaluations that there are few common terms, general denominators of speech that are solid enough or that ring with any vibration of spiritual conviction. The great mythologies of the past (including the Church) are deprived of enough façade to even launch good raillery against. Yet much of their traditions are operative still—in millions of chance combinations of related and unrelated detail, psychological references, figures of speech, precepts, etc. these are all a part of our common experience and the terms, at least partially, of that very experience when it defines or extends itself.

—Hart Crane, “General Aims and Theories,” included as an appendix in Phillip Horton’s Hart Crane, New York, 1937

The imperative of the modern, Eliot insisted, was that the poet must be difficult. “Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity [which], playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, , more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into its meaning” (248).

In praise of Ezra Pound’s translations, Eliot writes: “If we are to digest the heavy food of historical and scientific knowledge that we have eaten we must be prepared for much greater exertions. We need a digestion which can assimilate both Homer and Flaubert.” (50).

On discussing the importance of the historical shift from “intellectual” to “reflective” poetry (Donne to Tennyson and Browning), Eliot contends that thoughts are experiences, and a poet’s mind (“when perfectly equipped”) “is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man’s experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary” (247).

-From T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays: 1917–1932

“Some writers are essentially of the type that reacts in excess of the stimulus, making something new out of the impressions, but suffer from a defect of vitality or an obscure obstruction which prevents nature from taking her course. Their sensibility alters the object, but does not transform it. Their reaction is that of the ordinary emotional person developed to an exceptional degree. For this ordinary emotional person, experiencing a work of art, has a mixed critical and creative reaction. It is made up of comment and opinion, and also new emotions which are vaguely applied to his own life. The sentimental person, in whom a work of art arouses all sorts of emotions which have nothing to do with that work of art whatever, but are accidents of personal association, is an incomplete artist. For in an artist these suggestions made by a work of art, which are purely personal, become fused with a multitude of other suggestions from multitudinous experience, and result in the production of a new object which is no longer personal, because it is a work of art itself” (7).

“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is finding an ‘objective correlative’ in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula for that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” (Here Eliot is arguing that Shakespeare has failed to provide Hamlet with any such objective correlative).

“We assume the gift of a superior sensibility. . . . An impression needs to be constantly refreshed by new impressions in order that it may persist at all; it needs to take place in a system of impressions. And this system tends to become articulate in a generalized statement of literary beauty. . . . This impression may be so deep that no subsequent study and understanding will intensify it. But at this point the impression is emotional; the reader in the ignorance which we postulate is unable to distinguish the poetry from an emotional state aroused in himself by the poetry, a state which may be merely an indulgence of his own emotions. The poetry may be an accidental stimulus. The end of the enjoyment of poetry is pure contemplation from which all the accidents of personal emotion are removed; thus we aim to see the object as it really is. . . .” (14–15)

-From “Hamlet and His Problems,” The Sacred Wood

Week 8 Nineteenth Century American Poetry

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A Psalm of Life
The Arrow and the Song (The Arrow and the Song)
The Arsenal at Springfield
The Wreck of the Hesperus
The Old Clock on the Stairs
Charles Sumner
The Light of Stars
The Rainy Day 


Ralph Waldo Emerson

Concord Hymn (Concord Hymn)
The Past (The Past)
The Snow Storm
The Humble Bee

Walt Whitman

To You
Old Chants 
Long, Too Long America
Song of Myself (Section 32)
That Shadow My Likeness
Oh Me! Oh Life!
Beat! Beat! Drums!
O Captain! my Captain!
The World Below the Brine
To a Stranger

Emily Dickinson

If I can Stop One Heart From Breaking
Hope is the Thing with Feathers
Tell all the truth but tell it slant––
They Shut Me Up in Prose
I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
The Bustle in a House

Paul Laurence Dunbar

We Wear the Mask

Celia Thaxter


Edgar Allen Poe

A Dream Within a Dream

Week 7   

Publish commentary 5 on a poem from a lesser-known and anthologized nineteenth-century poet: Trish (Celia Thaxter, “Regret”), Fletcher (Paul Lawrence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask”), Cam (Edgar Allen Poe, “A Dream Within a Dream”)

Career Speaker Series: BAE Systems 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m. Science 101

Looking Ahead to the Twentieth Century: An Introduction to Twentieth-century American poetry and poetics

Workshop on choosing and presenting poems. Options for sharing and discussing exemplary and representative poems

Tuesday October 9, 2018

Executive Editor: Mark Long My job is to oversee the elements of the project and move us toward our deadlines. I am available to meet with groups at any time and will happily contribute my help where and when necessary.

  • Managing Editors: Robbie, Asia, Meagan, Mariah This role is editing and copy-editing the commentaries that I will put in a Google doc for asynchronous or synchronous editing. There will be between 40-50 commentaries.
  • Editorial Team: Alexa, Lexi, Trish will be working with Mark to revisit, edit, and copy-edit the fifteen commentaries in the book American Poetry and Poetics and reporting back to the class with formatting suggestions and guidelines.
  • Sound Team: TJ and Fletcher will be giving authors instructions on producing sound files and embedding in Word Press.

Voice Memo on an Iphone: M4a file


Windows Media Player, QuickTime, or another media player you have on your computer.


  • Contributors Team: Nick and Cam will be creating an authors page for the book. This work is designing and generating content for a page with thumbnail images of the contributors (or an avatar if the contributor wishes). We will be shooting for a page like the People Page on the Democracy + Culture site I built with students in another course



Thursday October 11

All five of your revised commentaries will be available for reading on your blogs no later than midnight on Monday October 15th. You will have a commentary on one poem each by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfelllow, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and a poet of your choice. 

Conversations with Mark begin next week: Our conversation will be 20-30 minutes. I will be circulating a self evaluation for you to complete before we meet. We will look back over the work completed and talk about the timeline and your goals ahead in the course.

Tuesday October 16

9 :00 Meaghan
10:30 Robbie

Wednesday October 17

2:00 Nick
2:30 TJ

Thursday October 18

10:30 Mariah
11:00 Lexi

Friday October 19

1:00 Cameron
1:30 Fletcher
2:00 Asia
2:30 Trish




















SOFTLY Death touched her and she passed away
Out of this glad, bright world she made more fair,
Sweet as the apple-blossoms, when in May
The orchards flush, of summer grown aware.

All that fresh delicate beauty gone from sight,
That gentle, gracious presence felt no more!
How must the house be emptied of delight,
What shadows on the threshold she passed o’er!

She loved me. Surely I was grateful, yet
I could not give her back all she gave me, —
Ever I think of it with vain regret,
Musing upon a summer by the sea;

Remembering troops of merry girls who pressed
About me, — clinging arms and tender eyes,
And love, like scent of roses. With the rest
She came to fill my heart with new surprise.

The day I left them all and sailed away,
While o’er the calm sea, ‘neath the soft gray sky
They waved farewell, she followed me, to say
Yet once again her wistful, sweet “good by.”

At the boat’s bow she drooped; her light green dress
Swept o’er the skiff in many a graceful fold,
Her glowing face, bright with a mute caress,
Crowned with her lovely hair of shadowy gold:

And tears she dropped into the crystal brine
For me, unworthy, as we slowly swung
Free of the mooring. Her last look was mine,
Seeking me still the motley crowd among.

O tender memory of the dead I hold
So precious through the fret and change of years
Were I to live till Time itself grew old,
The sad sea would be sadder for those tears.

–Celia Thaxter


A Dream within a Dream


Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow —

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it therefore the less gone?

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar

Of a surf-tormented shore,

And I hold within my hand

Grains of the golden sand —

How few! yet how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep,

While I weep — while I weep!

O God! Can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! can I not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?



–Edgar Allen Poe


















We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

–Paul Laurence Dunbar

Week 7

Executive Editor Check in 

  • Managing Editors: Robbie, Asia, Meagan, Mariah This role is editing and copy-editing the commentaries that I will put in a Google doc for asynchronous or synchronous editing. There will be between 40-50 commentaries.
  • Editorial Team: Alexa, Lexi, Trish will be working with Mark to revisit, edit, and copy-edit the fifteen commentaries in the book American Poetry and Poetics and reporting back to the class with formatting suggestions and guidelines.
  • Sound Team: TJ and Fletcher will be giving authors instructions on producing sound files and embedding in Word Press.
  • Contributors Team: Nick and Cam will be creating an authors page for the book. This work is designing and generating content for a page with thumbnail images of the contributors (or an avatar if the contributor wishes). We will be shooting for a page like the People Page on the Democracy + Culture site I built with students in another course

Weeks 6 and 7

Building an American Poetry and Poetics Publication Style Sheet

Background and Context

Our Working template on the Poems and commentary Page
Examples in the publication American Poetry and Poetics 
TheResources Page

 From Fletcher

Poets, American — 19th century — Biography — Encyclopedias

What to include? What to set aside?

From Trish

Bibliography and Further Reading:
The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition (Harvard University Press, 1983)
Shmoop Editorial Team. “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 26 Sep. 2018. https://www.shmoop.com/i-felt-a-funeral-in-my-brain/
Melani, Lilia. Emily Dickinson: An Inner World. 25 February 2009. Website. 26 September 2018. http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/funeral.html/

From Asia “Hope is the Thing With Feathers”

The poem didn’t have much information in regard to criticism. However, one book offered an article from the Tribuneas to thoughts on her writing the poem. It mentions that compared to other poems she has written, it along with others continued to show illusory nature of the spirit. It also mentioned that the vagueness and “music that marked the first efforts” (Duchac, p.268), are reminiscent of poems written before. In another text, it references how of how to teach the poem in school as well as works that offer cementation on different techniques in the poem.


“‘Hope’ Is the Thing with Feathers.” The Poems of Emily Dickinson: an Annotated Guide to Commentary Published in English, 1890-1977, by Joseph Duchac, G.K. Hall, 1979, p. 162.

“Reviews and Notices.” Emily Dickinson’s Reception in the 1890s: a Documentary History, by Willis J. Buckingham, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989, pp. 268–269.


Not much criticism, What other questions? Is this the only poem about hope by Dickinson? See annotation at


From Nick

Bibliography and Further Readings:

“Beat! Beat! Drums!” Poetry Foundationhttps://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45469/beat-beat-drums.

“Published Works: Periodicals.” The Walt Whitman Archivehttps://whitmanarchive.org/published/periodical/poems/per.00055.

Thomas, M. Wynn. “Whitman and the American Democratic Identity before and during the Civil War.” Journal of American Studies, vol. 15, no. 1, Apr. 1981, pp. 73–93.

“Whitman and the Civil War.” The University of Iowa – International Writing Programhttps://iwp.uiowa.edu/whitmanweb/en/writings/civil-war/week-6/beat-beat-drums.

“Whitman’s Drum-Taps in a Time of War.” Academy of American Poets, 22 May 2017, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/whitmans-drum-taps-time-war.


See Daniel Field’s entry in American Poetry and Poetics for a good example of what you are doing

Using Images and other Media

The following is an annotation to Lexi’s commentary on Emily Dickinson’s They Shut Me Up in Prose. This image is in the public domain on edickinson.org. The terms of use and copyright are at http://www.edickinson.org/terms.

However, we need consistent conventions for the publication. For anyone citing images or other media, two steps:

1) either screenshot the image (as I believe Lexi did) or save the image to your machine. Then,

2) use the citation at the site, which gives the reader valuable information about the manuscript. Here is the metadata and citation:

Credits: Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886. Poems: Packet XXXIV, Fascicle 21. Includes 17 poems, written in ink, ca. 1862. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Houghton Library – (182d) They shut me up in Prose, J613, Fr445

Publication History : UP (1935), 34, with the alternative not adopted. Poems (1955), 471-72; CP (1960), 302, with the alternative adopted. MB (1981), 464, in facsimile. (J613). Franklin Variorum 1998 (F445A). -History from Franklin Variorum 1998

Emily Dickinson Archive
Copyright & Terms of Use:

A few notes:

1) Location of the manuscript is important

2) The writer of the commentary (Lexi) can *use* the publication history, if relevant, in the commentary itself. Although some of this manuscript information is not necessary in our book of commentaries because we can link to this site

3) Here is a revised version

Credits: Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886. Poems: Packet XXXIV, Fascicle 21. Includes 17 poems, written in ink, ca. 1862. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Houghton Library – (182d) They shut me up in Prose, J613, Fr445. Emily Dickinson Archive

4) Make the text associated with the image, as a caption in the media file.

5) Include a description for visually impaired visitors to your site using an electronic reade

Week 6 


Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876) originally published in two volumes.  18,000 lines


excerpt from Herman Melville’s Clarel alongside print by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) in Parker Hall


Lydia Huntley Sigourney

The Western Emigrant
Indian Names

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft
(Bamewawagezhikaquay, her Ojibwe name, Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky). See Robert Dale Parker, Changing is Not Vanishing: a Collection of Early American Indian Poetry to 1930, available in print and as an ebook

To the Pine Tree

Shing wauk! Shing wauk! Nin ge ik id,
Waish kee wau bum ug, shing wauk
Tuh quish in aun nau aub, ain dak nuk i yaun.
Shing wauk, shing wauk No sa
Shi e gwuh ke do dis au naun
Kau gega way zhau wus co zid . . .


The pine! the pine! I eager cried,
The pine, my father! see it stand,
As first that cherished tree I spied,
Returning to my native land.
The pine! the pine! oh lovely scene!
The pine, that is forever green . . .

From The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, Robert Dale Parker, ed. (2008)



Paul Lawrence Dunbar 

The Haunted Oak
The Corn-Stalk Fiddle

The Debt

Celia Thaxter

The Sandpiper

Across the lonely beach we flit, 
One little sandpiper and I, 
And fast I gather, but by bit, 
The scattered drift-wood, bleached and dry. 
The wild waves reach their hands for it, 
The wild wind raves, the tide runs high, 
As up and down the beach we flit, 
One little sandpiper and I. 

Above our heads the sullen clouds 
Scud, black and swift, across the sky: 
Like silent ghosts in misty shrouds 
Stand out the white light-houses high. 
Almost as far as eye can reach 
I see the close-reefed vessels fly, 
As fast we flit along the beach, 
One little sandpiper and I. 

I watch him as he skims along, 
Uttering his sweet and mournful cry; 
He starts not at my fitful song, 
Nor flash of fluttering drapery. 
He has no thought of any wrong, 
He scans me with a fearless eye; 
Stanch friends are we, well tried and strong, 
The little sandpiper and I. 

Comrade, where wilt thou be to-night, 
When the loosed storm breaks furiously? 
My drift-wood fire will burn so bright! 
To what warm shelter canst thou fly? 
I do not fear for thee, though wroth 
The tempest rushes through the sky; 
For are we not God’s children both, 
Thou, little sandpiper, and I? 



In that new world toward which our feet are set,
Shall we find aught to make our hearts forget
Earth’s homely joys and her bright hours of bliss?
Has heaven a spell divine enough for this?
For who the pleasure of the spring shall tell
When on the leafless stalk the brown buds swell,
When the grass brightens and the days grow long,
And little birds break out in rippling song? 

O sweet the dropping eve, the blush of morn,
The starlit sky, the rustling fields of corn,
The soft airs blowing from the freshening seas,
The sunflecked shadow of the stately trees,
The mellow thunder and the lulling rain,
The warm, delicious, happy summer rain,
When the grass brightens and the days grow long,
And little birds break out in rippling song! 

O beauty manifold, from morn till night,
Dawn’s flush, noon’s blaze and sunset’s tender light!
O fair, familiar features, changes sweet
Of her revolving seasons, storm and sleet
And golden calm, as slow she wheels through space,
From snow to roses, – and how dear her face,
When the grass brightens, when the days grow long,
And little birds break out in rippling song! 

O happy earth! O home so well beloved!
What recompense have we, from thee removed?
One hope we have that overtops the whole, –
The hope of finding every vanished soul,
We love and long for daily, and for this
Gladly we turn from thee, and all thy bliss,
Even at thy loveliest, when the days are long,
And little birds break out in rippling song. 


Week 5

Using Hypothes.is
One part of our editorial process is sharing feedback with writers of commentaries. We will be using the web annotation tool Hypothes.is. We will go over all what is in this email in class, but some of you may want to play around a bit before we meet tomorrow and so I have given you the steps below. And it would be great if you can give this a try before class so we spend less time on figuring out how to join the group and annotate.
1. Here is a link that will allow you to join our Hypothes.is group, English 490 Poetry and Poetics:
Once you have joined you can go to “Groups” drop down menu at the top right and open ENG 490 Poetry / Poetics.
A Menu will open with all of the web sites (or PDF documents) that have been annotated by members of the group. As you will see, I have added a quick comment on one commentary by each student in the class.  Click on the site to open and view the comment or click though to the site and add your own.
 The other way to do this is to open one of the blogs (or any web site). Then click on the Hypothes.is icon to turn on the annotation tool.
  • Open one of the blogs and lick on one of the commentaries to open the post
  • Click on your Hypothes.is icon if you have not already
  • Highlight text
  • Click on “New Page Note” icon to annotate (Or you can highlight a passage without a comment)
  • Write comment in text box
  • Post to ENG 490 Poetry / Poetics


Poem to begin class on Tuesday


Four Trees — upon a solitary Acre —
Without Design
Or Order, or Apparent Action —
Maintain —

The Sun — upon a Morning meets them —
The Wind —
No nearer Neighbor — have they —
But God —

The Acre gives them — Place —
They — Him — Attention of Passer by —
Of Shadow, or of Squirrel, haply —
Or Boy —

What Deed is Theirs unto the General Nature —
What Plan
They severally — retard — or further —
Unknown —


Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886. Poems: Packet XII, Fascicle 37. Includes 21 poems, written in ink, ca. 1863. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Houghton Library – (56c) Four Trees – upon a solitary Acre, J742, Fr778. Emily Dickinson Archive

Week 4 The Poems of Emily Dickinson

For a brief overview of Emily Dickinson’s brilliant adaptation of Isaac Watt’s devotional hymns. Watt himself adapted scripture with what we now call hymn meter, a quatrain alternating lines of iambic tetrameter with iambic trimeter based on English folk poems and ballads.

In the Name of the Bee––

In the name of the Bee––
And of the Butterfly––
And of the Breeze––Amen!

I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that –

I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that –
That other state –
I’m Czar – I’m “Woman” now –
It’s safer so –
How odd the Girl’s life looks
Behind this soft Eclipse –
I think that Earth feels so
To folks in Heaven – now –
This being comfort – then
That other kind – was pain –
But why compare?
I’m “Wife”! Stop there!

F225 (1861)  199

J1207 – He preached upon “Breadth” till it argued him narrow

He preached upon “Breadth” till it argued him narrow — 
The Broad are too broad to define 
And of “Truth” until it proclaimed him a Liar — 
The Truth never flaunted a Sign — 

Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence 
As Gold the Pyrites would shun — 
What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus 
To meet so enabled a Man! 

Credits Boston Public Library, Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection, Boston, MA. BPL – Ms. Am. 1093(44) – p. 1
Publication History Poems (1891), 63, from the copy to Higginson (B). Bingham, AB (1945), 38, from the draft (A), as two quatrains, with the cancellations and underscored alternatives adopted. Poems (1955), 839-40 (A unredacted, B principal); CP (1960), 533 (B). (J1207). Franklin Variorum 1998 (F1266B). History from Franklin Variorum 1998. Emily Dickinson Archive

The Preacher

He preached upon “breadth” till it argued him narrow, 
The broad are too broad to define; 
And of “truth” until it proclaimed him a liar, 
The truth never flaunted a sign. 

Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence 
As gold the pyrites would shun. 
What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus 
To meet so enabled a man! 

Edition: Poems 1891 (Number P91-38)

He preached upon “Breadth” till it argued him narrow ––

He preached upon “Breadth” till it argued him narrow — 
The Broad are too broad to define 
And of “Truth” until it proclaimed him a Liar — 
The Truth never flaunted a Sign — 

Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence 
As Gold the Pyrites would shun — 
What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus 
To meet so enabled a Man! 

He preached about breadth till we knew he was narrow

He preached opon about
Breadth till it argued him we knew
he was narrow 
The Broad are too
broad to define 
And of Truth until
it proclaimed him
a Liar 
The Truth never flaunted hoisted
a sign – 
Simplicity fled from his
counterfeit presence 
As Gold the Pyrites
would shun 
What confusion would
cover the innocent
at meeting To meet so accomplished • [so so Religious • enabled learned
a man – 

F1266A – He preached about breadth till we knew he was narrow The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Variorum Edition, Franklin, 1998. Boston Public Library, Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection, Boston, MA BPL – Ms. Am. 1093(44) – p. 1. Emily Dickinson Archive



He preached upon “Breadth” till it argued him narrow—
The broad are too broad to define
And of “Truth” until it proclaimed him a liar—
The Truth Never Flaunted a Sign—


Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence
As gold the Pyrites would shun—
What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus
To meet so enabled a Man!

Poem #1207 identifies in the first of two four-line stanzas a person “He” who has a number of qualities: he is a preacher, he is proclaimed by “Truth” to be “a liar” and the speaker identifies his “counterfeit presence” and describes him as “so enabled a man.” “Breadth” and “Truth” are placed in quotation marks in stanza one. The dashes are placed so as to produce an interesting balance in the stanza, each pausing before introducing the explanatory information that will expose the preacher’s fraudulence (or excess or hubris?). In the second stanza simplicity “flees” from his “presence” through the simile (an explicit comparison between two things). Pyrite is a metalic sulfide out of which one manufactures sulfuric acid. Not incidentally, Pyrite is also called fool’s gold. The poem is significant as a critical commentary on the excesses of faith. Dickinson acknowledges and values “Truth”; at the same time, she is skeptical of any one person claiming to know that truth or to be able to use (abuse) language to claim it for one’s own. As one commentator has said of this poem, the more the preacher speaks, the more he condemns himself. “To preach away breadth is, after all, a breach of spirit, whose speech is breath” (McHugh 99). The doing of the speaker’s exegeses is its undoing, his preaching a breach of the uncertain. (“The Truth too bright for our infirm delight / The Truth’s superb surprise”). The caution of the poem, then, is part injunction against fallible human authority: here the Church’s authoritative prescription of origins and, by implication, any existing script of poetic convention and means.


Work Cited: Heather McHugh. “What Dickinson Makes a Dash For.” Broken English: Poetry and Partiality. Hanover: New England-Wesleyan UP, 1993. 99.


Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —


“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant— / Success in Circuit lies,” writes Emily Dickinson in poem #1129. These two lines provide an entry into Dickinson’s fascination with how we see (Ellman 349). To tell “all” the truth we must not—can not, Dickinson will go on to say in the poem—tell it “like it is”: for to do so is to deceive ourselves, she warns in the concluding two lines of the poem. “To bright for our infirm Delight / The Truth’s superb surprise.” The word “slant,” prominently placed at the end of the line and proceeding the pause indicated by the dash, asks us to consider its Middle English origin slenten (to glide, slope) and the Norwegian slenta (to fall sideways). What one might call the necessary inclining to the oblique in the search for “Truth” (confident in capitals, confined in quotations) leads a reader to wonder, too, about the colloquial uses of slant. To “tell” something slant is to invoke a point of view, a glance or quick look. These expressions are striking because we tend to think of close “objective” observation as providing the most reliable path toward the “True.” Such (scientific and religious?) faith in seeing Dickinson appears to mock in poem #185. “’Faith is a fine invention / When Gentlemen can see— / But Microscopes are prudent / In and Emergency” (325). Here she implies that “Faith” in empirical observation (method of science and/or religious awakening) may be useful, but only if “Gentlemen” can see. With these observations in mind I will focus the remainder of this paper on poem #1071.

Perception of an object costs
Precise the Object’s loss—
Perception in itself a Gain
Replying to it’s Price—

The Object Absolute—is nought—
Perception sets it fair
And then upbraids a Perfectness
That situates so far— (348)

The word perception comes from the Latin percipere (per, through + capere, to take hold of). To Perceive is to take hold of, to grasp mentally, to become aware of. The first four lines of the poem are divided into two conceptually independent but formally parallel couplets. The perception of an object has a “cost,” which is an interesting word considering our understanding of perception as a net gain (as in to take, or to grasp). However the cost of perception, we learn in the second line, is precisely the loss of the object itself. The second couplet has the same structure as the first. The first line qualifies the initial observation by saying that “in itself” perception is a gain, but only as a reply to the “Price” of losing the object. The parallel structure of the two introductory couplets furthers the conceptual inquiry of the poem, which is that perception is always a loss (of the object) and a gain (of what we can know of the object). The second four lines of the poem form a unit that differs from the first four lines. The first notable difference is structural. The poem picks up pace after the apposite phrase “is nought,” pausing briefly at fair and then carrying over the enjambed two lines that together conclude the poem. It is as if the speaker of the poem has found the key to the paradox set up in the first half of the poem and is responding with this new recognition. The “Object Absolute,” the next line implies, cannot be. It “is nought.” Nought means “nothing,” of no value, useless—or in arithmetic, the figure zero. Perception, the next line suggests, “sets” the object (which is nought!) “fair” (meaning here, perhaps, any number of things: apt, fit, just, beautiful, to become clear). Once perception sets it fair, the penultimate line adds, the process upbraids (to chide, to reprove, to take to task, to scold) a Perfectness (the use of definite article here deserves further thought) that only situates or places the perceiver further from the object itself.

Week 3 Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

4 (Robby)

Trippers and askers surround me,

People I meet, the effect upon me of my early life or the ward and city I live in, or the nation,

The latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies, authors old and new,

My dinner, dress, associates, looks, compliments, dues,

The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,

The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss or lack of money, or depressions or exaltations,

Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events;

These come to me days and nights and go from me again,

But they are not the Me myself.

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,

Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,

Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,

Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,

Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.

Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with linguists and contenders,

I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait.


7 (Asia)

Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?

I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I
know it.


I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe,
and am not contain’d between my hat and boots,

And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,

The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.


I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,

I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and
fathomless as myself,

(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)


Every kind for itself and its own, for me mine male and female,

For me those that have been boys and that love women,

For me the man that is proud and feels how it stings to be

For me the sweet-heart and the old maid, for me mothers and the
mothers of mothers,

For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,

For me children and the begetters of children.


Undrape! you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded,

I see through the broadcloth and gingham whether or no,

And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless, and cannot be
shaken away.


8 (Robbie #2)

The little one sleeps in its cradle,

I lift the gauze and look a long time, and silently brush away flies with my hand.

The youngster and the red-faced girl turn aside up the bushy hill,

I peeringly view them from the top.

The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bedroom,

I witness the corpse with its dabbled hair, I note where the pistol has fallen.

The blab of the pave, tires of carts, sluff of boot-soles, talk of the promenaders,

The heavy omnibus, the driver with his interrogating thumb, the clank of the shod horses on the granite floor,

The snow-sleighs, clinking, shouted jokes, pelts of snow-balls,

The hurrahs for popular favorites, the fury of rous’d mobs,

The flap of the curtain’d litter, a sick man inside borne to the hospital,

The meeting of enemies, the sudden oath, the blows and fall,

The excited crowd, the policeman with his star quickly working his passage to the centre of the crowd,

The impassive stones that receive and return so many echoes,

What groans of over-fed or half-starv’d who fall sunstruck or in fits,

What exclamations of women taken suddenly who hurry home and give birth to babes,

What living and buried speech is always vibrating here, what howls restrain’d by decorum,

Arrests of criminals, slights, adulterous offers made, acceptances, rejections with convex lips,

I mind them or the show or resonance of them—I come and I depart.


17 (Trisha)

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands,

they are not original with me,

If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing or,

next to nothing,

If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they

are nothing,

If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.


This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the

water is,

This the common air that bathes the globe.

32 (Meaghan)

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,

Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,

Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,

Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

So they show their relations to me and I accept them,

They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.

I wonder where they get those tokens,

Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?

Myself moving forward then and now and forever,

Gathering and showing more always and with velocity,

Infinite and omnigenous, and the like of these among them,

Not too exclusive toward the reachers of my remembrancers,

Picking out here one that I love, and now go with him on brotherly terms.

A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my caresses,

Head high in the forehead, wide between the ears,

Limbs glossy and supple, tail dusting the ground,

Eyes full of sparkling wickedness, ears finely cut, flexibly moving.

His nostrils dilate as my heels embrace him,

His well-built limbs tremble with pleasure as we race around and return.

I but use you a minute, then I resign you, stallion,

Why do I need your paces when I myself out-gallop them?

Even as I stand or sit passing faster than you.


45 (Mariah)

O span of youth! ever-push’d elasticity!

O manhood, balanced, florid and full.


My lovers suffocate me,

Crowding my lips, thick in the pores of my skin,

Jostling me through streets and public halls, coming naked to me at night,

Crying by day Ahoy! from the rocks of the river, swinging and chirping over my head,

Calling my name from flower-beds, vines, tangled underbrush,

Lighting on every moment of my life,

Bussing my body with soft balsamic busses,

Noiselessly passing handfuls out of their hearts and giving them to be mine.


Old age superbly rising! O welcome, ineffable grace of dying days!


Every condition promulges not only itself, it promulges what grows after and out of itself,

And the dark hush promulges as much as any.


I open my scuttle at night and see the far-sprinkled systems,

And all I see multiplied as high as I can cipher edge but the rim of the farther systems.


Wider and wider they spread, expanding, always expanding,

Outward and outward and forever outward.


My sun has his sun and round him obediently wheels,

He joins with his partners a group of superior circuit,

And greater sets follow, making specks of the greatest inside them.


There is no stoppage and never can be stoppage,

If I, you, and the worlds, and all beneath or upon their surfaces, were this moment reduced back to a pallid float, it would not avail in the long run,

We should surely bring up again where we now stand,

And surely go as much farther, and then farther and farther.


A few quadrillions of eras, a few octillions of cubic leagues, do not hazard the span or make it impatient,

They are but parts, any thing is but a part.


See ever so far, there is limitless space outside of that,

Count ever so much, there is limitless time around that.


My rendezvous is appointed, it is certain,

The Lord will be there and wait till I come on perfect terms,

The great Camerado, the lover true for whom I pine will be there.


49 (Lexi)

And as to you Death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me.

To his work without flinching the accoucheur comes,

I see the elder-hand pressing receiving supporting,

I recline by the sills of the exquisite flexible doors,

And mark the outlet, and mark the relief and escape.

And as to you Corpse I think you are good manure, but that does not offend me,

I smell the white roses sweet-scented and growing,

I reach to the leafy lips, I reach to the polish’d breasts of melons.

And as to you Life I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths,

(No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before.)

I hear you whispering there O stars of heaven,

O suns—O grass of graves—O perpetual transfers and pro- motions,

If you do not say any thing how can I say any thing?

Of the turbid pool that lies in the autumn forest,

Of the moon that descends the steeps of the soughing twilight,

Toss, sparkles of day and dusk—toss on the black stems that decay in the muck,

Toss to the moaning gibberish of the dry limbs.

I ascend from the moon, I ascend from the night,

I perceive that the ghastly glimmer is noonday sunbeams reflected,

And debouch to the steady and central from the offspring great or small.


Week Two



The Children’s Hour

The Arrow and the Song (link to Trisha’s commentary)

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sightCould not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.


Emerson Poems

The Concord Hymn
Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
   Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
   And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
   Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
   Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
   We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
   When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
   To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
   The shaft we raise to them and thee.


The Rhodora: On Being Asked, whence is the Flower?

In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals, fallen in the pool,
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask, I never knew:
But, in my simple ignorance, suppose
The self-same Power that brought me there brought you.

The Snow-Storm

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind’s masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Pariah wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

Emerson Essays


“. . . the true glory of a nation consists not in the extent of its territory, the pomp of its forests, the majesty of its rivers, the height of its mountains, and the beauty of its sky; but in the extent of its mental power,—the majesty of its intellect,—the height and depth and purity of its moral nature.”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Review Essay of new edition of Philip Sidney’s “The Defence of Poetry” (1832)

“. . . when I look around me, and consider the sound material of which the cultivated class here is made up … and that the most distinguished by genius and culture are in this class of benefactors—I cannot distrust this great knighthood of virtue, or doubt that the interests of science, of letters, of politics, and humanity are safe. I think their hands are strong enough to hold up the Republic.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Progress of Culture” (1867)

“America is not simply . . . a young country with an old mentality: it is a country with two mentalities, one a survival of the beliefs and standards of the fathers, the other an expression of instincts, practice and discoveries of the younger generations. In all the higher things of the mind—in religion, in literature, in the moral emotions—it is the hereditary spirit that still prevails. . . . it has floated gently in the backwater, while, alongside, in invention and industry and social organization the other half of the mind was leaping down a sort of Niagara Rapids. . . .”

-George Santayana, “The Genteel Philosophy in American Philosophy”


from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles,” Essays: First Series (1841)

“Permanence is but a word of degrees.”


The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world. St. Augustine described the nature of God as a circle whose centre was everywhere, and its circumference nowhere. We are all our lifetime reading the copious sense of this first of forms. One moral we have already deduced, in considering the circular or compensatory character of every human action. Another analogy we shall now trace; that every action admits of being outdone. Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

. . . .

There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees. Our globe seen by God is a transparent law, not a mass of facts. The law dissolves the fact and holds it fluid. Our culture is the predominance of an idea which draws after it this train of cities and institutions. Let us rise into another idea: they will disappear.

. . . .

The new continents are built out of the ruins of an old planet; the new races fed out of the decomposition of the foregoing. New arts destroy the old. See the investment of capital in aqueducts made useless by hydraulics; fortifications, by gunpowder; roads and canals, by railways; sails, by steam; steam by electricity.

. . . .

Nature looks provokingly stable and secular, but it has a cause like all the rest; and when once I comprehend that, will these fields stretch so immovably wide, these leaves hang so individually considerable? Permanence is a word of degrees. Every thing is medial. Moons are no more bounds to spiritual power than bat-balls.

. . . .

The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own. The life of man is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end. The extent to which this generation of circles, wheel without wheel, will go, depends on the force or truth of the individual soul. For it is the inert effort of each thought, having formed itself into a circular wave of circumstance, — as, for instance, an empire, rules of an art, a local usage, a religious rite, — to heap itself on that ridge, and to solidify and hem in the life. But if the soul is quick and strong, it bursts over that boundary on all sides, and expands another orbit on the great deep, which also runs up into a high wave, with attempt again to stop and to bind. But the heart refuses to be imprisoned; in its first and narrowest pulses, it already tends outward with a vast force, and to immense and innumerable expansions.

Every ultimate fact is only the first of a new series. Every general law only a particular fact of some more general law presently to disclose itself. There is no outside, no inclosing wall, no circumference to us. The man finishes his story, — how good! how final! how it puts a new face on all things! He fills the sky. Lo! on the other side rises also a man, and draws a circle around the circle we had just pronounced the outline of the sphere. Then already is our first speaker not man, but only a first speaker. His only redress is forthwith to draw a circle outside of his antagonist. And so men do by themselves. The result of to-day, which haunts the mind and cannot be escaped, will presently be abridged into a word, and the principle that seemed to explain nature will itself be included as one example of a bolder generalization. In the thought of to-morrow there is a power to upheave all thy creed, all the creeds, all the literatures, of the nations, and marshal thee to a heaven which no epic dream has yet depicted. Every man is not so much a workman in the world, as he is a suggestion of that he should be. Men walk as prophecies of the next age.

. . . .

Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out in a great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will end. There is not a piece of science, but its flank may be turned to-morrow; there is not any literary reputation, not the so-called eternal names of fame, that may not be revised and condemned. The very hopes of man, the thoughts of his heart, the religion of nations, the manners and morals of mankind, are all at the mercy of a new generalization. Generalization is always a new influx of the divinity into the mind. Hence the thrill that attends it.

. . . .

The things which are dear to men at this hour are so on account of the ideas which have emerged on their mental horizon, and which cause the present order of things as a tree bears its apples. A new degree of culture would instantly revolutionize the entire system of human pursuits.

. . . .

Literature is a point outside of our hodiernal circle, through which a new one may be described. The use of literature is to afford us a platform whence we may command a view of our present life, a purchase by which we may move it. . . .

Therefore we value the poet. All the argument and all the wisdom is not in the encyclopaedia, or the treatise on metaphysics, or the Body of Divinity, but in the sonnet or the play. In my daily work I incline to repeat my old steps, and do not believe in remedial force, in the power of change and reform.

. . . .

The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal memory, and to do something without knowing how or why; in short, to draw a new circle.


from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Poet,” Essays: Second Series (1844)

“I look in vain for the poet whom I describe.”


The breadth of the problem is great, for the poet is representative. He stands among partial men for the complete man, and apprises us not of his wealth, but of the common-wealth. The young man reveres men of genius, because, to speak truly, they are more himself than he is. They receive of the soul as he also receives, but they more. Nature enhances her beauty, to the eye of loving men, from their belief that the poet is beholding her shows at the same time. He is isolated among his contemporaries, by truth and by his art, but with this consolation in his pursuits, that they will draw all men sooner or later. For all men live by truth, and stand in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.

. . . .

Words are also actions, and actions are a kind of words.

. . . .

We hear, through all the varied music, the ground-tone of conventional life. Our poets are men of talents who sing, and not the children of music. The argument is secondary, the finish of the verses is primary.

For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument, that makes a poem, — a thought so passionate and alive, that, like the spirit of a plant or an animal, it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing. The thought and the form are equal in the order of time, but in the order of genesis the thought is prior to the form. The poet has a new thought: he has a whole new experience to unfold; he will tell us how it was with him, and all men will be the richer in his fortune. For, the experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet.

. . . .

We know that the secret of the world is profound, but who or what shall be our interpreter, we know not. A mountain ramble, a new style of face, a new person, may put the key into our hands. Of course, the value of genius to us is in the veracity of its report. Talent may frolic and juggle; genius realizes and adds. Mankind, in good earnest, have availed so far in understanding themselves and their work, that the foremost watchman on the peak announces his news. It is the truest word ever spoken, and the phrase will be the fittest, most musical, and the unerring voice of the world for that time.

All that we call sacred history attests that the birth of a poet is the principal event in chronology. Man, never so often deceived, still watches for the arrival of a brother who can hold him steady to a truth, until he has made it his own. With what joy I begin to read a poem, which I confide in as an inspiration! And now my chains are to be broken; I shall mount above these clouds and opaque airs in which I live, — opaque, though they seem transparent, — and from the heaven of truth I shall see and comprehend my relations. That will reconcile me to life, and renovate nature, to see trifles animated by a tendency, and to know what I am doing. Life will no more be a noise; now I shall see men and women, and know the signs by which they may be discerned from fools and satans.


By virtue of this science the poet is the Namer, or Language-maker, naming things sometimes after their appearance, sometimes after their essence, and giving to every one its own name and not another’s, thereby rejoicing the intellect, which delights in detachment or boundary. The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses. For, though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency, because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin. But the poet names the thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other. This expression, or naming, is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree. What we call nature, is a certain self-regulated motion, or change; and nature does all things by her own hands, and does not leave another to baptise her, but baptises herself; and this through the metamorphosis again.


This insight, which expresses itself by what is called Imagination, is a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees, by sharing the path, or circuit of things through forms, and so making them translucid to others. The path of things is silent. Will they suffer a speaker to go with them? A spy they will not suffer; a lover, a poet, is the transcendency of their own nature, — him they will suffer. The condition of true naming, on the poet’s part, is his resigning himself to the divine aura which breathes through forms, and accompanying that.


If the imagination intoxicates the poet, it is not inactive in other men. The metamorphosis excites in the beholder an emotion of joy. The use of symbols has a certain power of emancipation and exhilaration for all men. We seem to be touched by a wand, which makes us dance and run about happily, like children. We are like persons who come out of a cave or cellar into the open air. This is the effect on us of tropes, fables, oracles, and all poetic forms. Poets are thus liberating gods. Men have really got a new sense, and found within their world, another world, or nest of worlds; for, the metamorphosis once seen, we divine that it does not stop.


There is good reason why we should prize this liberation. The fate of the poor shepherd, who, blinded and lost in the snow-storm, perishes in a drift within a few feet of his cottage door, is an emblem of the state of man. On the brink of the waters of life and truth, we are miserably dying. The inaccessibleness of every thought but that we are in, is wonderful. What if you come near to it, — you are as remote, when you are nearest, as when you are farthest. Every thought is also a prison; every heaven is also a prison. Therefore we love the poet, the inventor, who in any form, whether in an ode, or in an action, or in looks and behavior, has yielded us a new thought. He unlocks our chains, and admits us to a new scene.

This emancipation is dear to all men, and the power to impart it, as it must come from greater depth and scope of thought, is a measure of intellect. Therefore all books of the imagination endure, all which ascend to that truth, that the writer sees nature beneath him, and uses it as his exponent. Every verse or sentence, possessing this virtue, will take care of its own immortality. The religions of the world are the ejaculations of a few imaginative men.

But the quality of the imagination is to flow, and not to freeze.


 Week One and Week Two : The Idea of Democratic Culture

Riverside edition of The Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier. Photo credit Mark Long


Nineteenth Century


“This revolution is to be wrought by the gradual domestication of the idea of Culture. The main enterprise of the world for splendor, for extent, is the upbuilding of a man. Here are the materials strewn along the ground.”

––Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”


We find ourselves abruptly in close quarters with the enemy. This word Culture, or what it has come to represent, involves, by contrast, our whole theme, and has been, indeed, the spur, urging us to engagement

––Walt Whitman, “Democratic Vistas”

My utmost pretension is probably but to offset that old claim of the exclusively curative power of first-class individual men, as leaders and rulers, by the claims and general movement and result of ideas. Something of the latter kind seems to me to be the distinctive theory of America, of democracy, and of the modern—or rather, I should say, it is democracy, and is the modern.

––“Carlyle from American Points of View” (1881)

Riverside edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Photo credit Mark Long

Twentieth Century

This continent now is conquered, but our habits and our fears remain. And, in the same way that to become a social human being one modifies and suppresses and, ultimately, without great courage, lies to oneself about all one’s interior, uncharted chaos, so have we, as a nation, modified or suppressed and lied about all the darker forces in our history. We know, in the case of the person, that whoever cannot tell himself the truth about his past is trapped in it, is immobilized in the prison of his undiscovered self. This is also true of nations. We know how a person, in such a paralysis, is unable to assess either his weaknesses or his strengths, and how frequently indeed he mistakes the one for the other.

––James Baldwin, “The Creative Process”

“Constitutional democracies are themselves collective works of art accountable for their constructions. And constitutions remain open to performative interventions, obliging citizens to cultivate their creativity and criticism” (104).

––Doris Sommer, The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and the Public Humanities

What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?

––Michel Foucault, “On the Genealogy of Ethics: Report on a Work in Progress.”

These are works that are designed to address social or political issues only in an allegorical, metaphorical, or symbolic level (for example, a painting about social issues is not very different than a public art project that claims to offer a social experience but only does so in a symbolic way such as the ones just described above). The work does not control a social situation in an instrumental and strategic way in order to achieve a specific end. This distinction is partially based on Jurgen Habermas’s work The Theory of Communicative Action (1981). In it Habermas argues that social action (an act constructed by the relations between individuals) is more than a mere manipulation of circumstances by an individual to obtain a desired goal (that is, more than just the use of strategic and instrumental reason. He instead favors what he describes as communicative action, a type of social action geared to communication and understanding between individuals that can have a lasting effect on the spheres of politics and culture as a true emancipatory force. (6-7)

––Pablo Helguera, “Interview”

When minds close, democracy begins to close. Fear creeps in; silence overtakes speech

––Terry Tempest Williams, “Commencement”

The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing (50).

––Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World and Me


Week One


There is no way you cannot have a poetics
no matter what you do: plumber, baker, teacher
you do it in the consciousness of making
or not making yr world

—Dianne di Prima, “Rant”


“To ask a poet about poetry is like asking a bird about ornithology.
To ask a critic about poetry is like asking a dog about a hydrant.”

—Heather McHugh


Readers of poetry are interested in different things. Some readers are interested in poems. Other readers are interested in poetics, ideas about the making of poems, as well as the discussion that poems generate and the myriad reasons for poems and poetry. One of my interests in exploring how poems come alive for me, and for others, and trying to share that experience with others who may be interested. This is difficult and ongoing work. Among the best ways to share poems is to read them aloud and then to model how to think through (and with) a poem. One hopes that with practice the thinking through (and with) the language of poems becomes a habit.


Below are a selection of statements, by poets and critics, about poems and poetry. Browse the selections to find examples that affirm what you already think about poems or that perhaps opens you up to a new way of thinking about poems and poetry.


“Any poem is an. . .inquiry into the resources of language it makes available to itself.”

—Richard Poirier


“A Poem is a composition written for performance by the human voice.”

—the editors of the Norton anthology of Poetry


“Poetry is language at its most intense.”

—The editors of The Practical Imagination


“Poetry is the kind of thing poets write”

—Robert Frost


“A poem is a walk.”

—A.R. Ammons


“Poetry is anything said or put on paper in such a way as to invite a certain kind of attention.”

—William Stafford


“What the poet is called upon to clarify is not answers but the existence and nature of questions; and his likelihood of so clarifying them for others is made possible only by dialogue with himself.”

—Denise Levertov


“Poetry is the way we [the pronoun is gender specific here, “for women poetry is not a luxury. . .it is a vital necessity] help give names to the nameless so it can be thought.”

—Audre Lorde


“Poetry is the skilled and inspired use of language.”

—Gary Snyder


“Poetry is discovery and projection of the self.”

—Richard Wilbur (“It is myself that I remake,” W.B. Yeats)


“Poetry is a kind of saying.”

—Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks


“Poetry is an action that mediates and sustains the self in the world.”

—Sherman Paul




I look for the way
things will turn
out spiralling from a center,
the shape
things will take to come forth in


so that the birch tree white
touched black at branches
will stand out
totally its apparent self:


I look for the forms
things want to come as

from what black wells of possibility,
how a thing will

not the shape on paper—though
that, too—but the
uninterfering means on paper:


not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.

—A.R. Ammons