February, 2017


List of Revisions

  1. Focus in on Coates
  2. Add a review of each of the books
  3. Tie in secondary works i.e. Baldwin and Richard Wright
  4. Integrate the black bodies within both texts
  5. Add in my personal opinions in a way that it integrates all the voices in my essay i.e. primary sources and secondary sources

Presentation on Dickinson

Tracy Kawall

Professor Jason Tougaw

Senior Seminar



Author of Primary Text: Emily Dickinson

Poems: “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain,” “The Brain is Wider than the Sky,” “Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant,” and “Hope Is a Thing with Feathers”

Approach: Theory

Supplemental Article: Why Lyric by Jonathan Culler & Professor Chu’s definition of the Lyric

Have Student(s) Read:

Professor Chu:

Science fiction and lyric poetry are joined inseparably by rich affinities. The qualities that (either individually or in some combination) make a work of science fiction “science fictional” tend to coincide with the qualities that (either individually or in some combination) make a lyric poem “lyrical.” The coincidence lies in more than a shared intensity of figurative language. What makes a lyric poem “lyrical” is a constellation of interrelated attributes that have characterized Anglophone poetry from the Renaissance (if not earlier) to the present. Lyric poetry is frequently soliloquy-like. Lyric voices speak from beyond ordinary time. Lyric poems are inhabited by situations and tableaux transcending ordinary temporality. Lyric descriptions are charged with depictive intensity. Lyric poetry is musically expressive. Lyric poems evoke heightened and eccentric states of consciousness. 

Only a narrative form thoroughly powered by lyricism possesses enough torque–enough twisting force, enough verse (from “vertere,” Latin for “to turn”)–to convert an elusive referent into an object available for representation. (14)

Jonathan Culler:

Culler argues that poetry has been threatened as a genre and there has been a push back against poetry in order to focus more on the narrative. He writes, “Narrative is treated not as one possible literary form but as the very condition of experience, which is made intelligible by narrative form that traces causal sequence and represents experience as something accomplished and able to be narrated” (201). He goes on to say, “Criticism and pedagogy, reacting against the Romantic notion of lyric as expression of intense personal experience, have adopted the model of the dramatic monologue as the way to align poetry with the novel: the lyric is conceived as a fictional imitation of the act of a speaker, and to interpret the lyric is to work out what sort of person is speaking, in what circumstances and with what attitude or, ideally, drama of attitudes.”

Culler also makes the argument that narrative is used to explain what happens next and the lyric is used to explain what happens now. 

If we take both Chu and Cullers definition of what a lyric is maybe we can better understand how Dickinson’s poems work.

Focus on “I felt a Funeral in my Brain & The brain is wider than the sky”—Read both poems.

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340)


I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading – treading – till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,

A Service, like a Drum –

Kept beating – beating – till I thought

My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box

And creak across my Soul

With those same Boots of Lead, again,

Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,

And Being, but an Ear,

And I, and Silence, some strange Race,

Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down –

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing – then –

Key Points: The funeral is an extended metaphor—because it’s used throughout the entire poem.

THE BRAIN is wider than the sky,

For, put them side by side,

The one the other will include

With ease, and you beside.


The brain is deeper than the sea,


For, hold them, blue to blue,

The one the other will absorb,

As sponges, buckets do.


The brain is just the weight of God,

For, lift them, pound for pound,


And they will differ, if they do,

As syllable from sound.

Key Point: ABCB rhyme scheme—Amazing Grace

Tell all the truth but tell it slant — (1263)


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 —

Key Points: Setting—inside her head

“Hope Is a Thing with Feathers”

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

Key Point: Time and Space—happening in the now

Concluding Remarks, tie supplemental works in with Dickinson

As we can see this poem encompasses all of the attributes that make a poem lyrical according to Chu, but also invokes the questions that Culler proposes.

Although the poem takes place in the past tense we are progressively figuring out who is speaking, and how he/she feels about the specific situation as well as what is going on in the “now” time of the poem.

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