Course: Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson

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Date / Time

  • February 21, 2019
    6:00 pm - 7:45 pm
  • March 21, 2019
    6:00 pm - 7:45 pm
  • April 18, 2019
    6:00 pm - 7:45 pm
  • May 9, 2019
    6:00 pm - 7:45 pm


2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19103, United States


Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson are universally regarded by scholars and readers alike as the greatest poets of the nineteenth-century United States. Their lives spanned roughly the same period — Dickinson lived from 1830-86, Whitman from 1819-92 — but they never met or read one another’s poetry. They both pioneered new poetic forms that were better received by twentieth-century modernists than by their nineteenth-century contemporaries, with Dickinson writing short, complex poems best experienced in manuscripts penned in her own artistic script, and Whitman composing long, sprawling lines of poetry that were creatures of mass-market print. Dickinson was a poet of quiet contemplation, Whitman a poet of loud city streets. But they both shared a common interest in the big questions: life and death, life after death, religion and spirituality, spirituality without religion, the nature of the self and the nature of reality, sex and gender, race and class, power and powerlessness. They wrote about life in the United States before, during, and after the cataclysm of Civil War, and they wrote about the human condition in ways that have influenced poets, artists, activists, and mystics across the globe. In this course we will read the essential poems from the Whitman and Dickinson canons in modern editions of their work, while also exploring online archives that reproduce their poems as they originally appeared. (Bring a laptop or tablet to every class to get the full benefit of these excellent online archives.) We will contextualize these poems in their cultural and biographical contexts, while also experiencing them as aesthetic objects in their own right.


Whitman Dickinson Syllabus

About the Instructor

Edward Whitley teaches courses in American literature at Lehigh University. He has published essays in a variety of academic journals on Walt Whitman and other topics in American literary culture.  His is also the author of American Bards: Walt Whitman and Other Unlikely Candidates for National Poet (North Carolina, 2010), and with Joanna Levin he is the co-editor of Whitman among the Bohemians (Iowa, 2014) and Walt Whitman in Context (Cambridge, 2018). He has contributed to the NEH-funded Walt Whitman Archive (, and, with Robert Weidman, he co-directs The Vault at Pfaff’s:  An Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York (

About Rosenbach Courses

Revisit beloved classics or experience new ones with Rosenbach courses. Book lovers delve into fiction, history, and poetry with the guidance of a literary expert and the company of other readers. Tuition varies according to length of the course; Rosenbach members at the Contributor level and above receive a 10% discount on tuition.