Like many other readers
of their era, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were fascinated by maps,
travel stories, and the lure of far-off places. The nineteenth century
marked the culmination of the age of exploration, from Lewis and Clark's
1804-6 trip to the Pacific to Stanley's penetration into parts of Africa
previously unknown to the West. The world seemed to widen as readers of
newly popular illustrated magazines could follow these travelers and picture
their exploits. At the same time, advances in transportation technology-
the steamboat, the railroad- made the world smaller, more intimate, more
accessible. The nature of space, and the human relationship to it,
was changing dramatically.
An atlas not only describes
the known world, it systematizes that world. By organizing individual localities
into regions, continents, and hemispheres, a geographical system implicitly
tells readers how to generalize about places and people. It also orients
us with directional markers: "the East" always means "east of us,"
reflecting the assumptions and biases of the map-makers. But such directional
markers are a necessary way to begin the process of defining oneself: "where
am I?" also means "where am I in relation to others?" As poets who were
deeply involved in the search for the meaning of the self, Whitman and
Dickinson thought seriously about space and location.
HOW TO USE THIS SITE
list below suggests several themes for your own exploration. Each page
contains an overview, some related excerpts from poems, images, and related
links. If you click on a thumbnail image,
a larger, more detailed image will appear.
This icon will lead you to a resources page dealing with that topic, containing questions for class discussion or investigation, as well as suggestions
for further reading.
will always bring you back to this page.
SITE MAP: WHITMAN
Walt Whitman tried to depict the whole of the American continent in "Song of Myself."
More daringly, he identified the figure of the poet as someone who literally
incarnates this national geography. To Whitman, national expansion was just as natural
a process as the body's own growth. In later poems, he applied some of
the same principles to the world as a whole.
Panoramas in "Song of Myself"
Whitman's Body Politic
and Manifest Destiny
SITE MAP: DICKINSON
Although she spent most of her life in Amherst, Emily Dickinson wrote
poems rich with geographical references. An avid reader of the travel stories
in Harper's, she often mentioned "exotic" places- Brazil, India,
Italy- in her poems. Moreover, Dickinson imagined the mind itself as a
kind of landscape, measuring her own thoughts and feelings against the
Sea, Mountains, Volcanoes, and other geographical features.
Explorers and Travelers
Near: Amherst and the U.S.
· The Far:
Dickinson's Tropical Moods
of the Mind
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