Sarah’s Much Expected CC Assignment C


The 1st South Carolina

Not a single battle of the Civil War was fought in Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson’s home state. Despite this, her connection with the war was apparent. We know that she was an avid reader of everything that came to the house, and it stands to reason that she kept up to date on the progression of the war. One of her strongest ties to it most likely existed in the person of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Their relationship began with the publication of “Letter to a Young Contributor,” and article by Higginson published in the Atlantic Monthly, in which he encourages budding writers. Dickinson would write him in response to this, and through their exchange of letters, he would become her foremost literary mentor. This catalytic article was published months before Higginson left Massachusetts to take command of the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, a Union regiment made up entirely of escaped black slaves—the first official black regiment in US history. They corresponded even as Higginson was going off to this new command.

The 1st South Carolina appears to have faded from history, despite the publication of Higginson’s book, Army Life in a Black Regiment, about his experiences with the regiment. Heaps of fame and interest are loaded instead upon the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the second official black regiment and the subject of the movie Glory. Most likely this is because the 54th Massachusetts saw significantly more action than the 1st South Carolina, which saw plenty of combat, but no big-name battles (but still). Though the war in general certainly affected her life and poetry, it was likely Higginson’s experiences in the war (along with the deaths of several neighbors and a family member) that affected her the most.

In his book, which was published in Dickinson’s lifetime (and I would not be surprised to know that she owned), Higginson shares his diaries, letters, and recollections from the start of training camp in 1862 until he left for health reasons in 1864. One of the reasons this memoir is valued is because in recording the so-called “negro spirituals,” he preserved an art form that we have little record of today. He continually refers to these songs and their singers as “poetry” and “poets,” and there are, in fact, a few parallels between these folk songs and some of Dickinson’s poetry. The biggest similarity is in their focus on the natural in setting and object. Mixed with a heavy dose of biblical allusions, Dickinson may have identified with these folk songs more than the more familiar “cathedral tunes” of her childhood, referenced in “There’s a certain Slant of light.” This natural or nature-imbued faith, as shown in “Some Keep the Sabbath going to Church—” was much more typical for Dickinson. I am, of course, merely drawing a connection between her poems and a possible influence on them; I have not found solid evidence that Dickinson herself felt this way.

She may also have been influenced by some of the descriptions of battle or troop life that Higginson included in his book. In an article by Leigh-Anne Urbanowicz Marcellin, she highlights several of Dickinson’s poems that seem directly influenced by war and the plight of the soldier—some even from the soldiers’ point of view. Some of these poems are “Our journey had advanced,” “My Portion is Defeat—today,” “They dropped like Flakes,” and “It dont sound so terrible—quite—as it did—.” The last poem is even written in a simplified grammar and syntax, emulating a poorly-educated soldier. Higginson preserves a similar dialect in his book—another link between the two.

The short article by Marcellin, which gives useful context to the subject and some explicatory passages, would have fit in nicely into our curriculum. We didn’t get the chance to study much of Dickinson’s war poetry, an unfortunate occurrence, considering the wealth of literature on the topic, and the parallels to H. D.’s own war experiences. Though it is harder to identify her war-influenced work because she rarely gives direct context (wouldn’t you love a note that says “this poem is about Antietam”?), the scholarship on the subject and the dates around which the Johnson edition is organized would have been enough to uncover a few exemplary examples of her war poetry. Women’s war poetry is just now becoming a popular field of study, as Marcellin points out, and the question of its influence is thus a current one, and worth more than a cursory glance.

Sources:
Marcellin, Leigh-Anne Urbanowicz. “Emily Dickinson’s Civil War Poetry.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 5.2 (1996): 107-112. Project MUSE. Web.
Wikipedia pages on Higginson, Dickinson, and the 1st South Carolina Volunteers for basic         information.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Army Life in a Black Regiment. Publisher unknown, 1869.     Scribd.com. Web. (and no I didn’t read the whole thing!)



Meg’s CC: C


The Spanish Influenza of 1918 was perhaps one of the most widespread and virulent diseases recorded in human history; although its death toll is debated, the estimates range from 22 million to 50 million worldwide. However, those that were infected range much higher—an estimated one third of the world’s population (500 million). No one is quite sure why the name was attached to the Spanish, because there is little evidence that it began there. However, the newspapers in Spain censored details about the epidemic the least (as it was not involved in WWI) and so word of the disease was most known there.

The symptoms of influenza are close to that of a cold or respiratory infection: cough, fever, and an aching of the body. The victims’ skin also turned blue. However, the virus often lapsed into pneumonia or other lung complications. What is most peculiar about this epidemic is that those who died were most often killed by the body’s immunological response to disease; the lungs would often fill up with fluid, thus suffocating the victim. This is one of the theories on why the disease more often killed the younger (20-40 years old) as opposed to older and other immunocompromised individuals. The stronger one’s immune system was, the more likely it would be to kill the individual.

The disease occurred in three waves. The first, least lethal, began in March 1918; it is most often linked to Fort Riley in Kansas, although theories also point to China and India. August 1918 marked the second wave, which appeared in France and quickly moved to the US and Africa. November 1918 brought a third wave upon the world. At first, doctors were reluctant to call it the flu, suggesting that it was merely a respiratory disorder, cholera, dengue fever, or botulism. Many people also believed that the disease had been caused by Germans trying to start pathogenic warfare or that it was caused by the poison gas that soldiers were using. Doctors also tried to treat the disease with useless compounds such as arsenic compounds and quinine.

Whatever the cause, individuals were dying at a rapid rate. It became policy that one had to wear a gauze mask in public; without following this rule, one would be fined. The sharp decline in the population also led to a sharp decline in the public workforce; with labor already stretched during the wartime, cities lost people to collect garbage and dig graves.

One of the easiest (and most obvious) reasons that the Spanish Influenza is important to this seminar is that HD was one of those affected by it. To make matter worse, she was pregnant with Perdita; however, Bryher nursed her back to health. Since Asphodel is fairly autobiographic, knowing the Spanish Influenza also aids in understanding these sections in the text, which are arguably more erratic and confusing than many of the other sections. This can be attributed to HD’s delirious mental state at the time. Furthermore, HD’s reference to the other angel, “Azrael,” on 190 becomes more apparent as the reader understands that, once again, she is close to death.

I think also that HD’s preoccupation with death during Asphodel plays into this. Hermione repeats over and over that she is dead, and with the onset of war, she is—at least mentally. The stress of the war becomes too much. Figuratively, Hermoine’s writing also suffers during this time as she constantly bounces between identities and individuals (such as Pound, Gregg, and eventually Aldington) who denounce her work. However, the onset of Spanish Influenza brings her to a more literal, physical death. Interestingly enough, it is this near literal death that brings both a literal birth (the life of Perdita and the possibility of being “mother”) as well as two figurative ones. The flu brings Hermione closer to Bryher, who becomes her savior. It also marks the end/death of the war, as well as the death of her marriage to Darrington. This becomes a reincarnation of sorts; Mrs. Darrington and all her pains and instabilities are allowed to die with the fighting, while Hermione Gart, someone who is (somewhat) fresh and who shas different worries, steps in to retake her place.  With the onset of her new life, Hermione’s writing also begins to resurrect itself; following the first World War, she begins writing again.

Source:

Hays, JN. “Influenza Pandemic, 1918-1919.” Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on World History. Santa Barabara: ABC-Clio, 2005. Print. 385-396.



Everett’s CC Assignment C


Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the leading figures in what has come to be known as the transcendentalist movement in 19th century America. His influence then (and now) was pervasive and lasting among many serious writers and thinkers here and abroad. For the purposes of this paper though the aspects of his thought that pertain to Dickinson are numerous and worth looking into (e.g. his discussion of mood and temperament in “Experience,” his views on the poet and what that person does in “The Poet,” his notion of self-reliance and its relation to constructing the self in “Self-Reliance,” and many more), I will focus on his idea of genius, what it is, how one discovers it and why it’s important. To simplify, one’s genius works through what Emerson calls your “aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded” and has the capability to recognize and produce what is “original and not conventional” for you yourself are as such (Emerson 268; 259). Let me leave off of genius for a moment and focus on this aboriginal Self. The aboriginal Self is “that part [you] could not borrow” for it is what makes you distinct from all else, but capable of relating to and bringing about all else (Emerson 279). It is that which we refer to when we speak of “mine” and “my own,” and yet it is truly “ours”—shared insofar as it is the common ground upon which our selves as human beings stand. It is that very ground which must be presupposed to account for a certain kind of being that we call “human”—that which conjoins our consciousness and our physicality and is the unbreakable knot by which we tie down our “experience” in Emerson’s, I think Stoic, sense of the word. If you cannot get an idea of it from this, I urge you to read further, particularly in “Self-Reliance,” but I must move on to account for genius.

Emerson defines it as an action: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men” (Emerson 259). Emerson’s numerous examples are mostly through language, but let us be generous enough to know that this signifies the kind of beings which have genius and not strictly the kinds of professions (writers or orators) who have it—his first example is, after all, “an eminent painter” (Emerson 259, emphasis mine). With that in mind, he shows it to be an articulation of the universal, one that resides within us at all times, “let the subject be what it may”* (Emerson 259). One discovers it then by experiencing the universal in some way, whether through someone else’s genius or through an instantiation of God or the divine (this is divine understood broadly**  in nature (this is nature understood broadly as all that is, i.e. the natural world). Genius is exceedingly important for Emerson for it is this concept that ties together his views of recognizing, appreciating and ultimately expressing the divine for any individual, no matter the particular characteristics of that individual. We should keep this in mind when approaching Dickinson, which I’ll do in just a moment.

But before that, I should point out that there is no question among scholars that Dickinson was not only well aware of Emerson and his writings, but that his thought may have even had considerable influence on her own writing. Richard Sewall goes so far as to claim that she may have heard him lecture, writing that, “[t]here is no reason to believe that Emily did not hear…Emerson. It may have been on this occasion that Emily (according to Sue) gave her famous impression of Emerson: ‘As if he had come from where dreams are born’” (Sewall 468). Accordingly, many critics focus on what kind of influence Emerson had on her, whether positive or negative, and which direction it pushed her writing, whether toward or away from his thought, instead of on whether or not it existed. Dickinson’s other major biographer, Cynthia Wolff, has paid attention to Emerson’s essay “The Poet” as having particular influence on Dickinson. Wolff acknowledges that “any American poet who wished to be ‘Representative’ was constrained to address Emerson’s optimistic assessment of the meaning a poet would discover in the landscape” (Wolff 282). Dickinson, who considered herself representative (L268—although, note here that she in many ways is embodying Emerson’s idea of the representative poet) felt the need then to address at least this aspect of Emerson’s thought: one’s (particularly a poet’s) interaction with nature. With that in mind, let’s examine Fr1433 to see how that latter issue of Dickinson’s view of nature plays out in the context of Emersonian influence.

There are many who have seen this poem as expressly rejecting the views of Emerson (L227 and others). However, I don’t find Dickinson to be quite so unkind as some would make her out to be. Though I recognize the pun of “cite” with “sight” and its allusion to the Emersonian eyeball of Nature, I don’t see this as a bad thing, in part because of the ambiguity of the line that “those who cite [Nature] most / Have never passed her haunted house, / Nor simplified her ghost” (ll. 18-20). Leiter takes this to mean that they have never seen her house and cannot, therefore, be very good judges of Nature; that their “cite/sight” is satirical in Dickinson’s eyes. But there is another meaning of “pass” here as never having gone beyond the house; they have never passed it because they have stopped in before it to gaze and are gazing still. Dickinson’s own conclusion that “those who know her, know her less / the nearer her they get” supports this (ll. 23-24). This may seem like it doesn’t aid me, at first, but let us revisit the first stanza. Dickinson writes:

What mystery pervades a well!

That water lives so far –

A neighbor from another world

Residing in a jar

What resides in the well is our own reflection, or, as Emerson might say (were he in a poetic mood,) a person can only truly be alone when looking at the stars (Emerson 9). He would say further that “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit,” for Nature truly is what we see in it and thus our own selves reflected back at us (Emerson 11). Dickinson uses the metaphor of the reflection here to express the same point. It is no wonder then that those who grow nearer to Nature “know her less,” for they are growing closer to their own aboriginal Self. This may seem a stretch, but if we do not grant Dickinson the probability of interacting with one of the most profound thinkers of her day and in her own country, we do her a disservice. Let this serve as an admonishment then, for when I approach Dickinson, I recall that she is anything but obvious—she is “small, like the wren,” always flitting from bush to tree, dodging our darting eyes, for just when we think we might see her wing, she flies, leaving only our reflected face in her words and this reading is certainly not the only one, but nevertheless not to be dismissed, to be ignored or shut up in one’s chamber behind cracked doors (L269).

*It is important to note, in case any inquiring minds look at this sentence that it would be easy to assume that “the subject” here is referring to the “such lines” earlier in the sentence. While I wouldn’t say that’s wrong, I would advise a deeper examination of what “subjects” general are, especially in the context of the subject/object relationship in which a “subject” is most generally a human being.

** Though perhaps better grasped through a less encompassing definition by one of Emerson’s students, William James: “The divine shall mean for us only such a primal reality as the individual feels impelled to respond to solemnly and gravely, and neither by a curse nor a jest” (James 42).

Bibliography:

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays & Poems. Library of America, 1996. Print.

James, William. The Varities of Religious Experience. Library of America, 2009. Print.

Leiter, Sharon. Critical Companion to Emily Dickinson: A Literary Reference to

Her Life and Work. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2007. Print.

Sewall, Richard B. The Life of Emily Dickinson, Vol. 2. New York. Fararr, Straus

and Giroux, 1974.  17-27. Print

Wolff, Cynthia. Emily Dickinson. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1988.

Print.



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