H.D. and Lo Fu

I really loved  Notes on Thought and Vision, but one thing drove me absolutely crazy. In it, H.D. refers to the Ming dynasty poet Lo Fu, who was writing around 184 A.D. At that point in reading, I threw the book down and yelled “OH NO HE DID NOT” (because I am totally normal). As the notes in the back explain, H.D. was a good 1000 years off; the Han dynasty reigned from 206 BCE to 226 CE and the Ming dynasty was 1368 to 1644.

This was probably just a chronological mistake on H.D.’s part. After all, Notes on Thought and Vision had not been prepared for publication, so it’s possible that an editor would have corrected it. Although it is really interesting to consider the implications if it had been intentional: the Han Chinese were considered to be the only truly ethnically Chinese people and the rightful heirs to the dynastic legacy. The Ming dynasty, by contrast, was begun by a poor peasant who rose to emperor through his own skills. So if the mistake was intentional, it would seem as though H.D. was celebrating the hardworking Ming Taizu over the Han emperors.

The notes in the back of Notes on Thought in Vision indicated that the editor wasn’t sure who exactly H.D. was referring to. There was a Lo Fu active in the Han dynasty, but she was a shadowy figure. I asked Dr. Fernsebner, UMW’s Chinese history professor, about Lo Fu today in class. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know of Lo Fu, but she did tell me that during the early 20th century, there was an insane commodification/fetishization of Chinese art. Not only were people collecting it, they would also create their own. Charles Freer, who founded the Freer Gallery in D.C., apparently commissioned a portrait of his daughter done in a Chinese style. It would seem that H.D.’s inclusion of Lo Fu could be attributed to the Chinese trend. Though I would have to do some research to see if this is true, my assumption is that H.D. and others would latch onto the Ming dynasty as being an “ancient” Chinese dynasty because it had come before the Qing dynasty, which had just fallen in 1912.

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. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

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. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

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. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

“The story of Garfield’s death is more interesting than the story of his life”

In E.D.’s letter to Mrs. Holland, dated August 1881, she wrote “When I look in the Morning Paper to see how the President is, I know you are looking too.” I found that description a little too vague for just how bizarre those news reports were for the time, so here’s a little bit of what they would have been reading about Garfield’s condition:

In the two and a half months separating his July 2 shooting and his death on September 19, the people were obsessed, transfixed, following the daily, sometimes hourly, dispatches on the dying president’s condition as if the progression of his blood poisoning was the fourth quarter of the NBA Finals, as if a movie star in a tuxedo were slowly opening the Best Picture envelope at the Academy Awards. The citizenry not only scoured their newspapers for word of every rise and fall of Garfield’s temperature, his blood pressure, pulse, swelling, each “free discharge of healthy-looking pus.” People regularly stopped by newspapers offices so as to check on the latest telegraphed update from the president’s surgeons.On July 29, for example, a wire issued at 8:30 AM notes that Garfield “has had quite a nap since the noon bulletin was issued.” On August 8, the surgeons reported that it had “become necessary to make another opening to facilitate the escape of pus.” On August 11, at 12:30 PM, “his skin is moist, but without undue perspiration.”

Sarah Vowell, Assassination Vacation

Vowell points out how weird this is all is, and she has a point. “How intimate. How embarrassing,” she writes of just how well people know what was going on with the president’s body. I noticed this while reading ED’s letter. It appears that Garfield’s assassination brought people together, but it seemed to do so on a very sentimental level for her. She continues to Holland “and for once in the Day I am sure where you are, which is very friendly.” For ED, this is a bonding experience. Because the whole country was so fixated on Garfield’s condition, she knows that her friends are reading the exact same news that she is. What I’ve found so interesting about ED’s letters is that they are very good markers of social history. I think her comments on Garfield’s condition show how much communication was changing and what a novel concept it was that someone in another town could be reading the exact same news at the same time. It made me realize that even though we think of her as the Myth of Amherst, she was very connected with the outside world in a way that she couldn’t have been just 50 years before.