Make a Connection to the Poetry

View the first thirty minutes of this Emily Dickinson documentary, Voice and Visions; then view the seven minute documentary on Walt Whitman. While you view each film, consider how each film helps you consider each poet in a new light. Next reflect on how one moment in one video sheds a new light or appreciation of a word, phrase, line, or passage from a Whitman and Dickinson text. Then compose a 6-8 sentence comment in Standard English in the comment thread below. Be sure to utilize MLA form and cite the line of the poem you integrate into your explication.

We will use this outline to discuss the video more in class on Friday:

Minute 9: Emily Dickinson’s biographer, Richard B. Sewall, makes a great connection to Puritan tradition to keeping spiritual diaries to Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

Minute 13 Adrian Rich (poet and narrator of this scene) and Joyce Carol Oates quotes the following poem. Read it to help appreciate the insights of this passage:

Minute 16 Adrian Rich compared her to the metaphysical poets; John Donne is such a poet.

Minutes 19-22 contains an interesting examination of Dickinson’s background on nature.

Minute 23-26: religious integrity. Hymn meter, rhythm and length of the hymn line found in Dickinson’s poetry, too. Great link for the poem examined:

Minute 29-32: the presence of death in 19th century culture. “I Died for Beauty.”

Then view the American Experience documentary on Walt Whitman.


About Bill Sullivan

I am an English teacher working with great students at Suffield Academy. I also teach seniors in various project-based learning environments. Some of the #PBL topics included global issues, such as Pandemics, Climate Change, and Water; more recently I have asked students to research and identify topics important to our school community and their generation. We curate these topics with a #StudentCenteredPBL. For the past eleven years, I also created a driving question for a class to research a local history mystery and present their findings in a community program partnering with our local historical society. These topics encompass researching the lives of enslaved individuals who were contributors to the foundation of our community.
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14 Responses to Make a Connection to the Poetry

  1. Aiden Miller says:

    The moment from the video that talked about Emily Dickinson’s life in terms of church and religion shed a new light for me on the first stanza in Dickinson’s Some Keep the Sabbath. Dickinson writes, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – I keep it, staying at Home – With a Bobolink for a Chorister – And an Orchard, for a Dome” (Dickinson 1-4). In the video, the segment where they speak of Emily’s life in accordance to religion and church, they say how she stopped going to church around age 30 which was a big deal in the religious puritan community she lived in. This allows me to see the first stanza in a new light because Emily herself says how she differed from the rest by saying “I kept it, staying at Home.” They also say how Emily had a deep understanding of nature as she was able to identify many species of plants and animals. This also allows me to see the first stanza with a greater understanding because a bobolink is a type of bird that sings and an orchard is a group of fruits. I am able to understand now that Emily does not identify or express her religion through church like everyone else but instead through nature unlike others.

  2. Michaela Grace Domino says:

    Emily Dickinson was boxed in her little home yet she was free, arguably more free than any writer today. This is partially due to the fact that she had no editor, but it is also because she had no other influence on her take on the world, it was all right in front of her, out her little bedroom window for her to judge and take apart and then put back together between the lines of her poetry. On top of that, I learned that there was no connection between her and her mother, that is until, “she became our child” as in until her brother Austin and her had to take care of their mom, which is very interesting because they formed the relationship only when she needed them which makes me think of their mom as quite selfish. narcotics cannot still the tooth that nibbles at the soul. A new passage that was brought to life from this video was Dickinson’s, “Though I than He – may longer live He longer must – than I – For I have but the power to kill, Without – the power to die” (Dickinson). As for Walt Whitman, he liked to, and had the option to, experience the world in a different way, and he was quite forward about it. He was probably one of the most publically published blunt writers of his time. The video discusses the photo as we discussed in class as well. The truth to that portrait is that unlike most other poets who came from affluent backgrounds and were well educated, his writing emerged from walking the streets and comes from his hard worked hands and dirty lungs One area in which Walt Whitman ignored the boundaries was with sex and intimacy, the documentary goes into all the different ways that he had portrayed sex, and different kinds of sex, in a way that society had never read about before.

  3. Justin Hern says:

    One clip that helped me to understand the poet and poetry more came from the Dickinson video, regarding Dickinson’s “Volcanoes be in Sicily” poem, particularly the last line, “Vesuvius at home” (8). The women analyzing the poem describe this line as having a very interesting double meaning that helps to understand Dickinson and her mindset. Mount Vesuvius was the volcano that destroyed Pompeii, so it has a connotation of being very powerful and destructive. The women in the video describe how the line describes what Dickinson thinks of herself. One says that she “had a sense of her own genius, but like all genius, she couldn’t be certain of controlling it”. Describing herself as Vesuvius could be perceived as a positive, as she is claiming to have great power, but it is also a negative, as she sensed her own potential to destroy. Dickinson thought of herself as being powerful, but like a volcano, that power ends up harming the people close to her when she cannot control it.

  4. Vivian Riegel says:

    Before watching the documentary, I thought of Emily Dickinson as someone who seemed restrained and used writing as a way out of that. However, it is clear now that Dickinson was free the entire time and used her freedom to express herself in her poems. She was a rebel, someone who did not care of what people thought of her and expressed and incorporated her own thoughts into her poetry. In Dickinson’s “My Life had stood- a Loaded Gun,” Emily writes, “Though I than He- may longer live, He longer must- than I, For I have but the power to kill, Without- the power to die-” (21-24). It is mentioned in the video that Emily Dickinson knew that words have power to do anything. She is expressing that her words give her the power to live forever, which is in fact what happened. Additionally, Walt Whitman was quite radical for a poet, discussing things such as sex openly within his poetry. He wanted to show he was apart of the masses, and no different than everyone else. He even depicted himself as someone “unscholarly” in his book to prove to people that he was not anything special.

  5. Sohi Shah says:

    The video on Emily Dickinson sheds a light that the origin of her rebellion against organized religion was that she grew up in Puritan family that believed strongly in God which caused her to doubt her religion and the necessity of faith. This explains a line of Dickinson’s poetry where she writes “Faith slips – and laughs, and rallies – Blushes, if any see – Plucks at a twig of Evidence” (Dickinson 12-14). In these lines, Dickinson explains how faith escapes the need to be supported with evidence, which Dickinson, being heavily intrigued by science, finds flawed. Dickinson spent time and Mt. Holyoke studying nature and the science of things around her, which fortified her disbelief in religion. Similarly, the video on Walt Whitman also provided insightful information on the inspiration behind his poetry. The video talks about Whitman’s notebook where he drafted his ideas for Leaves of Grass and one line that he wrote was “I am the poet of slaves and of the masters of slaves” (Whitman). This prefaces the themes that are conveyed in his book. Whitman writes not only of religion but also of science, not only of the body, but of the soul. Whitman writes about everything, an idea that emerged from the belief that Whitman’s poetry is written for all people.

  6. Caroline Walsh says:

    The film on Emily Dickinson discusses Dickinson’s life in depth and specifically what influenced her poetry. Dickinson states in her poem “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers”, “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers – Untouched by Morning – untouched by noon – Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection, Rafter of Satin and Roof of Stone” (Dickinson 1-5). I see this passage in a new light because of what the video discussed about her Christian education and her rebellion against it. She expresses that she feels alone in her rebellion and that even her younger sister Lavinia has a strong love of God, which upsets her. In this passage, Dickinson writes about timid Christians who are being resurrected. With the knowledge of Dickinson’s rebellion against Christianity, the readers can see the contrast between these devout Christians and Dickinson. She is even criticizing them for using Christianity as a way of protection and security. They express their love of God in hopes that maybe He will reward them. On the other hand, the video on Walt Whitman discusses Whitman’s notebook in which he states, “I am the poet of slaves and of the masters of slaves. I am the poet of the body.” The film discusses this personal “I” that is the main character in all his poems. Whitman often focuses on the individual in his poems and this can be seen in Whitman’s “Song of Myself” when he states, “I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself, and what I assume you shall assume.” From the very beginning of this poem, Whitman uses this personal “I” figure, which later becomes a signature part of his poetry. As a whole, both films further developed my understanding of both Dickinson’s and Whitman’s poetry and what influenced their writing.

  7. The Emily Dickinson documentary sheds light on the background of Dickinson’s life story, including her great appreciation of nature due to her scientific background. Unlike most of her peers, Dickinson was more knowledgeable of nature and due to this, possessed a keen sense of refusing to “believe anything solely on faith alone”. This mindset is demonstrated through her poem “Apparently with no surprise” in the line “To any happy flower, the frost beheads it at its play” (Dickinson 2-3). It can be derived that Dickinson truly understood the purposefulness of nature and how everything works together. As for Walt Whitman, he focuses his poetry more so on each distinctive thing that makes up an individual. He connects small, seemingly insignificant features and makes them stand out as shown in his poem “Song of Myself”. Throughout this poem, Whitman highlights “I” as the narrator and makes his main purpose to present not just the body, but also the soul. These two short films truly bring a newfound understanding to the way in which one may interpret these two authors’ works.

  8. Hailey Williams says:

    Emily Dickinson was not nearly as affected by the importance of religion as the majority of people during her time. Most of these people had a strong belief in the afterlife that Emily Dickinson did not. She was not able to convince herself that life after death was so simple as they made it out to be. This is evident in the poem “My life had stood- a loaded gun” particularly in the last stanza “Though I than He – may longer live- He longer must – than I -For I have but the power to kill,-Without – the power to die” (Dickinson 21-24). This information sheds new light on this because it is showing how “He” meaning God, will, according to religion live eternally which is longer than she would live. However, because her beliefs are not the same she thinks it is possible that she may live on in a way even after her death. The video says that she knew that she had the power to kill by using words, which she repeats in the third line of this stanza, but not the power to die because God is the one who controls life as well as death. Walt Whitman, not unlike Emily Dickinson saw life in a different way than most and has unconventional beliefs about many aspects of the world. He spoke about things that many people did not about like sex and the majority of his work centers around himself. This can be seen in “Song of Myself”. Additionally, he did not want to be seen as someone who was different from anyone else and he made sure to present himself as an average person which can be seen in his picture choice for Leaves of Grass.

  9. AnuDaramola says:

    When watching the Emily Dickinson documentary, Voices and Visions, the idea that she was not as fragile and meek as people wanted her to be is emphasized. She was a strong poet who was ahead of her time, and because of this she was shamed and ostracized. Even so, in her poem “I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Theirs-,” she writes, “I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Theirs” (Dickinson 1). Though a devout Catholic, she separated herself from the church, and her emotions in doing so are reflected in her poetry. She writes that she was, “Baptized, before, without the choice” (Dickinson 8). Meaning, the church claimed her before she had choice to choose. Though with a somewhat guilty conscience, she makes her choice to follow her modern ideas and beliefs. Though the people around her observe her with quiet shame, she chooses to follow what she believes in and this is reflected in her poetry. Similar to Dickinson, Walt Whitman was a poet who was ahead of his time. During his era, his poetry stood out from those of his colleagues. He was the first American poet who strayed from formal poetry and wrote of the world around him. His poems included everything and there were no boundaries keeping anything out. His poetry was so diverse that they could be read by anyone. In Whitman’s book Leaves of Grass, he writes of a various array of topics. Unlike the poets of his time, he was not poised and did not flaunt his wealth and intelligence. Instead, he chose to convey himself as an everyday, casual man. His demeanor and the way he portrayed himself is reflected in his poetry. The video talks about Whitman’s notebook where he drafted his ideas for Leaves of Grass. There, he refers to himself as “the poet of slaves and of the masters of slaves… [and] the poet of the body.” (Whitman). The film discusses this personal “I,” which eventually develops into the primary subject for all of his poetry. In his poetry, Whitman focuses on the individual and this is conveyed in his poem “Song of Myself” when he writes, “I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself, and what I assume you shall assume,” (Whitman 1-2). Even from the beginning of this poem, Whitman uses this personal “I.” He establishes it and it becomes a defining signature of his poetry. Both films developed the understanding that these two poets are timeless figures of literature who were ahead of their time.

  10. Sam says:

    In Emily Dickinson’s documentary, Emily Dickinson—Voices and Visions, readers can gain a new perspective by learning about her background and her life growing up. Throughout the video, the presenters continuously mention how Dickinson had a strong connection with her family and conveyed her contrasting beliefs of religion compared to her society. The presenters in the video enlighten readers by illustrating her environment growing up. This aspect greatly influenced her outlook on life and therefore is reflected in her poetry. Dickinson’s upbringing in the church lead her to doubt the structure of religion and caused her to be rebellious in the eyes of society. This environment fueled her unorthodox views and way of writing. Dickinson’s documentary sheds light on a line from her poem “I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Theirs.” During this poem, Dickinson conveys how she was “Baptized, before, without the choice” (508). This is significant to the video because the presenters continuously explained how Dickinson was opposed to religion and felt that her society forced her to believe in what they thought was right. Despite what society thought, she continued to rebel against religion and believed in her unorthodox views. During the video The Birth of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, readers can see Whitman in a new light by describing how he is a poet of the body and of nature. He found such poetry by walking in the streets and noticing the many things in life. Through one of Whitman’s poems, “Song of Myself,” he describes animals and nature, “I think I could turn and live with animals, they’re so placid and self-contained, I stand and look at them and long.” The presenters in Whitman’s video continuously mention his connection to nature, and this excerpt clearly shows how much it means to him. Overall, both Whitman and Dickinson are seen in a new light through the background and interesting ideas that the presenters in the video convey.

  11. Claudia says:

    In the Emily Dickinson documentary, Voice of Visions, Dickinson’s unconventional lifestyle is mentioned countless times. She not only writes in untraditional forms, but she also lives in her community rebelliously. She defies social norms numerous times by not conforming to the traditional image of the perfect woman and by not attending church after she was thirty years old. I found it interesting how Dickinson viewed organized religion as almost giving up one’s individual self and being trapped. In her poem “I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Theirs,” this first line reveals how she felt imprisoned by the church and when she finally rejected it, she felt a new sense of freedom. Moreover, this film shed light on Dickinson’s internal struggle of controlling her genius. Her poetry was a dynamic between her control over her mind and the chaos that flooded her thoughts. Furthermore, when reviewing the documentary of Walt Whitman’s life, it divulges how he was the poet of the body. He wrote for everyone alike, slaves and masters. His book “Leaves of Grass” has no boundaries, including everyone in his work with no limits. However, he also wrote for himself. In his poem “A Song of Myself,” Whitman wrote “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” expressing how he took the time to appreciate himself for who he was as a person.

  12. Each Film gives me another insight on the personal lives of each poet. I learned how both of them were ahead of their time. For Emily Dickinson, although she separated herself from the church, she was still devoted to religion. Her poetry although relating to religion, did not resemble hymns. She expressed her disapproval for organized religion through her poems. One moment in the video that shed a new appreciation for me was when it referenced Dickinson’s, “Some Keep the Sabbath”. This is actually my favorite poem by Dickinson that I have read so far and I appreciated being able to hear someone else elaborate on it and dissect the poem. I gained further understanding on the first stanza which said, “Some Keep the Sabbath going to Church – I keep it, staying at Home” (Dickinson 1-2). I believed the video’s discussion of Dickinson’s religious affairs and relationship to the church really enabled me to understand these lines. The video discusses how Dickinson refrained from church and even stopped attending in her adulthood. Dickinson went against her society’s norms and refused to be constrained by the values of her community. According to the video, Dickinson’s actions towards religion were frowned upon by her Puritan society. When Emily writes, “I keep it, staying at home” it allowed me to realize how Dickinson deliberately separated herself from organized religion. In “I Keep the Sabbath,” Dickinson goes on to write, “With a Bobolink for a Chorister – And an Orchard, for a Dome,” which expresses how she worshipped God in her own way (Dickinson 3-4). Through these lines and the insights from the videos, I concluded that Dickinson worshipped God and practiced religion through her appreciation and acknowledgment of nature. Rather than going to church and worshipping God, Dickinson stayed home and embraced nature and her surroundings as a form of religion and worship.

  13. Gabriella Tosone says:

    The description of Dickinson in this video presents her in a new light that better explains her writing and illuminates her poetry in a new way. Growing up in a heavily Puritan and religious family, Dickinson was surrounded by strict moral and orthodox ways of life. The structure of this orthodox lifestyle is reflected in her writing yet, as the video explains, her poetry uses the orthodox structure she has learned from her upbringing to write about and highlight her unorthodox beliefs. Dickinson grew up attending church, naturally causing many people to believe that the hymnal format of writing with pauses and punctuation would be reflected in Dickinson’s writing, however she used the style of her poetry to further rebel against the organized religion she was forced to follow for so long. Dickinson makes the choice in her life to go against organized religion. She explains that “With Will to choose, or to reject,” (Dickinson 18-19) she is able to “reject” (Dickinson 19) the religion she has been surrounded with and forced to practice in her childhood. The description provided in the video about how Dickinson felt safe and free in nature and preferred to rely on nature rather than religion reveals this line in a clearer light and helps to relate Dickinson’s beliefs with what she writes. Similarly, the film on Walt Whitman describes him as the poet of the body, which helps one to better understand his book, Leaves of Grass. Whitman displays a lot of romanticism through the focus on the individual, and the video highlights that the individual he chooses to write about is himself. He is described as the “I” of all of his writings, and the video also expresses that Whitman describes himself as “the poet of slaves and of the masters of slaves” as well as “the poet of the body”. These two phrases help one better understand “Song of Myself” as the poem begins with the line “I celebrate myself, and sing myself” (Whitman), showing that he is the subject of his poems. Each time the word “I” is incorporated in his poems, themes of the soul and body are more clearly understood and with this better understanding of Whitman, his messages and main ideas are better perceived. The two videos on Dickinson and Whitman provide a new understanding and description of the two poets that helps one better discern the meanings of their writing.

  14. bsullivan35 says:

    I’m entering for N here because of some digital obstacles.
    In both Whitman and Dickinson’s works, they transcend the expected boundaries that poetry was expected to follow, hence, making their work transcend throughout the barriers of time itself. Their work continues to have an effect on American literature today as their potent and niche ideas at the time surpassed ordinary Romanticism poems and literature. To paraphrase video-biography on the influence of Whitman and his work, “in a sonnet, you have these boundaries… [Walt Whitman’s] “Leaves of Grass” is a poem without boundaries, so that everything can flow into it. People, professions, landscapes” (Walt Whitman Documentary). In section four of Song of Myself, he writes that “People I meet, the effect upon me of my early life or the ward” are all aspects of his life that he wishes to in close in his art. In Emily Dickinson’s poetry, boundaries are broken as well, as to paraphrase the video, instead of God being her father, poetry was the one who was. Particularly, she focused on science in her studies, and the idea that her work had the power to “kill”, even. Her video-biographers Adrian Rich and Joyce Carol Oates discuss the meaning of her poem “Volcanoes be in Sicily”, or rather poem #1705. Similar to Whitman, Dickinson’s words are transcending both ideologies at the time as well as transcending future literature. She is “Vesuvius at Home” with her fiery poetry, but like the lasting volcanoes of Sicily, her work is “inclined to climb” and withstand the test of time (#1705). Both Whitman and Dickinson’s work transcends their times and their poetry, allowing for one to view the importance of their boundless passion as discussed in both of their video biographies.

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