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.

The 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.

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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.

· American Panoramas in "Song of Myself"

· Incarnation: Whitman's Body Politic

· Expansionism and Manifest Destiny

· The Global Imaginary


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.

· Precedents: Explorers and Travelers

· The Near: Amherst and the U.S.

· The Far: Dickinson's Tropical Moods

· Landscapes of the Mind

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