The woods are the book we read over and over as children. Wyatt Townley

Fall 2013

ENG 661: Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson

Kelly Ross

Although unappreciated in their time, these three authors are now revered as iconoclasts and innovators. Not only is their work crucial to understanding the mid-nineteenth century, but any study of modern US poetry must begin with them, as Ezra Pound churlishly noted in his poem "A Pact" addressed to Whitman: "I have detested you long enough./ I am old enough now to make friends./ It was you who broke the new wood."

In this course, we will study the poetry of Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson both in its nineteenth-century context and in its legacy on US literature. Their verse registers and explores the transformative effect of the most significant rupture in US society, the Civil War, and we will investigate the formal strategies these poets developed to represent the unimaginable horrors of war: what Melville calls "battle's unknown mysteries."

We will also devote significant class time to sharpening and expanding our knowledge of poetics, engaging with classic and contemporary lyric theory and formalist criticism. If you are anxious about your ability to read and/or teach poetry, this course will give you the skills and practice you need to become confident. By the end of the course, students will be authorities on three of the most important US poets.

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