Emily Dickinson and the Problem of Others

By Christopher E. G. Benfey | Go to book overview

2

Poetry and Privacy

"PUBLIC" AND "private" are so often among the words we use to talk about poetry that we may neglect to attend to the various ways we use them. It is not my ambition to sort out those ways. To uncover the asymmetries and obscurities in our habitual ways of distinguishing "public" from "private," as these words apply to poetry, would be a worthwhile and fascinating task, and I will indulge in some preliminary probing of such distinctions. But I will do so always with the understanding that a satisfactory discussion of these issues would require a far more comprehensive reading and analysis of recent discourse on poetry than I can offer here. My primary aim is to think about these words, "public" and "private," in relation to Emily Dickinson's poetry, to allow her poetry to guide my thinking.

There are two major reasons to expect this procedure to be fruitful. First, her poetry has attracted, perhaps more frequently and emphatically than the work of any other American writer, the charge or the compliment that it is somehow private. The second reason is that Dickinson is fully aware of a relation between her poetry and some version of privacy. She acknowledges this relation at every turn. My aim, then, is to look at Dickinson's use of these and related words, and at the ways her critics have used them to characterize her work. From this inquiry I hope to arrive at a sense of the kind of poems she wrote. This will mean an account of the relation, for her, of privacy to the genre of lyric poetry.

-29-

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Emily Dickinson and the Problem of Others
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • 2 - Poetry and Privacy 29
  • 3 - Nearness and Neighbors 63
  • 4 - Other Bodies, Other Minds 81
  • 5 - Facing and Effacing 109
  • Notes 119
  • Index of First LInes 129
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