Further Research and Questions - Emily Dickinson

Further Research and Questions for Reflection: Inspiration for “Poem #639” and Reflection on “Poem #639”

Mathew Brady and his assistants were responsible for taking some of the most graphic and haunting photographs to come out of the Civil War.  Photography was a relatively new art form having been invented in 1839, and the equipment was large and cumbersome to work with.  So the majority of shots taken during the war, starting in 1861, were not of battles but of the aftermath of the battles.  Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman both wrote poetry after seeing photographs by Brady.

Use the questions and directives below to learn more about the life and times of Emily Dickinson.

  1. Research the work of Brady and his team of associates and report on the photography they captured during the Civil War.
  2. Emily Dickinson referred to herself as the “spider poet.”  Research the meaning behind this association.  Consider why it was in direct opposition to the Calvinist tradition into which she was born and raised.  What does the spider have to do with creativity?
  3. Dickinson was fond of the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Browning and John Keats.  Report on these writers and select a few of their poems to share with others.  Be prepared to address why you like the poems you selected.
  4. Read more of Emily Dickinson’s poems and prepare a report on the poems you selected and refer to them in your report.

The questions that follow refer “Poem #639.”

  1. How does the photography of Brady and “Poem #639” compliment one another?
  2. How is Dickinson using the word “portion” in this poem?  Check out the various meanings of the word.
  3. What does defeat look and sound like in this poem?
  4. How does defeat look and sound?
  5. What is the message that Dickinson is conveying in the last stanza of the poem?