A Place for Humility

A Place for Humility : Whitman, Dickinson, and the Natural World

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Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are widely acknowledged as two of America's foremost nature poets, primarily due to their explorations of natural phenomena as evocative symbols for cultural developments, individual experiences, and poetry itself. Yet for all their metaphorical suggestiveness, Dickinson's and Whitman's poems about the natural world neither preclude nor erase nature's relevance as an actual living environment. In their respective poetic projects, the earth matters both figuratively, as a realm of the imagination, and also as the physical ground that is profoundly affected by human action. This double perspective, and the ways in which it intersects with their formal innovations, points beyond their traditional status as curiously disparate icons of American nature poetry. That both of them not only approach nature as an important subject in its own right, but also address human-nature relationships in ethical terms, invests their work with important environmental overtones.Dickinson and Whitman developed their environmentally suggestive poetics at roughly the same historical moment, at a time when a major shift was occurring in American culture's view and understanding of the natural world. Just as they were achieving poetic maturity, the dominant view of wilderness was beginning to shift from obstacle or exploitable resource to an endangered treasure in need of conservation and preservation.A Place for Humility examines Dickinson's and Whitman's poetry in conjunction with this important change in American environmental perception, exploring the links between their poetic projects within the context of developing nineteenth-century environmental thought. Christine Gerhardt argues that each author's poetry participates in this shift in different but related ways, and that their involvement with their culture's growing environmental sensibilities constitutes an important connection between their disparate poetic projects. There may be few direct links between Dickinson's "letter to the World" and Whitman's "language experiment," but via a web of environmentally oriented discourses, their poetry engages in a cultural conversation about the natural world and the possibilities and limitations of writing about it-a conversation in which their thematic and formal choices meet on a surprising number of levels.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 288 pages
  • 154 x 226 x 18mm | 359.99g
  • Iowa, United States
  • English
  • 1609382714
  • 9781609382711

Review quote

"Readers wishing to broaden the ecocritical canon will welcome this searching, deeply informed and eloquent environmental reappraisal of Whitman and Dickinson, which puts environmental humility at the heart of their poetics and points the way to reading a far broader range of literature through contemporary debates in environmental science and politics."--Laura Dassow Walls, University of Notre Dame "Christine Gerhardt's A Place for Humility supersedes all other books (including my own) as the best study of both Whitman's and Dickinson's nature poetry. No ecocritic, not even leaders in the field, brings a stronger comprehension of nineteenth-century proto-ecological discourse to such an extensive reading of the best poetry of the day, and no other scholar draws a stronger connection between two poets often considered polar opposites--Whitman and Dickinson--their mutual ecopoetics (and surprisingly even their gender politics) proving here a sturdy bridge that will bear enduring use for some time to come. The emergence of ecology as a science and worldview in the nineteenth century provides the common ground for realizing the deep relationship of Whitman and Dickinson not only as poets but also as thinkers and ethicists."--M. Jimmie Killingsworth, author, Walt Whitman and the Earth: A Study in Ecopoetics Readers wishing to broaden the ecocritical canon will welcome this searching, deeply informed and eloquent environmental reappraisal of Whitman and Dickinson, which puts environmental humility at the heart of their poetics and points the way to reading a far broader range of literature through contemporary debates in environmental science and politics. Laura Dassow Walls, University of Notre Dame" Christine Gerhardt's "A Place for Humility" supersedes all other books (including my own) as the best study of both Whitman s and Dickinson s nature poetry. No ecocritic, not even leaders in the field, brings a stronger comprehension of nineteenth-century proto-ecological discourse to such an extensive reading of the best poetry of the day, and no other scholar draws a stronger connection between two poets often considered polar oppositesWhitman and Dickinsontheir mutual ecopoetics (and surprisingly even their gender politics) proving here a sturdy bridge that will bear enduring use for some time to come. The emergence of ecology as a science and worldview in the nineteenth century provides the common ground for realizing the deep relationship of Whitman and Dickinson not only as poets but also as thinkers and ethicists. M. Jimmie Killingsworth, author, W"alt Whitman and the Earth: A Study in Ecopoetics"" "Christine Gerhardt's "A Place for Humility" supersedes all other books (including my own) as the best study of both Whitman's and Dickinson's nature poetry. No ecocritic, not even leaders in the field, brings a stronger comprehension of nineteenth-century proto-ecological discourse to such an extensive reading of the best poetry of the day, and no other scholar draws a stronger connection between two poets often considered polar opposites--Whitman and Dickinson--their mutual ecopoetics (and surprisingly even their gender politics) proving here a sturdy bridge that will bear enduring use for some time to come. The emergence of ecology as a science and worldview in the nineteenth century provides the common ground for realizing the deep relationship of Whitman and Dickinson not only as poets but also as thinkers and ethicists."--M. Jimmie Killingsworth, author, W"alt Whitman and the Earth: A Study in Ecopoetics"
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About Christine Gerhardt

Christine Gerhardt is a professor of American Studies at the University of Bamberg, Germany. She has published essays on Whitman, Dickinson, and ecocriticism in Profession, The Forum for Modern Language Studies, The Mississippi Quarterly, and The Emily Dickinson Journal. Her research and teaching interests include 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century American literature, environmental literature and literary criticism, American migration poetry, African American literature, and the literature and culture of the American South. She lives in Bamberg, Germany.
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