graphic delve into dickinson - Nature and God – I neither knew

Nature and God – I neither knew
Dickinson, Scientist of Faith
Thursday, September 12, 6:30pm ET


graphic delve into dickinson - Nature and God – I neither knewFor any questions, please e-mail

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Nature and God – I neither knew
Yet Both so well knew Me
They startled, like Executors
Of My identity –
Yet Neither told – that I could learn –
My Secret as secure
As Herschel’s private interest
Or Mercury’s Affair –

Emily Dickinson’s opening claim in this poem is a bit disingenuous: her poems contain hundreds of references to nature and God. She “knew” them quite well, yet both continually “startled” her, and her true “identity” was an explorer of their “Secrets.”

Dickinson’s allusions to local flora and fauna, as in “The Lilac is an ancient shrub” and “A narrow Fellow in the Grass,” are well known, but her fascination with science extended to many fields, from astronomy (as in the Herschel reference above—he discovered Uranus) to geology (including five poems about volcanoes alone) to medicine (five about surgeons) to mathematics, technology, and many more (White).

Science, which she studied with great interest from her school days onward, and which was burgeoning with new developments during her lifetime, provided Dickinson the poet more than a rich technical lexicon and a trove of startling metaphors; it also offered a method for experimenting with spiritual problems.

In this workshop, we will read and discuss a range of Dickinson poems with scientific content and examine the ways they intersect with her lifelong struggles with religious faith, confirming or confounding her understandings of nature and human life. We will also explore contexts for teaching the “science poems.”

Work Cited: White, Fred D. “‘Sweet Skepticism of the Heart’: Science in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson.”College Literature, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 121–128.

headshot of a man with white hair, mustache, beard and glasses

Bruce M. Penniman, Ed.D., taught writing, speech, and literature at Amherst Regional High School for 36 years and is still an advisor to the Sene-Gambian Scholars exchange program there. He served as Site Director of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project at University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he has taught numerous graduate courses for teachers. In 1999 he was named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and finalist for National Teacher of the Year, and he is the author of Building the English Classroom: Foundations, Support, Success (NCTE, 2009). He has been a teacher curriculum mentor in all four NEH Emily Dickinson: Person, Poetry, and Place workshops and has facilitated discussions for the Emily Dickinson Museum’s Poetry Discussion Group on topics ranging from “Emily Dickinson and the Bible” to “Emily Dickinson and Science.”


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