Why Study Emily Dickinson at a Time Like This? (audio lecture)

Last week, I was honored to give a lecture sponsored by the Friends of Goddard Library at Clark University in Worcester, MA. The friends and the library staff were gracious, congenial, and intelligent hosts, and the crowd was bigger than I expected.

I’d originally planned to give a lecture on Dickinson and hymns, titled: “Emily Dickinson’s Long Foreground: A New Look at a Poet’s Reading.” But when I woke up in the wee hours on November 9—the day of the lecture and the day after the national election—I asked myself, “How can I give a lecture like that? Why am I doing this? Why does it matter now?” I realized that my lecture as I’d prepared it could indeed offer answers to these questions, with a little reframing. The audio for that lecture is linked below.

(Apologies to Gerard Manley Hopkins and his devotees for my misquoting of the opening line of “God’s Grandeur.” I was going on low sleep, and the memory was not at full strength.)

It’s not on the audio, but I dedicated the lecture to Marilyn McEntyre, the professor who first taught me to read Dickinson (and why). The lecture’s title is a page right out of her playbook, a pause to wonder about, and affirm, the mystery of studying when the world seems to demand only urgent, “relevant” action.

By the way, here’s a recent essay by Marilyn on the topic of poems coming back at important moments in life—the family resemblance between this and the opening moves of my lecture is uncanny, and I’m the first to claim the role of imitator in this case.

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