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Reading Questions for selections from Emily Dickinson

Vocabulary: catachresis, common meter, elliptical, imagery, slant rhyme

Introduction: How many poems did Dickinson write?

Lecture or Handouts: none

Identify the following characters and places: the little Tippler leaning agains the sun, the Fly, Death

Read-along Questions:

  • 214:
  • Explain the paradox of "a liquor never brewed."
  • What is a debauchee?
  • What is a tippler?
  • What is the tippler leaning against?
  • 303:
  • none
  • 341
  • none
  • 435
  • Who gets to decide what is "Sense" and what is "Madness" in this poem? Do you think that is generally true about such decisions?
  • If you "demur" with this group's decisions, how are you treated?
  • 465
  • What did the speaker hear as s/he died?
  • Why is that sound appropriate or inappropriate for that context?
  • Explain the catachresis of Eyes that "wrung them dry"?
  • The second stanza mentions that the speaker was waiting for "the King" to appear. Who do you suppose this king is? Why doesn't he never show up? (Who shows up instead of him?)
  • If the speaker is stuck inside his or her dying body, what does it mean that "the windows failed"?

Passages for Identification: Be able to identify the author, the title, and briefly explain the significance or context of the passage.

A: Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.

B: Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’ T is the majority

In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

C: I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.

D: And then the Windows failed--and then
I could not see to see--.

E: Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

F: We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

G: Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Cirrcuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

H: As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

Food for Thought: In what ways do Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman act as opposites to each other in their poetic styles? In what ways do they match each other?


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