December 3-9, 1862: Poems and Crossroads Projects on Language, Wonder, Freedom

On Choosing the Poems

Dickinson's Writing Desk
Dickinson’s Writing Desk

This fall was the second collaboration with Steve Glazer’s 7th grade class at Crossroads Academy in Lyme, NH. Last fall, students from my junior colloquium, “The New Emily Dickinson: After the Digital Turn,” visited Steve’s class and each choose a different digital tool to introduce to the middle schoolers. This year, I did the introductions. Steve began the class with a group recitation of “In this short life” (F1291, J1287), the anthem of this class, as a means of encouraging students to appreciate Dickinson’s remarkable achievement, the opportunity this collaboration represents, and digital projects like the Emily Dickinson Archive, which is available to them because of the work done by scholars dedicated to furthering access to Dickinson’s poetry.

Steve then went around the room, inviting students to offer either a life fact about Dickinson, the definition of some poetry terminology, or first lines of her poems. No repetition allowed! Some spontaneous recitations of poems ensued. It was remarkable how much the students knew about Dickinson. They knew all about fascicles, hymn meter, and Dickinson’s life in Amherst. Some of them had read up to 500 of her poems!

To begin my presentation, I asked the students when they thought a poem was “finished” and ready for publication, and who decides that. This elicited some confused expressions and murmurs of, “I never thought of that.” I then summarized the complex history of the posthumous publication of Dickinson’s poems and explained the role of editors and what an “authoritative edition” is. Using the poem “Departed to the Judgment” (F 399A, J524), which I happened to be working on, I showed them how to find the poem on the EDA and we struggled to make out Dickinson’s difficult handwriting. We also compared the manuscript facsimile, which allows us to see exactly what Dickinson herself wrote and copied into a Fascicle, with its edited version in the 1890 Poems.

In the edited versions, the students were aghast to see titles, which they thought generally reduced the poem’s complexity, and not to see Dickinson’s characteristic dashes, strange capitalizations, and idiosyncratic spelling. And in some cases, words changed, lines omitted or whole stanzas lopped off! We also explored the Dickinson Lexicon, and in “Departed to the Judgment,” saw how the word “usher” means something different from what they expected. When I told them that by using these digital tools, they could all become editors of Dickinson, deciding for themselves what constitutes “the finished poem,” their eyes lit up. They thanked me at the end of the class by singing “This is my letter to the World,” the title of this unit on Dickinson, to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” Singing the poem helps Steve introduce hymn meter and helps students memorize poems. It was remarkably moving.

Crossroads LogoHere is Steve’s description of his Dickinson project, “This is my Letter to the World,” which anyone is free to borrow, adapt and use in their classes:

This is My Letter to the World, Fall 2018
Over the next 3-4 weeks, we will be working on “This is My Letter to the World,” a multi-genre Emily Dickinson portfolio project. Emily Dickinson is a unique voice in American poetry and letters. Hundreds of her poems were folded into letters—often accompanied by leaves or pressed flowers—and offered as generous gifts to her friends. The poet’s writing returns again and again to her core themes: nature, love, loss, faith, and time.

By the end of this project you will
1. Demonstrate your understanding of Emily Dickinson’s poetry by:
• Completing the Emily Dickinson web quest. Students construct a biography of the poet by navigating the Emily Dickinson Museum’s website.
• Reading at least 25 Emily Dickinson poems
• Reading and taking Cornell notes from at least one scholarly essay
• Submitting a detailed structural analysis of one significant Dickinson poem
• Composing a 1-2 page “close reading” of a second major poem
• Completing an “Emily Dickinson in 1862” blog post, potentially for White Heat. Select a poem from 1862 and choose ONE method of engagement:
A) memorize/recite this poem
B) analyze/illuminate this poem
C) compose a brief 2-3 paragraph response to the poem
D) research/take notes on scholarly research
E) create an artistic response (art, music, dance, film, etc.)
F) construct a poster, power point, or webpage
• Memorizing and reciting at least three Dickinson poems (“In this short life,” “This is my letter to the world,” and one other)

2. Replicate Emily Dickinson’s approach to composition by:
• Composing at least two poems to demonstrate your familiarity with Dickinson’s style
• Constructing an herbarium of leaves, pressed flowers, seeds, etc.
• Writing a letter to a family member, friend, teacher, or mentor that includes: (a) a salutation; (b) a brief introduction to our unit and the life of Emily Dickinson; (c) your favorite Dickinson poem; (d) an introduction to your own poem; and (e) a copy of your poem. Pressed leaves or flowers are optional.

Your final product will be your “Letter to the World” portfolio:
1. DESIGN: An artistic cover page & an accurate table of contents – 8 pts
2. WEBQUEST: A neat & complete worksheet – 8 pts
3. READING: A typed list of the poems you’ve read (MLA formatted first line + Franklin number) – 8 pts
4. SCHOLARLY ESSAY: Submit the title and author of the essay along with your Cornell notes – 8 pts
5. LITERARY ANALYSIS: A neat presentation of one analyzed poem, demonstrating your understanding of poetic form, rhyme scheme, poetic meter, assonance, alliteration, & other rhetorical devices – 10 pts
6. RESPONSE TO LITERATURE: A 1+ page typed response/reflection to a favorite Dickinson poem – 10 pts
7. BLOG POST: Your response to one of ED’s poems from 1862 – 10 pts
8. CREATIVE WRITING: Copies of your original poems written in the style of Emily Dickinson – 10 pts
9. HERBARIUM: Includes at least ten native species – 4 pts
10. LETTER WRITING: A copy of your letter, as outlined above
– 10 pts
11. RECITATION: Your performance of the Dickinson poems you have memorized – 8 pts
12. BONUS: Awarded for additional &/or exemplary work: reading, writing, analysis, memorization, or creative response (visual art, musical performance, dance/movement, etc.) – 6 pts
Total ___/100 pts

You are welcome (and encouraged) to submit your project components early, as each piece is completed, so that you can revise and improve your work!

*****

This week, we include seven responses by the Crossroads students, and though we are not allowed to reveal their identities, we are so thankful to them for their participation and creativity. In six cases, they selected poems that have already appeared in a post, so we provide links. The last case is very special and we describe it below.

The Moon is distant from
the Sea –
And yet, with Amber Hands –
She leads Him – docile as a Boy –
Along appointed Sands –

He never misses a Degree –
Obedient to Her eye –
He comes just so far – toward
the Town –
Just so far – goes away –

Oh, Signor, Thine, the Amber
Hand –
And mine – the distant Sea –
Obedient to the least command
Thine eye impose on me –

Link to poem on post on Astronomy.

Original Film by Crossroads student:

the moon is distant from the sea-

They shut me up in Prose –
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet –
Because they liked me "still" –

Still! Could themself have peeped –
And seen my Brain – go round –
They might as wise have lodged
a Bird
For Treason – in the Pound –

Himself has but to will
And easy as a Star
Look down opon Captivity –
And laugh – No more have I –

Link to poem on post on Women of Genius

Video of Recitation by Crossroads Student:

They shut me up in Prose

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting
Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my
narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

Link to poem on post on Women of Genius

"I dwell in Possibility." Original watercolor by Crossroads student

Because I could not
stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but
just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He
knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure
too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School,
where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields
of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed
Us –
The Dews drew quivering
and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my
Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a
House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely
visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – 'tis Centuries -
and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the
Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Link to poem on post on the Azarian School

Video of original booklet created by Crossroads student

 

 

They dropped like Flakes –
They dropped like stars –
Like Petals from a Rose –
When suddenly across the June
A Wind with fingers – goes –

They perished in the seamless Grass –
No eye could find the place –
But God can summon every face
On his Repealless – List.

Link to poem on post on the Civil War

"They dropped like flakes." Original mixed media by Crossroads student

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest
Madness –
'Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you're straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –

Link to poem in post on School

“Much Madness is divinest Sense.” Original illuminated literary analysis by Crossroads student

3 Fascicles of Emily Dickinson's epigrams.

Steve Glazer explains this extraordinary project:

The Crossroads student discovered Dickinson's epigrams through William H. Shurr's New Poems of Emily Dickinson, which I checked out from Dartmouth College Library. (I checked out a dozen books so the students could bring Dickinson's work home during the project.)

The epigram form intrigued this student, and we also read several 
letters containing the epigrams using T. H. Johnson's 
Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters. After reading more than 
150 epigrams, the student chose her favorites. These were sorted into three 
thematic groups: nature, love, and death. The student then bound 
the three sets as three fascicles.

Three Fascicles of Dickinson's Epigrams, by Crossroads student
Three Fascicles of Dickinson's Epigrams, by Crossroads student

Examples of Epigrams from the project

from “More Than Love or Death”
 
Not all of life, to live, is it
Nor all of death to die
 
Heaven is but a little way
To one who gave it, here
 
The friend Anguish reveals is
the slowest to forget
 
from "How Strange"
 
The Immortality Flowers
must enrich our own
 
The Humming Birds and Orioles
Fly by me as I write.
 
I am studying music now with the jays, 
And finding them charming artists
 
from “Every Page a Pulse-”

The Port of Peace has many Coves
though the main entrance cease.
 
“Yesterday, Today, and Forever,”
Then we will let you go.
 
Love is that one perfect labor
nought can supersede