Monthly Archives: December 2013

“A Woman Waits for Me”

Walt Whitman’s “A Woman Waits for Me,” first titled “Poem of Procreation,” was published in the 1856 edition of Enfans d’Adam. By 1867, the book Enfans d’Adam became what is now known as Children of Adam. “A Woman waits for me” is a poem describing the heterosexual love-making between a man and a woman to make the perfect child.

The poem asserts every man as being equal to Adam, assisting in the creation of “perfect men and women out of [their] lovespendings” (260). Sex is the essences for madness, but also the key to human happiness. The madness contains: “all bodies, souls, meanings, proofs…” (258), the draining of, “the pent-up rivers” (260) into the woman “who waits for [him]” (259). This represents the unification of man and woman, who shall make the perfect “crops” (260). These “crops” will then, “from the birth, life, death, immortality. . . ,” acquire the essences of creating the perfect child.

The sexual intercourse occurring, materializes the sperm fertilizing the seed, and the relation of the planting process for the perfect “crop.” The results of these acts creates the “new gestation” (72). As readers, Whitman is presenting this radical idea for us as the readers to become new artists and poets because of this planted seed idea, while in the poem the lovers are creating this new perfect child through true sexual seed planting, “out of. . .lovespending” (260).

Phrenology may have encouraged Whitman’s “notion that human character could be “read” in a person’s physical attributes and that moral character, as well as physical traits, could be passed down from one generation to the next” (Killingsworth). Through Whitman’s “A Woman Waits for Me,” it has been said that it demonstrates his, “theme of human perfectibility wove with eugenic themes.” The ability that flawless human creation can be achieved only through those who are perfect. Thus meaning the perfect offspring can only be cultivated from Adam and the unification with whichever maiden he chooses. Whitman is presenting this theme in the poem through these explicit sexual experiences and through this, those reading this poem can experience an intimate experience themselves, a kind of, “sexual act of interpenetration” (Folsom and Price 72).

Melanie Murphy

Biography and Further Reading
Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. Re-scripting Walt Whitman: an introduction to his life and work. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.2005.Print); Jimmie M. Killingsworth. Whitman’s poetry of the body: sexuality, politics, and the text. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.1989. Print); Jimmie M. Killingsworth. “The Walt Whitman Archive.” M. Jimmie, Killingsworth, “Human Body.” (Web. 28 Oct. 2013); James E. Miller Jr.”The Walt Whitman Archive.” James E., Jr., Miller, “Children of Adam [1860].”(Web. 28 Oct. 2013); Whitman, Walt. Poetry and prose.( New York: Library of America, 1996. Print).

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“If I can stop one heart from breaking”

If I can stop one heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again,
I shall not live in Vain.

Poem #919, “If I can stop one heart from breaking,” is thought to have been written about 1864 and was published in 1929 in Further Poems of Emily Dickinson by Little, Brown and Company of Boston.

This poem consists of two stanzas, a rhyming quatrain and a tercet with a more loosely structured rhyme scheme. It begins with ‘If I can stop one Heart from breaking / I shall not live in vain’ (433). Dickinson is expressing a desire to stop someone from having her heart broken. A broken heart can come from a relationship, a death, or any of the typical hardships that people go through in life. She is saying that if she is able to stop one person from experiencing this kind of pain, then her life will not have been lived in vain (without success or result). She then continues with “If I can ease one Life the Aching / Or cool one Pain.” In these two lines she reiterates her first point, which is that she wants to help relieve the ache and pain in at least one person’s life. The use of the word “cool” makes one think that the pain is hot, perhaps red such as anger. To cool the pain she would be distinguishing the fiery anger in this person’s breaking heart. Also, Dickinson capitalized both “aching” and “pain” in these two lines, showing that these are important themes in the poem. The next stanza begins with “Or help one fainting Robin / Unto his Nest again.” This opening could be looked at as helping a person who has lost control of their life and needs to be set straight again. The robin in this instance is someone who is struggling with heartbreak, perhaps bad enough to want to give up and “faint,” but Dickinson desires to put this person back on the right track, into their “nest.” The poem ends by coming full circle with a repeat of the line “I shall not live in vain.” Dickinson seems to suggest that someone’s life is worth more if they are concerned with helping others. She considers her life a success if she is able to help at least one person to be happier, to be without pain or heartbreak.

While it would be hard to prove, readers have speculated that this poem about the desire to stop a heart from breaking is about a love interest. It is possible to read the poem alongside Dickinson’s “master letters” in 1858 and 1861 that “reveal passionate yet changing feelings toward the recipient” (Emily Dickinson Museum).

—Jamie Clark

Bibliography and Further Reading “Emily Dickinson’s Love Life.” Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and the Evergreens. Web. 11 Nov. 2013; Thomas H Johnson,. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. New York: Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company, 1961. Print.

“The Village Blacksmith”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ballad, “The Village Blacksmith,” was first published in a New York Magazine, The Knickerbocker, in 1840. Shortly thereafter, in 1841, it appeared in Longfellow’s collection; Ballads and Other Poems. The poem takes the reader through the life of a blacksmith in town. Longfellow describes what the blacksmith looks like; describing his “large sinewy hands,” and “his face is like the tan.” Then Longfellow moves to how the blacksmith is “hardworking, well-liked and admired throughout the village” (150). The blacksmith is described as a vague member of Longfellow’s community, but in-fact wrote the ballad in memory of a specific blacksmith ancestor of his; Stephen Longfellow (Ziegler).

The ballad uses an eight-stanza variable rhyme scheme. A simile is used to describe the appearance of the blacksmith; “…The muscles of his brawny arms are strong as iron bands.” Here Longfellow is accentuating the Blacksmith’s abilities and strengths, many of which are unique and desirable among the community. The allure of the blacksmith is fortified through each stanza as Longfellow says only positive and admirable things about the blacksmith. “Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night’s repose. Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend, For the lesson thou hast taught!” (Longfellow 16). Not only does Longfellow describe the blacksmith as a good man but he stresses that the blacksmith is a hard working common man as well. He earns his sleep each night, which in the time of Longfellow is something commendable. The blacksmith is overall painted as a role model for other working people.

Longfellow admired the blacksmith, and explains to the readers how important it is to constantly be a good worker and have accomplishments as well as love in life. It is clear that the poem is more about its message to the audience than the actual iconic figure within the story.  Because of its progressive philosophy, this poem was extremely popular in American schools in the 1950s. Children would memorize and recite it for its morally positive message. It is a way to see why children and teachers grabbed a hold of the poem and put it in the hands of children. It promotes many of the values an adult would hope to teach a child; vigilance, kindness, and devotion- setting a good example for all (Ziegler).

Danielle Mulligan

Bibliography and Further Reading
Vickie L. Ziegler. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith. N.p., n.d. Web.

“Mezzo Cammin”

“Mezzo Cammin” was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1842. However it was not published until 1886, by his brother, Samuel, in Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The title of this poem reflects the theme of the poem. “Mezzo” means medium, or middle; a midlife crisis, perhaps and “Cammin” is a city in Germany. In 1842, during the poem’s writing, Longfellow had taken time off to take a trip to Europe in favor of his health. He was in his mid-thirties and did indeed spend time in Germany during this trip. The title of this sonnet is also from the opening line of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, which Longfellow had actually translated. The translated line means, “In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood with the right road lost” (Longfellow). Longfellow relates to this line because he is in a period of his life where he feels he has fallen off track, and it is negatively affecting him.

This sonnet is about a worried, “midlife crisis” type of  feeling the speaker is having. He feels as though he has not accomplished what he had hoped to by this point in his life, and he is feeling somewhat regretful. However, he sees that he cannot change the past, and though he is as close to death as he has ever been before, the subject itself is still far away, and there is still more for him to accomplish in life.

—Danielle Mulligan

Bibliography and Further Reading
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.” : The Poetry Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2013; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. “Other Poems- Mezzo Cammin.” Poems and Other Writings. New York: Library of America, 2000. 671. Print”; Longfellow: “Mezzo Cammin“” Longfellow: “Mezzo Cammin” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.

Poetry and Poetics

This site is an archive of commentaries on poems, and more extended essays on literary production, reception and form, written by English majors at New Hampshire’s public liberal arts institution, Keene State College.

Our goal is to create an educational forum to demonstrate that there is more to poetry than poems published in school anthologies, and that poetry and poetics is a living process. We are interested in sharing the excitement and controversies among readers and writers of poetry as they wrestle with broader questions about language, culture and imagination. To this end, we offer comments on both exemplary and representative poems of poets who have shaped the tradition of writers and readers, as well as discussions of the poems that have surfaced more recently as a result of archival and editorial work. We are also interested in poetics, including the critical and theoretical conversation concerned with American poetry, the historical and cultural contexts in which poetry has been written, and the diverse ways poems have been (and continue to be) read.