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  • Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course Literature and today were going to talk

  • about this lady, Emily Dickinson. By the way, we don’t have a book today because

  • she’s on my Nook. Emily Dickinson was a great 19th century American poet who--

  • Mr. Green, Mr. Green. I already know everything about her. She was a recluse and you can sing

  • all of her poems to the tune of “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” Like, “Because

  • I could not stop for death / He Kindly stopped for me

  • Stop, Me from the Past, you cannot sing. Fortunately, your inability to sing does insulate us from

  • copyright claims because I, for one, did not recognize that asIf I could buy the world

  • a Coke.” Also Dickinson’s meter is more complicated

  • than youre making it out to be, but yes, you could sing most of her poems toIf

  • I Could Buy the World a CokealsoYellow Rose of Texas.”

  • More importantly, these poems have a lot to say about the relationship between death and

  • life, between faith and doubt, between the power of God and the power of individuals.

  • So let’s focus on that, because it actually might change your life and stuff.

  • Intro So Joyce Carol Oates[a][b] once called Emily

  • Dickinsonthe most paradoxical of poets; the very poet of paradox.”

  • And this can really frustrate students and literary critics alike, particularly when

  • Dickinson seems to contradict herself within a single poem. Take, for example, this bit

  • of light verse: "Faith" is a fine invention

  • When Gentlemen can seeBut Microscopes are prudent

  • In an Emergency. So, this seems to be a pretty pro-science,

  • anti-religion poem, right? I mean, faith is put in quotation marks and called an invention.

  • But she also implies the possibility of a different, and valuable, kind of sight only

  • available to some people at some timeswhen gentlemen can see.

  • And this is where it becomes important to look at how Dickinsonfor lack of a better

  • phrasesees sight. Dickinson often imagines seeing as a form

  • of power, so much so that seeing--not just literal sight but also the ability to witness

  • and observe and understand--becomes the central expression of the self.

  • Like, her famous poem that begins "I heard a Fly buzz - when I died" ends with the line

  • "I could not see to see," associating the lack of sight with death itself.

  • Dickinson also often played with the fact that this I and this eye sound the same; her

  • poem beginning "Before I got my eye put out" is about death, for instance, not just monocularization.

  • In that poem, she clearly associates sight not just with the power to observe but with

  • ownership, she writes: "But were it told to me, Today, / That I might have the Sky / For

  • mine, I tell you that my Heart / Would split, for size of me – / The Meadowsmine

  • – / The Mountainsmine –" Of course, in 19th century America, the idea

  • that an I--possibly a FEMALE I--could own the mountains, the meadows, and the sky was

  • a little bit radical. I mean, all that stuff was supposed to be

  • under the control of God, not any human being who could see it.

  • All of this is made even more complex and interesting by the fact that Dickinson’s

  • poems sounded like hymns. And throughout her life, you could see her faith waxing and waning

  • in her poetry. In short, I don’t think you can make easy

  • conclusions about microscopes and faith in Dickinson’s poetry, but that’s precisely

  • what’s so important about it. Dickinson’s work reflects a conflicted American

  • worldview. I mean, were a nation of exceptional individuals who believe that we control our

  • success and our happiness, but we are also more likely to profess a belief in an omnipotent

  • God than people in any other industrialized nation.

  • Alright, I know you guys want all the creepy macabre details of Dickinson’s biography,

  • so let’s go to the Thought Bubble:

  • So, Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 to a prominent familyher father became a U.S.

  • congressmanand lived her whole life in Massachusetts.

  • She was haunted by what she called themenaceof death throughout her life, although then

  • again, who isn’t?

  • Between 1858 and 1865, Dickinson wrote nearly 800 poems. But, she also became increasingly

  • confined to her home in those years, and eventually rarely left her room

  • she usually talked to visitors from the other side of a closed door, and didn’t even leave

  • her room when her father’s funeral took place downstairs.

  • Dickinson published fewer than a dozen poems in her lifetime; in fact, no one knew that

  • she’d been nearly so prolific until her sister discovered more than 1,800 poems after

  • Emily’s death in 1886.

  • Dickinson was considered an eccentric in Amherst, and known locally for only wearing white when

  • she was spotted outside the home.

  • In fact, her only surviving article of clothing is a white cotton dress.

  • This image of a pale wraith clad all in white has become a symbol of the reclusive brilliant

  • poet, but it’s worth noting that for Dickinson, white was not the color of innocence or purity

  • or ghosts. It was the color of passion and intensity.

  • Dare you see a soul at the white heat? Then crouch within the door,” she once wrote.

  • She called red, the color most associate with passion, “fire’s common tint.”

  • For Dickinson, the real true, rich life of a souleven if it was physically shelteredburned

  • white hot. Thanks, Thought Bubble. Oh, it’s time for

  • the Open Letter?

  • An Open Letter to the Color White. But first, let’s see what’s in the secret

  • compartment today. Oh, it’s a Dalek. Stan, more flagrant pandering to the Whovians.

  • Dear White, Youre a complicated and symbolic--ah! Dalek!

  • Theyre not very bright. So, White, youre often associated with

  • purity, like wedding dresses. You can symbolize heaven or the creepy infinite

  • nowhere where certain parts of Harry Potter and all of Crash Course Humanities take place.

  • But many 19th century writers inverted those associations, like Meville’s famous great

  • white wall of whale, the terrifying blankness of nature.

  • And to Dickinson, White, you were the color of passion and intensity.

  • This reminds us that our symbolic relationships aren’t fixed. Were creating them as we

  • go communally. I mean, other than daleks, which are universally

  • terrifying no matter what color they come in.

  • Best wishes, John Green

  • Okay, let’s take a close look at a poem weve already mentioned, sometimes called

  • Poem 465 and sometimes known by its first line, “I heard a Fly buzzwhen I died.”

  • Speaking of which, here in the studio, weve had a genuine plague of flies in the last

  • few weeks. I mean, in the lights up there, there are thousands of fly carcasses.

  • Okay, let’s put aside the fly carcasses and read a poem together...about flies.

  • I heard a Fly buzzwhen I diedThe Stillness in the Room

  • Was like the Stillness in the AirBetween the Heaves of Storm

  • The Eyes aroundhad wrung them dryAnd Breaths were gathering firm

  • For that last Onsetwhen the King Be witnessedin the Room

  • I willed my KeepsakesSigned away What portions of me be

  • Assignableand then it was There interposed a Fly

  • With Blueuncertain stumbling BuzzBetween the lightand me

  • And then the Windows failedand then I could not see to see

  • Okay, first, let’s talk about the dashes. Some critics think that Dickinson’s use

  • of the dashes as punctuation is just eccentric handwriting or else an accident. I mean, they

  • point out that Dickinson also used similar dashes, for instance, in her cake recipes.

  • Others argue that the use of dashes are a typographical attempt to symbolize the way

  • the mind works, or that the dash is used as a punctuation stronger than a comma but weaker

  • than a period. Regardless, though, the appearance of a dash

  • at the end of this poem, at the moment of death, is a very interesting choice.

  • So, in this poem, the speaker is dying, or I guess has died, in a still room surrounded

  • by loved ones. A will is signed and then the fly, with blue

  • uncertain stumbling buzz, comes between the light and the speaker.

  • This makes it so the narrator cannot see to see, and by now you know what happens in Dickinson

  • poems when people can’t see: Theyre dead. So Dickinson was just a smidge obsessed with

  • death, which means that she got to imagine death in a lot of different waysas a suitor,

  • as a gentle guidebut here death is a buzzing fly.

  • So everyone in the room is awaiting the arrival of the Kingwhich, before Elvis took over

  • the title in 1958, was a reference to God. But, instead of the quiet, peaceful arrival

  • of God theyre expecting, it’s a dirty little fly, with uncertain stumbling Buzz,

  • that gets between the narrator and the light. So, this poem features Dickinson at her most

  • formal. The lines are very iambic: i HEARD a FLY buzz WHEN i DIED / the STILLness IN

  • the ROOM. And they alternate between tetrameter (four

  • feet) and triameter (three feet). The rhyme scheme throughout the poem is ABCB,

  • which means the first line ends with one sound, the second line with yet another, the third

  • line with another still, and then the fourth line rhymes with the second line.

  • But Dickinson employs her famous slant rhymes here: like, in the first stanza, room is matched

  • with storm; in the second, Be with Fly. These words sort of almost rhyme, likeroom

  • andstormboth end in mmm sounds. “BeandFlyboth end in hard vowel sounds.

  • But they don’t rhyme. And this discomforting lack of closure is

  • a hallmark of Dickinson’s poetry. Also of most of my romantic relationships.

  • Only in the final stanza, when death comes, do we get a full rhyme: Me, the I, is rhymed

  • with See, the thing the I can no longer do. So is this a peaceful death? Hardly. I mean,

  • the stillness in the room is broken by the buzzing fly.

  • And yet, with that final full rhyme, Dickinson offers us a bit of peace and closure that

  • we didn’t get in the first two stanzas. To return to an old theme, even though we

  • live in an image-drenched culture, this is a good reminder that language is made out

  • of words. And it might sound like overreading to you

  • to say that a full rhyme brings peace, but I’m reminded of the story of Mozart’s

  • children playing a series of unfinished scales in order to taunt their father, who would

  • eventually have to go to the piano and finish them.

  • Poetry isn’t just a series of images. It is rhythmic and it’s metric and we crave

  • the closure of a good rhyme at the end of the poem; that’s why sonnets end with couplets.

  • Dickinson gives us that closure. And then she gives us a Jose-Saramago-ing dash.

  • The poet of paradox, still haunting us. Thanks for watching our Crash Course Literature

  • miniseries. Next week, we begin a year of learning about U.S. History together.

  • Now begins the complaining by non-Americans that were shallow and self-interested and

  • call ourselves Americans even though, in fact, THIS is America.

  • But, my friends, even if you don’t live here, the history of the United States matters

  • to you because were always meddling in your affairs. Thanks for watching. See you

  • next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan

  • Muller. Our script supervisor is Meredith Danko. The associate producer is Danica Johnson.

  • And the show is written by me. Every week instead of cursing, I’ve used

  • the names of writers I like. That tradition is ending, but a new one will begin next week.

  • If you have questions about today’s video, you can ask them down there in comments and

  • theyll be answered by our team of literature professionals, including Stan’s mom. Thanks

  • for watching. And as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome.

  • LIT 8 Poetry [a]I wanted to do a talking unhistoric here

  • but couldn't find a large enough photo on wiki. If you have any luck Stan let me know,

  • otherwise this works as a type moment too. [b]She's tough. I haven't found anything.

Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course Literature and today were going to talk

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B1 INT US dickinson poem fly death rhyme buzz

Before I Got My Eye Put Out - The Poetry of Emily Dickinson: Crash Course English Lit #8

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    Sofi   posted on 2014/07/29
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