Introduction to Emily Dickinson

Introduction to Emily Dickinson

Introduction to Emily Dickinson

Introduction to Emily Dickinson

Excerpt

The first words of Leaves of Grass, showing how well Whitman understood one of the major problems of his age and ours, offer the briefest explanation of the plan of this book on Whitman's chief contemporary in American poetry. Life Whitman saw as divided between the personal and the public, between the flowering of the individual and that of society. As he expresses it, he sings of himself, "a simple, separate person" and yet also utters "the word democratic, the word en-masse." As the nineteenth century advanced, it became increasingly evident that personal and social interests were commonly opposed or even at swords' points. Capitalism, Protestantism, and Romanticism alike stressed the rights and privileges of the individual, while a growing awareness that some social organization alone could conquer the moral anarchy of laisse faire renewed a stress on men's public responsibilities. Typical complementary tendencies of thought manifested themselves in the rise of new psychological and sociological theories, as developed by philosophers of the soul, such as Freud, and philosophers of the state, such as Marx. Ever since the dawn of thought in China or in Greece, two such departments of thought have been discernible; yet not until the tragic acceleration of human living in the Western World of the last century and a half, have the horns of this basic human dilemma spread so widely apart.

Throughout the nineteenth century writers whose inter-

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