Sarah’s Highly Anticipated CC Assignment B

Animals and Anthropmorphism

Unfortunately, we never got the chance to discuss Dickinson’s animal poems, though, as Aaron Shackelford points out in his article “Dickinson’s Animals and Anthropomorphism,” there certainly are a lot of them. He does an excellent job of summarizing the scholarship on these animal poems and the literary and scientific debates surrounding the use of anthropomorphism in general. In the end, he shows how Dickinson played both sides of the humanizing animals debate to make effective statements about both animal and human nature.

Shackelford starts by addressing modern conceptions of anthropomorphism as childish or immature, and traces this idea back to Dickinson’s own library, citing one of her textbooks from Mount Holyoke and an article in the Atlantic Monthly, the same issue in which Higginson’s “Letter to a Young Contributor” was published. Originally, as is shown in the science textbook, anthropomorphism was considered essential to understanding the natural world, the idea being that without a human lens and human-based metaphors, we couldn’t understand animals as the complex beings they are. William Smellie, the author of the textbook, condemns detatched methods of approaching natural life, as in the casting of animals as bits of complex machinery.

This approach remained popular through Darwin’s researches and other famous scientific studies, but started to be challenged seriously around Dickinson’s time period. The Atlantic Monthly article, written by Louis Agassiz, highlights a very removed approach to natural study. His theory is that human bias prevents us from really understanding animals fully, as all of the study is on our terms and not theirs. Both the article and the textbook are used primarily because of the high probability that Dickinson would have read them, but they are also good examples of the scholarship out there.

At this point, Shackelford applies both of these theories to Dickinson’s own poems, first using the example of “A Saucer holds a Cup” to show how she incorporates the ideas. In the poem (don’t worry, we haven’t read it), she describes a squirrel eating. Onto this image she applies such human imagery of a king in a dining room, and gives the squirrel cutlery. Although on the surface it seems quaint, Shackelford shows how these metaphors are cleverly disrupted (the dining room is swaying, the cutlery is the squirrel’s own teeth), which in turn highlights the flaws in applying such metaphors in the first place, forcing the reader to consider the choice. In the end, the squirrel, a mere vehicle, fades away and the reader is faced with commentary on human society.

Another poem that Shackelford explicates, “You’ll know Her – by Her Foot -” approaches a bird from the opposite approach. The poem details a minute examination of the bird in question, which, instead of resulting in a complete understanding of the creature, ends in a turning away from the bird at hand to contemplate the false bird in the speaker’s mind. To do this, Dickinson uses the same method of “A Saucer holds a Cup,” familiar human metaphors that are disrupted. The bird’s “hand” is of course not a hand, and its “rubber boots” are buttonless. The bird is described as wearing a cap, but then we are told the cap has no material, no seam, no band, and no brim—in other words, not a hat at all. Finally, the songs of the bird are wasted on the speaker, who turns to the internalized robin, ignoring the reality of the bird.

Overall, it was a fantastically written article, deep in research and mostly sound in explication. The thesis, a bit spread out in the beginning, is wrapped up perfectly in the conclusion, where Shackelford’s arguments are all tied together. We are left with an interesting case study of how Dickinson commented on scientific debate around her, using the strategies of both sides to undermine them and point out the flaws in each by exaggerating anthropomorphism. Finally, Shackelford points out that because of modern views of the triviality and juvenility of anthropomorphism, Dickinson’s many animal-based poems are given a diminished worth, and not studied as much as her Civil War poems or sexuality poems (why we choose the topics we do is such a worthwhile question that this article raises). Though we have a limited time in this class to study Dickinson in depth, it is great to do a bit of research on significant topics that get squeezed out. Her animal poems are a great example of how she, often seen as a recluse, interacted with the world and ideas around her in a clever and skillful way.

Aaron Shackelford. “Dickinson’s Animals and Anthropomorphism.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 19.2 (2010): 47-66. Project MUSE. Web.

Claire’s CC Assignment B

John Shoptaw. “Dickinson’s Civil War Poetics: From the Enrollment Act to the Lincoln Assassination.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 19.2 (2010): 1-19. Project MUSE. Web. 22 Jan. 2011. <>.

In John Shoptaw’s article “Dickinson’s Civil War Poetics: From the Enrollment Act to Lincoln’s Assassination,” he argues that the Civil War provided many challenges to Dickinson. According to Shoptaw, this is evident in her poems that allude to the 1863 Enrollment Act or draft, Higginson’s work with a black regiment, and Lincoln’s assassination. Though critics have argued for years about the ways in which the Civil War impacted Dickinson and her family personally, Shoptaw singles out Dickinson’s role as a poet as the facet of her life that was most complicated by the war. Shoptaw writes that because her poetry was so focused on her personal experiences, Dickinson could have been worried that her poetry would not find a welcome reception during a military conflict (1). Shoptaw finds that though Dickinson could not convince readers that the interior experience was equal to the military one, she was successful in applying her own oblique style to war poetry (17).

The Enrollment Act of 1863 was the Civil War’s most direct impact on Dickinson’s life. Her brother Austin was eligible for the draft and due to his age was in the group of the most sought-after potential soldiers; however, Austin never saw combat. Shoptaw quotes Section Thirteen of the act, which allows for the draftee to, “on or before the day fixed for his appearance, furnish an acceptable substitute to take his place in the draft.” (5) It was common practice for wealthy Northerners to pay lower-class immigrants to take their place in the draft, so what Austin did was not unusual. Shoptaw believes that this was “an existential lesson” for Dickinson, as reflected in poem #638 (5). Shoptaw finds that the language in both versions of the poem echo that of the Enrollment Act, specifically the words ‘report,’ ‘the Act,’ ‘Telegram,’ and ‘Substitute’ (5). Shoptaw finds military-inspired vocabulary in several other poems. In poem #328, one version of which was sent to Higginson, Dickinson connects the elegiac poem to the war through her word choice. For example, Shoptaw highlights the description of the gowns as “Spangled,” which calls to mind the National Anthem (3). Shoptaw notes that this poem could be read as a criticism of the war; instead of praising the victors, Dickinson favors those whose robes are “Snow” (without blood). Shoptaw reads this as Dickinson placing the spiritual over the military.

Despite her moral criticism of the war, Dickinson continued writing about the conflict, going so far as to associate her poetry with a particular side. Shoptaw finds that poem #319, which could be read as a first-person account of witnessing the Northern Lights, is about the Union army (9). By framing “the North” with the words “Bronze” and “Blaze” and also referencing “Unicorns” (emphasis added), the poem encourages the reader to think of the Union forces (9). The poem has been dated by Franklin as being from early 1862; by acknowledging the date, the poem becomes a criticism of the overconfidence of the Union army going into the war. This reading is supported by her description of the North as having “Disdaining Men, and Oxygen,/ For Arrogance of them-” (9). The poetry shows that the northern states entered the conflict with a lack of respect for the human cost of war.

Though Shoptaw does not focus specifically on this, he briefly delves into the role that the “choosing/not choosing” played in Dickinson’s military vocabulary. He notes that in poem #138, written just before the war began, Dickinson’s use of the word “cavalry” is problematic (2). It is very close to “calvary,” which Dickinson’s edition of Webster’s defines as “A place of skulls; particularly, the place where Christ was crucified on a small hill west of Jerusalem.” This poem is about the rewards of spiritual battle, but Dickinson’s word choice alludes the violence inherent in the personal religious battles.

Another theme that Shoptaw finds important to Dickinson’s war poetry is the emotional scars left on the survivors. Poem #524 begins “It feels a shame to be Alive -/ When Men so brave – are dead -/ One envies the Distinguished Dust -/ Permitted – such a Head-” Other critics have attributed the shame to a failure in the country, but Shoptaw believes that the use of the first person plural in the poem indicates that the poem is about the survivors and non-combatants (12). Shoptaw finds this poem to be remarkable due to its honesty: “how many would identify with the admission, “One envies the Distinguished Dust -“? The confession is remarkable for its unvarnished and unflattering honesty: the dead are envied not for their heroic martyrdom but for their renown” (12). Shoptaw finds that Dickinson’s poetry worked towards creating a contemporary heroism that was on par with that of Sparta and Ancient Rome (13).

Though this article is about Dickinson, I think that it can be very easily applied to H.D. as we continue to explore her poetry. Like Dickinson, she was actively writing during a major war and closely experienced the lead-up to another. I think that Shoptaw provides an interesting frame of reference by showing how poets referred to the war indirectly and provides some methods of analysis that could be useful when reading H.D.’s poetry from the Great War.

John Shoptaw. “Dickinson’s Civil War Poetics: From the Enrollment Act to the Lincoln Assassination.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 19.2 (2010): 1-19. Project MUSE. Web. 22 Jan. 2011. <>.

John Shoptaw. “Dickinson’s Civil War Poetics: From the Enrollment Act to the Lincoln Assassination.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 19.2 (2010): 1-19. Project MUSE. Web. 22 Jan. 2011. <>.

Everett’s CC Assignment B

In “Allusion, Echo, and Literary Influence in Emily Dickinson,” Elizabeth Petrino discusses the ways in which Dickinson’s poems and letters “sometimes overtly, sometimes in subtle and barely discernable ways” make use of other literary texts in order to add to her own writing (Petrino 80). Petrino establishes early on that this is fairly easy to discern in the letters where “she often quotes directly,” but that “her poems cast literary allusions subtly and anonymously” (Petrino 80). For the sake of her discussion, Petrino focuses mainly on the influence of John Keats and William Shakespeare, though she specifies that much of her argument is based on the idea of “echo” that she draws on from John Hollander (Petrino 80-81). This lends to her focus on “images, sounds, or rhythmical patterns” that may not be a “direct quotation,” but rather echo her literary predecessors. To support this, she cites Dickinson’s letter to Higginson in which Dickinson states that she “refrains ‘consciously’ from touching another’s ‘paint’” (Perino 82). This lends to her examination of the more hidden aspects of Dickinson’s writing—the echoes.

Before beginning her analysis, she lays out a number of former critics including Paul Crumbley, Marietta Messmer and Vivian Pollak who have discussed intertextuality in Dickinson’s writing. She emphasizes Crumbley’s notion that “Dickinson adapts a dialogic style that allows a number of voices to exist simultaneously and hence amplifies indeterminacy in her poems,” though I will argue later that this only lends to her argument to a certain point before diminishing it (Petrino 82). Petrino combines Messmer and Pollak’s thoughts to posit that Dickinson’s intertextual references are harder to spot in her later work as she begins to shirk direct quotation (Petrino 82). Importantly, she notes that Dickinson “changes [lines of Shakespeare and Keats], fitting several lines that were pentameter into her own tetrameter line,” which “creates challenges for readers,” emphasizing the difficulty of the task she is about to undertake (Petrino 83).

One of the main points that Petrino wishes to make is that Dickinson is able to utilize and “critically [engage] with precursor texts without losing herself in…them” (Petrino 84). She backs this up with ample evidence ranging from an extensive discussion of Dickinson in relation to Keats’ poetry and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which she thinks “[critics] have neglects…despite [Dickinson’s] frequent allusions to it in her letters” (Petrino 94). Her discussion of Keats’ poem “To Autumn” on Dickinson’s own Fr1419, Fr822 and Fr1702 offers examples of the echoing effects of alliteration, word choice and subject matter (Petrino 89-93). Her argument is sound and I will refer readers to it for an excellent example of hidden intertextuality in Dickinson’s writing that should always be listened for when reading. Her discussion of Macbeth is the same, but interesting for other reasons I will return to later on. For now, let’s take a closer look at her discussion of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

She begins by further emphasizing that the kind of “echoing” she’s talking about is often filtered through a mediating source—in the case of Keats’ poem, Petrino identifies Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “A Vision of Poets” (Petrino 85). However, though Petrino acknowledged earlier that Dickinson’s multivocality “amplifie[d] indeterminacy in her poems” she argues mainly here that we should consider Dickinson’s own Fr448 to be a gloss specifically on Keats and identifying Browning and Emerson too to be primarily discussing him, though the theme of truth and beauty being one is as old as Plato, whom we know, at least Emerson, read thoroughly. Instead of recognizing that Keats too was drawing on an idea (and not a specific person) in his own poem, she inaccurately estimates that Keats is the originator of this thought. But, worse than this, is that, by assuming this, Petrino cuts off the contact between Dickinson and her immediate literary predecessors—Browning and Emerson.

Even in directly quoting the passage from Nature, she misses one of the more interesting aspects of Dickinson’s Fr448, which is that instead of “highlight[ing] her disagreement with Emerson’s…belief that the artist and philosopher’s aim is abstract truth,” it highlights her agreement with his overall thought (Petrino 87). It seems clear from the bulk of Emerson’s writing that he utterly acknowledges that each of us is located, creates and manifests our own world (I don’t have the space to elaborate immensely on this, but refer to “The Poet” in which Emerson is fairly explicit about each individual’s world and “Experience” in which he more elaborately discusses the self, the other and the relationship of self to other).

Thus to stress the rooms of the dead as much as Petrino does seems a bit unjustified. It is important to note that they are separate, for Dickinson acknowledges that the two martyrs were not one and the same person (which, I think, Emerson says metaphorically in Nature), but had separate experiences, but to dismiss that they are “Bretheren” and “Kinsmen” as “incompatible with Dickinson’s artistic views” seems outlandish (Fr448 ll. 8-9; Petrino 87). There is a kind of profound intimacy in the poem emphasized by the soft “Moss” and the sense of communion and closeness as it “reached our lips –“ (Fr448 11 emphasis mine) that Petrino seems to have missed. In her eagerness to open up new avenues of interpretation into Dickinson’s wiritng, she seems to have closed off entire paths of discussion: that, perhaps, these “religious” terms are used to imbued the spiritual into Dickinson’s art or that this discussion is one confined to religion and not withstanding philosophy or poetry (though that seems improbable). Petrino was perhaps too eager to associate this poem particularly with Keats; she even goes as far as to name the Kinsman as Keats himself (Petrino 87). There are a number of other issues I could raise with this section of her paper, but for the sake of space I’ll simply say this section was far from adequate and perhaps even unhelpful in some ways.

Petrino’s final discussion of Macbeth on the other hand, offers superb insights, including that, in altering Shakespeare’s passage at times, “she transfers the act of becoming well psychologically to the individual, rather than the professional” and even, when attributing the quote to Macbeth, “that she consciously ascribes a higher self-awareness to Macbeth, brought about through his suffering and tragic fate” (98-99). In short, Petrino concludes that through Dickinson’s own artistic merits, she is able to allow “two of the poets she most cherished [to] speak through her without completely subsuming her” (Petrino 100).

I found this useful for the class because it reminds us that we should always be wary of echoes, whatever they might be, in Dickinson’s writing–especially since we’re unsure about a lot of what she read and what she didn’t read, an idea that Petrino talks about in mentioning the mediating sources. I’m not sure if this is a particular kind of criticism; maybe reader response? Honestly, I don’t even know what that really means. And, I realize now that I wrote this more as a critical review rather than just a summary. I hope it still counts for something.


Petrino, Elizabeth. “Allusion, Echo, and Literary Influence in Emily Dickinson.” Emily Dickinson Journal 19.1 (2010): 80-102. Web. 5 Mar 2011.