Dickinson and the Transcendentalists - Dr. Jeanne McGinn
(Dickinson and the Transcendentalists (Fall 2017))

Dickinson and the Transcendentalists Dr. Jeanne McGinn


Fall 2017 W 1-3:50 pm


Poet Emily Dickinson greatly admired New England writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau. Their essays and memoirs, especially “On Nature,” Summer on the Lakes, and Walden, respectively, launched what we now call American environmental writing. Their philosophies, meanwhile, came to be called Transcendentalism —a view that the divine can be perceived in all of nature and humanity. The Transcendentalists’ relationship to Nature might seem to accord with the poet who wrote, “Exhilaration is the Breeze/ That lifts us from the Ground/ And leaves us in another place/ Whose statement is not found—” But closer reading suggests otherwise. The poem finishes with an acknowledgement that we are “newer for the term/ Upon Enchanted Ground.” What is this Enchanted Ground, for Dickinson? How does it relate to Emerson’s conception of Nature, Fuller’s travels to meet members of First Nations Tribes, and Thoreau’s sabbatical in a cabin in the woods on Walden Pond? In this course we will study Emerson, Thoreau and Fuller for one half of the term and then we will read Dickinson in the second half, while becoming conversant with transcendentalism and, perhaps, the transcendent.