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37 ?At&UAid.VISIONS OF LIGHT IN THE POETRY OFWILLIAM BLAKE AND EMILY DICKINSONDISSERTATIONPresented to the Graduate Council of theUniversity of North Texas in PartialFulfillment of the RequirementsFor the Degree ofDOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHYByRosa Turner Nuckels, M. A.Denton, TexasDecember, 1996

37 ?At&UAid.VISIONS OF LIGHT IN THE POETRY OFWILLIAM BLAKE AND EMILY DICKINSONDISSERTATIONPresented to the Graduate Council of theUniversity of North Texas in PartialFulfillment of the RequirementsFor the Degree ofDOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHYByRosa Turner Nuckels, M. A.Denton, TexasDecember, 1996

Nuckels, Rosa Turner,Visions of Light In the Poetryof William Blake and Emily Dickinson.Doctor of Philosophy(English), December, 1996, 174 pp., 119 titles.Parallels between William Blake and Emily Dickinsonwere first pointed out in 18 90 in essays by Thomas WentworthHigginson, who at that time was helping to introduceDickinson's poems to the reading public.Since then, briefcomparisons between Blake and Dickinson have becomecommonplace in Dickinson criticism, but no comprehensivestudy of Blake-Dickinson parallels has previously been made.In this study I compare the broad outlines of Blake'sand Dickinson's thought, pointing out evidence of decisiveBiblical influence not only on the content of their thoughtbut on their attitude toward language as well.I argue thatboth poets assumed the philosophical position of Job as theyinterpreted the Bible independently and as they exploredmany dimensions of experience in the fallen world.Irepresent their thought not as a fixed system but as afaith-based pattern of Christian/Platonic questing fortruth.In the first chapter, I survey the critical recordon Blake-Dickinson comparisons.In Chapter II, I argue thata typological interpretation of the Book of Job was thecontrolling influence on parallel Blake-Dickinson beliefsabout perceptual limitation and about experience as it leads

to visionary breakthrough, revelation, regeneration, andgrowth toward wisdom.In Chapter III, I discuss parallelsbetween Blake's concept of fourfold vision and Dickinson'sconcept of compound vision, drawing specific parallelsbetween Blake's "single vision" and Dickinson's "brokenmathematics."In Chapter IV, I argue that Blake andDickinson placed their recognition of linguisticindeterminacy within a visionary context, and I discuss thedouble perspective of their compound vision as it gives totheir poetry its prophetic character.From my study Iconclude that the kinship between Blake and Dickinson sooften noted in criticism extends beyond superficialities andincludes all essentials of their thought.

Copyright byRosa Turner Nuckels1996

TABLE OF CONTENTSPageNOTE ON REFERENCESvINTRODUCTION6CHAPTER I:CHAPTER II:CHAPTER III:CHAPTER IV:The Critical Record onBlake-Dickinson ParallelsFear, Hope, and Vision in thePoetry of Blake and DickinsonToward Fourfold Vision: SpiritualGrowth by Processes of Size326186The Spirit of Prophecy in Worksby Blake and Dickinson129CONCLUSION158WORKS CITED165IV

NOTE ON REFERENCESUnless otherwise indicated, quotations from WilliamBlake's writings are taken from The Complete Poetry andProse of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, rev. ed. (NewYork: Doubleday, 1988) and are cited parenthetically with Eand the page number, followed by an abbreviated title withBlake's plate and line number when the quotation is from oneof the works that Blake published in illuminated printing.Quotations from Emily Dickinson's poetry are taken fromThe Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson, 3 vols.(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1955) and are shownparenthetically as P with the poem number designated in thisedition.Quotations from Dickinson's letters are taken fromThe Letters of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson andTheodora Ward, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Belknap-HarvardUniversity Press, 1958) and are shown parenthetically as Lwith the letter number designated in this edition.

INTRODUCTIONBLAKE, DICKINSON, AND THE PROBLEMOF CRITICAL METHODParallels between Emily Dickinson and William Blakewere pointed out as early as 1890 in essays by ThomasWentworth Higginson, who at that time was helping tointroduce Dickinson's poems to the reading public.According to Richard B. Sewall, "it can be said with someassurance" that Higginson owed his insight about BlakeDickinson parallels to Mabel Loomis Todd, with whom hecollaborated in editing and publishing the first two seriesof Dickinson's poems (Life 1.226).Since that time,comparisons of the two poets have become commonplace inDickinson criticism.Included among the diverse group ofwriters who have commented on similarities between these twopoets are Christina Rossetti, William Dean Howells, HartCrane, Amy Lowell, Louise Bogan, Northrop Frye, ThomasJohnson, Harold Bloom, and Camille Paglia.Although Blake-Dickinson comparisons abound, however, they are scatteredthroughout Dickinson studies, with each comparison usuallyconsisting of only a few remarks.The most sustained Blake-Dickinson comparison I know of is in Camille Paglia's

chapter on Dickinson in Sexual Personae: Art and Decadencefrom Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (623-73), where Pagliaargues that Dickinson is an "American Sade" counterpart of"the British Sade," William Blake (270).The clear consensus among Dickinson scholars thatDickinson shares a close kinship with Blake partly explainswhy Blake-Dickinson parallels have never received more thanpassing attention in criticism: the parallels usually notedare obvious and beyond dispute, belonging to a set ofcommonly acknowledged affinities with Blake among manywriters of the American Renaissance, and noticedparticularly in the poetry of Walt Whitman.But beyond thegeneral agreement about obvious Blake-Dickinson affinities,critics have expressed widely differing interpretations ofthe writings of each poet.Ongoing criticial confusionabout these two poets is perhaps the main reason why BlakeDickinson parallels have received so little close attention:with so many different Blakes and Dickinsons represented incriticism, one wonders which, if any, of these poets tocompare.Even now, after several decades of lively criticaldebate about each poet, confusion remains so great that manycritics still feel compelled to preface their commentarieswith elaborate disclaimers about discontinuity and ambiguityin the poems.Much of the commentary on Blake is in itselfso difficult to comprehend that, as Joseph Natoli observes,students need "commentary for the commentary" (xxiii).In

8studies of each poet, narrow appropriations are common, andmuch recent criticism is based on the claim that,anticipating poststructuralist thought, Blake and Dickinsonwrote their poetry without the traditional expectation of ashared common ground with and among their readers.About Blake there is still no consensus; there is noteven a consensus about whether to seek a consensus on Blake.Although Dickinson scholars encounter Blakean levels ofhermeneutical complexity, Dickinson has fared better thanBlake at the hands of her interpreters: Dickinson criticismhas remained fairly free of the kind of cultic adulationthat has sometimes biased Blake studies,1 and it has alsoremained fairly free of the angst and drift characterizingBlake criticism of the past two decades.But Dickinsoncritics have not yet achieved consensus on such centralissues in Dickinson's poetry as the nature and extent of herreligious skepticism, the degree of militant feminism in hercareer as a poet, and the connections between Master,Father, Lover, and God in her poems.In this study I explore the framework of thoughtsupporting superficially apparent Blake-Dickinson affinitiesthat have been widely acknowledged during the past century.With the goal of further illuminating both poets, I focus onparallels between the two poets' interconnected religiousbeliefs, philosophical views, and poetic purposes.Inarguing that these two poets are alike in the broad outlines

of their thought, I do not mean to deny obvious andimportant differences between them.Dickinson did notcreate an elaborate myth and then tirelessly etch, print,and color the text with designs, by-passing the bookpublishing establishment in a bid to reach the publicdirectly.Dickinson was never personally engaged in thekind of social, economic, and political debates forming thebackground and providing much of the subject matter forBlake's revolutionary writings.Dickinson enjoyed insulating aristocratic privileges that contrast sharplywith the everyday turbulence of Blake's career as anengraver among the tradesmen of turn-of-the-century London,and her protected environment helped to support herdevelopment of a much broader lyric range than Blake's.I limit this study to the exposition of Blake-Dickinsonparallels without regard to any possibility that Blakeserved as source or influence for Dickinson.The Blake-Dickinson parallels I discuss seem to me to be adequatelyaccounted for by shared affinities predisposing them towardsimilar responses to the cultural upheavals that set reasonin opposition to revelation.Although I believe thatDickinson's achievement was in no way dependent on anyBlakean influence, I want to point out three ways in whicha Blakean influence might have reached her.First, included in the Dickinson Homestead library wasa copy of The Household Book of Poetry, edited by Charles

10Anderson Dana (6th ed. New York and London, 1860).Thisvolume of poetry included five of Blake's best known poemsfrom Songs of Innocence and of Experience: "The Tiger," "TheChimney Sweeper," "The Little Black Boy," "The Garden ofLove," and "On Another's Sorrow" (Letter to author fromJennie Rathbun, Houghton Library of Harvard).The.pagescontaining these poems bear no pencil markings, so there isno direct evidence that Dickinson herself read them, butgiven her love for books and poetry, it seems safe to assumethat she read these poems and perhaps knew them well.Thefive poems taken together constitute a brief outline of allBlakean thought.Second, a diffused Blakean influence may well havereached Dickinson through Emerson.From Dickinson's letterswe know that she read and admired the works of Emerson, andfrom Emerson's late journals and essays we know that heincluded William Blake among the many authors whose works heknew and admired.Emerson's influential early essaysinclude some clear Blakean parallels, but early Emersoniannature philosophy is distinctly non-Blakean, and we have nodirect evidence that Emerson knew of Blake before 1848.Inview of Emerson's importance to Dickinson, however, I willbriefly outline evidence showing that during his secondvisit to England in 1848, Emerson probably thoroughlyabsorbed all of the essentials of Blakean thought, not fromreading Blake's poems but from hearing about Blake

11personally from Henry Crabb Robinson.Also, I do not ruleout the possibility that Emerson knew about Blake before1848.My position on the subject of a possible Blakeaninfluence on Emerson runs counter to opinions expressed byR. A. Yoder, Armida Gilbert, and Richard R. O'Keefe, whorule out significant Blakean influence on Emersonaltogether, citing either 1861 or 1863 as the earliest timewhen Emerson is known to have read anything by Blake (Yoder34-38; Gilbert 56-63; O'Keefe 4).Emerson's first journey to England in 1833 followinghis resignation as a minister provided him a limitedopportunity to become acquainted with Blake's works.Blakehad died in obscurity six years before Emerson first arrivedin England, but especially during the first three yearsfollowing Blake's death, his memory was kept alive amongartists and literati by a small circle of devoted Blakeadmirers who called themselves "the Ancients" (Bentley,Blake Books 20-23).Thirty years old at the time of hisfirst trip to England, Emerson eagerly sought out theintellectual community there, visiting both Wordsworth andColeridge in England and Carlyle in Scotland.Given thegeneral circumstances of this visit, and given the range ofEmerson's interests, it seems to me unlikely that he wouldnot have heard something about Blake at this time.Whether or not Emerson heard of Blake during his firstjourney to England in 1833, there can be no doubt that he

12heard about Blake frequently during the year he spent inEngland from October 1847 to July 1848.His chief source ofinformation about Blake was Henry Crabb Robinson, who hadknown Blake personally and whose diaries now provide"reminiscences of Blake [that] are of the very firstimportance" (Bentley, Blake Books 21).Robinson, a tirelesspromoter of Blake for over three decades, is known to have"talked about Blake with many of his friends such asWordsworth, Flaxman, Coleridge, Hazlitt, and Lamb" (Bentley,Blake Books 21).According to G. E. Bentley, Jr., "CrabbRobinson reported in his Reminiscences that at a party atthe Fields' on 16 April 1848, Emerson, Wilkinson, Chapman,Field, and Robinson 'talked only abo[t] Blake'" (CriticalHeritage 245).Bentley continues: "In his 'Journal Gulistan[?April] 1848', Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: 'I cannotremember J.[ones] Very without being reminded ofWordsworth's remark on William Blake, 'There is something inthe madness of this man that interests me more than thesanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott*" (Critical Heritage246). 2Given the nature of Emerson's literary and theologicalinterests, and given Robinson's well documented commitmentto perpetuating Blake's memory, one may reasonably supposethat Robinson brought up the subject of Blake frequentlyduring numerous other social occasions when, according toRobinson's diaries, Robinson engaged Emerson in conversation

13(Scudder 74, 137-44).Although Robinson's diaries documentfrequent social contacts with Emerson in the spring of 1848,it should be noted that Emerson makes no reference either toRobinson or to Blake in his reminiscences of this visit inEnglish Traits (1856).But in English Traits Emerson doesrecall frequent associations with another great admirer ofBlake, J. Garth Wilkinson, who edited the 1839 printpublication of Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience,a copy of which Emerson later owned (English Traits 190;Letters V, 246n; Journals, vol. 16, Appendix II, 543).3Thus, by the spring of 1848 Emerson knew Blake's ideas, andhe probably knew them well, whether or not he ever readBlake's poetry; in fact, through personal conversation withHenry Crabb Robinson, Emerson was possibly in a betterposition to understand Blakean thought than he would havebeen with the poetry alone.Emerson's interest in Blake is evidenced by the factthat in 1863 he borrowed from the Boston Athenaeum theAlexander Gilchrist two-volume Life of William Blake justafter its publication (Journals 16.544).In Emerson's lateessay, "Poetry and Imagination," Emerson quotes from Blake'sA Descriptive Catalogue (1809) and A Vision of the LastJudgment (1810) in a passage extolling Blake as one of thoserare individuals whose "insight, or second sight, has anextraordinary reach which compels our wonder" (450-51).The third possible way that a Blakean influence may

14have reached Dickinson is that Thomas Wentworth Higginsonmay have sent Dickinson his personal copy of Blake's Songsof Innocence and of Experience.According to Edward J.Rose, who examined two copies of the second issue ofWilkinson's edition of Songs in the Houghton Library ofHarvard, Dickinson "may well have known [Blake's] workthrough Higginson" (80).One of the two copies that Roseexamined was owned by Emerson and the other one was owned byHigginson.According to Rose, Higginson had made severalnotations inside his copy, including the remark that "I readthese about 1842" (80).All of these notations takentogether indicate that as a young man, Higginson wasacquainted with the printed songs and knew the opinionsabout them expressed by Robinson, Wordsworth, and Coleridge.But as Rose points out, if Higginson ever lent Dickinson hiscopy of Songs, she makes no reference to Blake or to hispoems in any of her letters (80).The parallels I draw between William Blake and EmilyDickinson are based on my initial inference from textual andbiographical material that both poets, in response topersonal crises in adulthood, gradually exchanged a predominantly secular outlook for an overriding religious faithbased primarily on their highly personal and independentinterpretations of New Testament scripture.Thus, I beginthis study with the presupposition that the canons of bothpoets span a range including both secular and religious

15thought, but given both poets' increasing interest inreligious experience from early in their careers until theirdeaths, I place all of their poems, including the secularpoems, within the context of spiritual questing.Critics have varied widely in their descriptions of thereligious thought of these two poets, but in general, mostcritics until recently have perceived Blake and Dickinson asreligious poets and have willingly admitted into the fieldof critical inquiry the task of describing the religiouscontent of their poetry.In 1968, when Ted Hughes expressedthe opinion that Dickinson "became 'the greatest religiouspoet America has produced'" (159), few if any scholars wouldhave found anything surprising or objectionable about hisexpression of this opinion.This is not to say thateveryone agreed with Hughes; 4 it is only to say thateveryone seemed to agree on the importance of the questionand on the difficulty of answering it.But in the criticismof both poets during approximately the past two decades, onefinds a growing reluctance and sometimes an outright refusalto analyze the content of their religious thought.It seemsthat their incisive critiques of conventional Christianityare increasingly being taken as the basis for wholly secularinterpretations of their poetry, as if their rejection ofinstitutionalized Christianity could be automaticallyequated with agnosticism or atheism.But in my view, thefact that Blake and Dickinson objected to much—perhaps

16most—of what passes for Christianity does not automaticallymake them non-theists; it does not even necessarily makethem non-Christian.Indeed, one might reasonably argue thattheir anguished critiques of conventional Christianity arepartial evidence of their remarkable spiritual vitality andtheir authentic Christianity.This growing reluctance among many critics to analyzethe religious content in poetry by Blake and Dickinson isevidence of the trend outlined by Jenny Franchot in"Invisible Domain: Religion and American Literary Studies"(1995).Disparaging an "academic orthodoxy" in whichreligious thought is viewed as "deviant" and is thereforeconsidered "unmentionable" (837), Franchot describes whatshe regards as the prevailing approach in Americanistcriticism:Scholars are everywhere.quietly expected toperform precisely [an] act of translationor "demystification" to avoid being seen inthe wrong light; they must resituate a particular sacred or an individual's interior lifeinto an understanding of culture that deniestranscendence—a colonizing move as disturbing inits way as the anthropological translation ofanother culture's "weak" language into the"strong" language of anthropology. (840)According to Franchot, "intellectual and cultural historianshave continued to produce fine studies of Americanreligion," and "scholars on divinity school faculties and inreligion, anthropology, and art history departments are

17contributing rich and complex studies of various spiritualtraditions," studies in which they are "demonstrably engagedby the seriousness and splendour of their topic" (837-38).But "this level of engagement" is "signally lacking amongAmericanist-literary scholars" (838), whose unwillingness"to engage intensively with the religious questions of thetopic at hand as religious questions" is producing a"singularly biased scholarship" (839).Foucault's "politicsof truth might have stimulated interesting work on

Blake's writings are taken from The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, rev. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1988) and are cited parenthetically with E and the page number, followed by an abbreviated title with Blake's plate and line number when the quotation is from one of the works that Blake published in illuminated .

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