George Herbert & Emily Dickinson Seminar for College Teachers

Dates:  July 7, 2014 – August 8, 2014.

Location:  The University of Chicago.

Application Deadline:  March 4, 2014; notification date:  March 31, 2014.

Stipend Details:  Each participant in the Seminar will receive a stipend of $3900.

Who Can Apply?  See “Eligibility.” 

Brief description:

This Seminar will provide its participants with the opportunity to study in detail, in relation to each other, and in a collective setting, two of the greatest lyric poets in English (or any other) language:  George Herbert (1593-1633) and Emily Dickinson (1831-1886).

Studying each of these poets is unquestionably worthwhile; to study them together is a rare opportunity.  Since Herbert influenced Dickinson, the question of influence is raised – across genders, oceans, and centuries.  Since the poets share some major themes and concerns and are both skilled at representing complex and sometimes fleeting states of mind and heart, and it will be extremely interesting to compare their attitudes and strategies. They are both in dialogue with the Christian tradition, especially in its protestant mode, and to study these poets together will illuminate both what it means to write from within this tradition understood in a deep way (the case of Herbert) and what it means to write from a state of ambivalence about this tradition (the case of Dickinson).  Many interesting issues arise from this, and the comparison should make them even more interesting.

The Seminar will last for five weeks – it could not be done in less – and will consist of two weeks on Herbert followed by two weeks on Dickinson (with Herbert in mind).  Each week will take up a theme (usually one that both poets share – pain, nature, the church, the limits of language, for instance) and will consider a set of poems that deal with that theme together with a sampling of relevant criticism.  The final week will be devoted to hearing about what scholarly or poetic or pedagogical project the seminar has led each of the members to contemplate or develop.  The Seminar will be an intense experience in itself; it cannot be otherwise.  If it truly succeeds, it will create an ongoing as well as a summer-long community.  I look forward to participating in both the immediate and the long-term life of it.  We will all experience a difference where the meanings are (ED); we might even experience “something understood” (GH).  For a more detailed account of the Seminar, go to the “About the Seminar” tab.


                                                       (Key to Critics follows)

Please note:  the list of poems to be read for each session is not complete; the list of critics are suggestions for critical readings on each session’s topic; they will not all be assigned or reported on.

Week 1.

Monday, 7/7/14:  INTRODUCTION:  “My God, what is a heart?”; revisions & manuscripts.


Wednesday, 7/9: Theology 1 (Sin)

Poems include:

Sin (1), Nature, Unkindness, Ungratefulness, Sin’s Round, Sepulcher, The Pearl, Vanity (1), Divinity, Confession, Submission

Topics:  Herbert’s conception of sin; strategies of manipulation

Critics:  Strier, Veith, Schoenfeldt, Clarke

Friday, 7/11:  Theology 2 (Grace)

Poems include:

Assurance, Faith, Gratefulness, Justice (2), Death, The Holdfast, Dialogue, Love (3), The Glance, The Collar

Topics:  the nature of faith; transformations

Critics:  Stein, Fish, Bloch, Strier, Young


Week 2. HERBERT (continued):

Monday, 7/14:  The Institutional Church

Poems include:

The British Church, The Church-floor, The Windows, Sion, The Altar, Aaron, The H. Communion, The Invitation and The Banquet, Lent, [Love (3)]

Topics:  the place of architecture, vestments, holidays; attitude toward the Eucharist

Critics:  Hodgkins, Strier (2), Whalen, van Dijkhuizen, Netzley

Wednesday, 7/16:  Autobiography & Affliction

Poems include:

Affliction (1-5), Complaining, Longing, The Search, Employment (1), The Glimpse, The Temper (1 & 2), Love Unknown, The Cross, Discipline, A Parody, The Flower

Topics:  the representation of suffering and confusion; the representation of relief

Critics:  Harman, Vendler, Smithson, Malcolmson

Friday, 7/18:  Nature, Poetry, & Language

Poems include:

The Quip, Mortification, Life, Conscience, The Rose, Life, Virtue, Matins, Man’s Medley, Home, Denial, Jordan (1 & 2), The Storm, A true Hymn, The Forerunners, [The Altar]

Topics:  nature and worldly pleasure; the place and value of poetry; language

Critics:  Tuve, Todd, Sullivan, Strier (3), Schoenfeldt (2)



Week 3:

Monday 7/21:  The Church, The Bible, and Theology

Poems include:

I have a King, I think just how, Why make it doubt, Some keep the Sabbath, God is a distant stately Lover, The Moon is distant, Must be a Woe, My period had come for Prayer, He gave away his Life, Abraham to kill him, The Bible is an antique Volume, Of God we ask one favor

Topics:   the figure of Jesus & Gospel ethics; the Father & Calvinism; the institutional church and devotional practices

Critics:  Weisbuch, St. Armand, Brantley, Keane, Freedman

Wednesday 7/23: The Soul, Death, And Immortality

Poems include:

I shall know why, Safe in their Alabaster Chambers– both versions, The Soul’s Superior instants, The Soul unto itself, I died for Beauty, Because I could not stop, Death is a Dialogue, ‘Twas warm at first, The last Night that she lived, This Me

Topics:  the soul’s nature & experiences; immortality; death:  of self, of others

Critics:  Wolosky, Stonum, Doriani, McIntosh, Raymond

Friday 7/25:  Nature

Poems include:

These are the days, I taste a Liquor, The Birds begun, There’s a certain slant, A narrow Fellow, Further in Summer, The Murmuring of Bees, The way to know the Bobolink

Topics:  aspects of nature:  birds; times of day & year, etc.; meanings in nature

Critics:   Diehl, Brantley, Peel, Miller (Perry)


Week 4:  DICKINSON (continued):

Monday, 7/28:  Love

Poems include:

There came a Day at Summer’s full, I cannot live with You, My Life had stood a Loaded Gun, I’m wife, I’m ashamed, Forever at His side, Wild Nights, He touched me, We learned the Whole of Love, That first Day

Topics:  passion & sexuality (reality or fantasy?); renunciation; the “Master” letters

Critics:  Shure, Pollak, Juhasz collection, Farr, Smith (Robert), Benfey

Wednesday, 7/30:  Pain

Poems include:

I like a look of Agony, Despair’s advantage, A weight with Needles, After great pain, There is a pain so utter, Pain has an element, Pain– expands the Time, ‘Twas the old road, Renunciation– is a piercing Virtue, The Birds reported

Topics:  pain vs. “affliction”; kinds of pain; value in pain?

Critics:  Cody, Cameron, Noble, Jackson

Friday, August 1:  Poetry & Language

Poems include:

This was a Poet, Shall I take thee, Could mortal lip divine, I found the words, Your thoughts don’t have words, A Word made Flesh is seldom, A Word dropped careless, To tell the Beauty, Speech is one symptom, There is no silence

Topics:  peculiarities of Dickinson’s language; Dickinson’s view of poetry; Dickinson’s view of the powers of language; Dickinson’s view limits of language

Critics:  Thackrey, Miller (Christanne), Baker, Olney, Cameron (2), Fulton, Vendler (2)


Week 5 (August 4, 6, 8):

Reports on conclusions, investigations, and projects (each participant would have approximately 1/2 hour over the three sessions).

5:00 – ? :  FINAL BANQUET.


Key to critics:

 Baker, Wendy.  Lunacy of light: Emily Dickinson and the experience of metaphor.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987. pp. xi, 214.

Bloch, Chana.  Spelling the Word: George Herbert and the Bible. Berkeley:  U of             California Press, 1985. 324 pp.

Brantley, Richard E. Experience and faith: the late Romantic imagination of Emily Dickinson. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. pp. xi, 275.

Cameron, Sharon. Lyric time: Dickinson and the limits of genre. Baltimore, MD; London:  Johns Hopkins UP, 1979. pp. xi, 280.

Cameron (2):  Choosing not choosing: Dickinson’s fascicles.  Chicago; London:             Chicago UP, 1993. pp. xiv, 257

Clarke, Elizabeth. Theory and theology in George Herbert’s poetry: ‘divinitie, and poesie, met’. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: OUP, 1997. pp. 299.

Cody, John. After great pain. Cambridge: Belknap, Harvard UP, 1971. pp. 538.

Diehl, Joanne Feit. Dickinson and the Romantic imagination. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP. 1981. pp. ix, 205.

Doriani, Beth Maclay. Emily Dickinson: daughter of prophecy. Amherst:             Massachusetts UP, 1996. pp. xii, 230.

Fish, Stanley E.  Self-Consuming Artifacts:  the experience of seventeenth-century  literature.  Berkeley: U of California Press, 1972. Xiv, 432 pp.

Freedman, Linda. Emily Dickinson and the religious imagination. Cambridge; New  York:  CUP, 2011. pp. x, 210.

Fulton, Alice. Feeling as a foreign language: the good strangeness of poetry.  St Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1999. pp. 309.

Harman, Barbara Leah. Costly Monuments:  Representations of the Self in George Herbert’s Poetry. Cambridge Harvard UP, 1982. x, 225 pp.

Hodgkins, Christopher.  Authority, Church, and Society in George Herbert Return to the  Middle Way.  Columbia U of Missouri P, 1993. xiii, 231 pp.

Jackson, Virginia. Dickinson’s misery: a theory of lyric reading. Princeton, NJ; Oxford:             Princeton UP, 2005. pp. xvii, 298.

Keane, Patrick J. Emily Dickinson’s approving God: divine design and the problem of             suffering. Columbia; London: Missouri UP, 2008. pp. xii, 256.

Malcolmson, Cristina. Heart-Work:  George Herbert and the Protestant Ethic.  Stanford,             CA: Stanford UP, 1999. 297 pp.

McIntosh, James. Nimble believing: Dickinson and the unknown. Ann Arbor: Michigan             UP, 2000. pp. xiii, 194.

Miller (Perry), “From Edwards to Emerson,” in Errand into the Wilderness.              Cambridge:  Harvard U Press, 1956, 184-203.

Netzley, Ryan.  Reading, Desire, and the Eucharist in Early Modern Religious Poetry. Toronto, ON: U of Toronto P, 2011. viii, 287 pp.

Noble, Marianne.  The masochistic pleasures of Sentimental literature. Princeton, NJ;             Princeton UP, 2000. pp. viii, 258.

Olney, James. The language(s) of poetry: Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Athens, Ga.: Georgia UP, 1993. pp. xiv, 158.

Peel, Robin. Emily Dickinson and the hill of science. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh             Dickinson UP, 2010. pp. 435.

Pollak, Vivian R. Dickinson: the anxiety of gender. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1984.             pp. 258.

Raymond, Claire. The posthumous voice in women’s writing from Mary Shelley to             Sylvia Plath. Aldershot; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006. pp. 262.

Schoenfeldt, Michael C.  Prayer and Power:  George Herbert and Renaissance Courtship. Chicago, London:  U of Chicago Press, 1991.  Pp. xii., 345

Schoenfeldt (2): Bodies and selves in early modern England: physiology and             inwardness in Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, and Milton. Cambridge; CUP,  1999. pp. xii, 203.

Smithson, Bill, “Herbert’s ‘Affliction’ Poems,” SEL 15 (1975):  125-40.

St. Armand, Barton Levi. Emily Dickinson and her culture: the soul’s society. Cambridge; New York: CUP, 1984. pp. xii, 368.

Shurr, William H. The marriage of Emily Dickinson: a study of the fascicles. Lexington: Kentucky UP, 1983. pp. x, 230.

Stein, Arnold. George Herbert’s Lyrics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968. pp. 265.

Stonum, Gary Lee. The Dickinson sublime. Madison; London: Wisconsin UP, 1990pp. x, 221.

Strier Richard. Love Known:  Theology and Experience in George Herbert’s Poetry. Chicago U of Chicago P, 1983. xxi, 277 pp.

Strier (2): “George Herbert and Ironic Ekphrasis,” Classical Philology 102 (2007): 96-109.

Strier (3): “George Herbert and the World,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1981): 211-236.

Sullivan, Ceri. The Rhetoric of the Conscience in Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan. Oxford, England Oxford UP, 2008. xiv, 275 pp.

Thackrey, Donald E. Emily Dickinson’s Approach to Poetry. Lincoln:  U of Nebraska,             1954. pp. 82

Todd, Richard. The opacity of signs: acts of interpretation in George Herbert’s The             Temple. Columbia: Missouri UP, 1986. pp. xiii, 223.

Tuve, Rosemond.  A Reading of George Herbert.Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press;             London: Faber, 1952. pp. 215.

van Dijkhuizen, Jan Frans. The Reformation unsettled: British literature and the question of religious identity, 1560-1660. Turnhout: Brepols, 2008. pp. 244.

Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. Reformation spirituality: the religion of George Herbert. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell UP; London: Assoc. UPs, 1985. pp. 289.

Vendler, Helen. The Poetry of George Herbert. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975. 303 pp.

Vendler (2):  Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats. Cambridge, Mass.:             Harvard University Press, 2004. pp. 142.

Weisbuch, Robert. Emily Dickinson’s Poetry. Chicago; London: Chicago UP, 1975. pp.             202.

Whalen, Robert.  The poetry of immanence: sacrament in Donne and Herbert.Toronto; Buffalo, NY; London: Toronto UP, 2002. pp. xxi, 216.

Wolosky, Shira. Emily Dickinson: a voice of war. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1984. pp.             xx, 196.



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