When Thomas Wentworth Higginson visited the American poet Emily Dickinson in 1870, she gave him the following definition of poetry:
"If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?"
If you were really so cold that no fire could ever warm you, or the top of your head were taken off, you would probably be dead. Of course this is not a literal description of what happens when she reads, but Emily Dickinson seems to view poetry as an experience so powerful that it opens up the reader’s brain. If you agree with her definition, you might enjoy a poem for the same reasons that film audiences enjoy horror films. She associates effective poems with intense and chilling sensations.
This poetry resource presents and explores poems with this theme in mind. Each poem is given with some contextualizing information, analysis, and questions to prompt further thought. Words or technical terms that may need further explanation are glossed (explained in the margin) as the resource progresses. If there are other words that you don’t know that aren’t glossed here, it’s also good to look these up. The poems are by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Horace Smith, John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, Abel Meeropol and Billie Holiday.
• To be introduced to new poets and a selection of poems from different literary periods
• To explore poems and understand meaning through analysis of poem structure and poet context