American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Archive for the ‘Dickinson’ Category

Worthy to be forgot / Is my renown

leave a comment »

Whitman read his contemporaries with intermittent enthusiasm, granting them their virtues while insisting on his difference. He had no doubt that his work, not theirs, would belong to the forward drift of time, and this belief, as much as any content, marks Leaves of Grass as an avant-garde project (the very first in American poetry). He conceived of his posterity as a confirmation, and since we do confirm him, it is easy to share in his literary judgments, to read his contemporaries with intermittent enthusiasm, feeling ourselves broad-minded when we grant them their virtues.

Dickinson’s futurity was of another order. Though she had an imagination of posthumous fame, it was not a matter of confirmation for her, of being on the right side of history. Time passed for Dickinson, it did not progress. She was no avant-gardist; she conceived of posterity as a kind of memory, as liable to be forgot as remembered.  Her future was a figure for alterity, not a sequence of triumphs (of “glories strung like beads,” as Whitman had it), and her only anticipation of its actions was a willingness to meet them.

Read the rest of this entry »


Written by Ben Friedlander

January 13, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Dickinson, poetics, Whitman

Tagged with ,