Dickinson: Higginson’s occupation

November 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

What vision of poetry was Higginson, was Dickinson, occupied with?

In “Transcendental Poetics,” Ed Folsom provides us with this insight regarding Higginson’s view of poetry that influences his understanding (and posthumous editing) of Dickinson. For Higginson, poetry had to be “perfected” before being printed. Poetry, above all, required form. For Higginson, Whitman’s poetry was formless, it had phrase but not form. Dickinson was, for him, more formal–but ultimately (from his later perspective), her poetry lacked poetic form. This sets up another vivid example in Professor Folsom’s argument of the way Whitman and Dickinson are not transcendental poets so much as creators of a transcendental poetics that relates to but ultimately resists the formal vision of transcendental poetry: Higginson’s transcendental vision of poetry mentors Dickinson, helps bring her into print, but largely by offering her a model of poetry that she subverts in her own poetics.

As we turn to looking at the manuscript origins of Dickinson’s poetry, her fascicles and their variations, we can think more about this tension between the formless and the form. One argument, we will see, is that Dickinson isn’t “formless” in Higginson’s pejorative sense of the word; rather, she is resisting, in her more fluid form, the print implications of perfection–of being finished, of having a final form.

Some further reading on the Dickinson-Higginson connection:

Higginson’s 1862 article “Letter to a Young Contributor”, the one that Dickinson reads and responds to with her April 15 letter: are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?

page from the article where he emphasizes  perfection before printing.

Higginson on Dickinson’s letters to him (published after her death)

Scan of Dickinson’s first letter to Higginson.

Site that looks at Dickinson and Higginson, with excerpts from two leters.


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