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Emily Dickinson 






Emily Dickinson 



A great nation 
deserves great art. 

vi. MuseumandLibrary 



The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting 
excellence in the arts — both new and established — bringing the arts to all Americans, 
and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an 
independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation's largest 
annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner 
cities, and military bases. 

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for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create 
strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute 
works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to 
sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support 
professional development. 

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opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Based 
in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state 
region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South 
Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United 
States, Arts Midwest's history spans more than 25 years. 

Additional support for The Big Read has also been provided by the W.K. Kellogg 

The creation of Emily Dickinson educational materials has been made possible, in part, 
with support from the Poetry Foundation. 

Published by 

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1 100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. 
Washington, DC 20506-0001 
(202) 682-5400 

Works Cited 

Poems in this guide are reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from THE 
POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: READING EDITION, Ralph W. Franklin, ed., Cambridge, MA The 
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright (c) 1998, 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard 
College: Copyright (c) 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. 

Farr, Judith. The Passion of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992. 

Johnson, Thomas H., ed. Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters. 1958. Cambridge, MA The Belknap Press of Harvard 
University Press, 1986. 

Sewall, Richard B. The Life of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. 


David Kipen, NEA Director of Literature, National Reading Initiatives 

Writer: Erika Koss for the National Endowment for the Arts; Handout Two, "Wild Legacies," 
by Diane Thiel 

Series Editor: Molly Thomas-Hicks for the National Endowment for the Arts 

Image Editor: Dan Brady for the National Endowment for the Arts 

Graphic Design: Fletcher Design/Washington, DC 

Special thanks to Jane Wald, Executive Director of the Emily Dickinson Museum 

Image Credits 

Cover Portrait: John SherfTius for The Big Read. Page iv: Courtesy of Paul Shabajee. Page 1 : Artwork by 
John Sherffius. Inside back coven Courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections. 

April 2 

Table of Contents 

Introduction 1 

Suggested Teaching Schedule 2 

Lesson One: Word Choice and the Value of a Dictionary 4 

Lesson Two: Biographical Criticism 5 

Lesson Three: The Speaker of a Poem 6 

Lesson Four: Imagery and Personification 7 

Lesson Five: Figurative Language 8 

Lesson Six: Rhythm and Meter l ) 

Lesson Seven: Allusion 10 

Lesson Eight: Analyzing a Poems Context 1 1 

I wesson Nine: Poetry and Ideas 12 

Ixsson Ten: What Makes a Poet Great? 13 

Essay Topics 14 

Glossary IS 

Handout One Emily Dickinson and 

the Victorian "Woman Question" lo 

t [andout I wo: Wild 1 cg.icies 1" 

1 [andout Three: Dickinson s Final Sorrows 1 8 

I caching Resources l l) 

NC 1 1 Standards 



The Poets light but Lamps 
Themselves - go out - 
The Wicks they stimulate 
If vital Light 

Inhere as do the Suns - 
Each Age a Lens 
Disseminating their 
Circumference - 



Welcome to The Big Read, an initiative from the National Endowment for the 
Arts. Designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American culture, 
The Big Read hopes to unite communities through great literature, as well as 
inspire students to become lifelong readers. 

The National Endowment for the Arts joins the Poetry Foundation to create 
a new program to celebrate great American poets and the historic sites 
associated with their lives and works. By honoring these writers and literary 
landmarks, we hope both to bring poetry to a broader audience and to help 
preserve and promote local cultural heritage and history. 

This Teacher's Guide contains ten lessons to introduce students to the 
poetry of Emily Dickinson. Dickinson is not only one of the supreme lyric 
poets of American literature, she has also come to symbolize the purest 
kind of artistic vocation. Not merely unrecognized but virtually unpublished 
in her own lifetime, she developed her genius in the utmost privacy, invisible 
to all except a small circle of family and friends. Driven only by her own 
imagination, she created a body of work unsurpassed in its expressive 
originality, penetrating insight, and dark beauty. 

Each lesson has five components: a focus topic, discussion activities, writing 
exercises, vocabulary words, and homework assignments. In addition, we have 
suggested essay topics, as well as provided handouts with more background 
information about the poems, the historical period, and the author. All 
lessons dovetail with the state language arts standards required for poetry. 

Finally, The Big Read Reader's Guide deepens your exploration with 
biography, timelines, and historical information. We hope these educational 
materials allow you to have fun with your students while introducing them to 
the work of a great American poet. 

From the NEA and the Poetry Foundation, we wish you an exciting and 
productive school year. 

National Endowmeni for tin 



Day One 

FOCUS: Word Choice and the Value of a Dictionary 

Activities: Discuss Emily Dickinson's poem "A Route 
of Evanescence." Have students create their own 
four-line poetic riddles. 

Homework: Read "Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886" 
(pp. 4-6) and "The Publication of Dickinson's Poetry" 
(p. 10) in the Reader's Guide. Read three poems 
by Dickinson: "Fame is the one that does not 
stay -," "Fame is a fickle food," and "Success is 
counted sweetest."* 


Day Two 

FOCUS: Biographical Criticism 

Activities: Examine Dickinson's life. Discuss her 
poems on fame and success. 

Homework: Read Handout One: Emily Dickinson 
and the Victorian "Woman Question." Read three 
poems: "They shut me up in Prose - ," "I dwell in 
Possibility -," and "Crumbling is not an instant's Act." 

* Most poems cited in this guide are on the Poetry 
Foundation's Poetry Tool: 
A biography and bibliography are also available there. 


Day Three 

FOCUS: The Speaker of a Poem 

Activities: Discuss Dickinson's use of persona in 
contrast to her autobiographical poems. 

Homework: Read "Dickinson's Poetry" (pp. 8-9) in 
the Reader's Guide, and her poems "The Moon is 
distant from the Sea -" and "After great pain a formal 
feeling comes." 


Day Four 

FOCUS: Imagery and Personification 

Activities: Discuss Dickinson's use of nature imagery 
and personification to help readers visualize sensory 

Homework: Read "'Hope' is the thing with feathers-," 
"There is no Frigate like a Book," and "Tell all the truth 
but tell it slant -." 


Day Five 

FOCUS: Figurative Language 

Activities: Discuss Dickinson's use of seemingly 
unrelated objects and feelings, and the contrast 
between light and darkness in "Tell all the truth but 
tell it slant-." 

Homework: Read "Before I got my eye put out -" 
and "Because I could not stop for Death -." 


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Day Six 

FOCUS: Rhythm and Meter 

Activities: Discuss the way some of Dickinson's 
poems employ the patterns of nineteenth-century 
hymns. Listen to a CD of hymns and "sing" two of 
her poems. Consider contemporary songs that follow 
fixed forms. 

Homework: Read "A little East of Jordan," "Come 
slowly - Eden!," and "All overgrown by cunning 
moss." Look up at least three words from the 
poems. Read "From The Gardens of Emily Dickinson" 
(pp. 12-13) in the Reader's Guide. 


Day Seven 

FOCUS: Allusion 

Activities: Discuss Dickinson's biblical references in 
"A little East of Jordan." 

Homework: Read "Now I knew I lost her -," "Wild 
nights - Wild nights!." and "You left me - Sire - two 
Legacies." Then read Handout Two: Wild Legacies, 
and the short essay "The Homestead and The 
Evergreens" (p. 7) in the Reader's Guide. 


Day Eight 

FOCUS: Analyzing a Poem's Context 

Activities: Discuss two of Dickinson's poem cycles: 
the "Sue cycle" and the "Master cycle," both of which 
passionately articulate — in both obvious and subtle 
ways — her experience with love and loss. 

Homework: Read "This World is not conclusion," "I 
know that He exists," and "Forever - is composed 
of Nows - ." Then read Handout Three: Dickinson's 
Final Sorrows. 


Day Nine 

FOCUS: Poetry and Ideas 

Activities: Discuss Dickinson's "flood subject." 
immortality, and the way in which her faith sustained 
her through suffering and sorrow. 

Homework: Students will begin working on their 
essays. Drafts are due next class period. 


Day Ten 

FOCUS: What Makes a Poet Great' 

Activities: Explore the qualities of a great poet Wnte 
a short essay that explains how Dickinson directs 
our attention to the beauty of nature, the depth of 
emotions, and the possibility of immortality 

Homework: Students should complete their essays 

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and the 
Value of a 


From "A Route 
of Evanescence " 

Evanescence, n. 

The event of fading and gradually 
vanishing from sight 

Resonance, n. 

1. Intensification and 
prolongation of sound, 
especially of a musical tone, 
produced by vibration 

2. Richness or significance, 
especially in evoking an 
association or strong emotion 

Cochineal, n. 

A vivid red; a scarlet dye 

Tunis, n. 

The capital of Tunisia, on the 
northern coast of Africa 

Words are to a poet what clay is to a sculptor: the basic material of his or 
her art. Poets see the shape of words, listen closely to their sound, feel their 
weight. Before a poem can be appreciated for its deeper meanings, it must 
first be read literally. We often overlook words we can already define. Ralph 
Waldo Emerson wrote in Nature, "Every word ... if traced to its root, is 
found to be borrowed from some material appearance. Right means straight; 
wrong means twisted. Spirit primarily means wind; transgression, the crossing 
of a line; supercilious, the raising of the eyebrow'' Students should even 
look up words that are commonly used to understand better the careful, 
conscious choices poets make. Several words from assigned poems are 
already defined in the margins of this Teacher's Guide. 

Discussion Activities 

Dickinson found great joy in exploring the mysteries of nature, and some of 
her poems read like riddles. A concise and complex poem like the one below 
forces the reader to slow down and consider each word and image. Read this 
poem aloud to your students twice, and see if they can figure out that the poem 
describes a hummingbird. 

A Route of Evanescence, 
With a revolving Wheel - 
A Resonance of Emerald 
A Rush of Cochineal - 
And every Blossom on the Bush 
Adjusts it's tumbled Head - * 
The Mail from Tunis - probably, 
An easy Morning's Ride - 

To understand this poem, students must know the definition of nouns such as 
"evanescence," "cochineal," and "Tunis." Also important is an understanding of 
a hummingbird's flight patterns, wing speed, and eating habits — things Dickinson 
would have noticed from her meticulous observations of her gardens and the 
forests. Taking the poem line by line, discuss the ways Dickinson's words evoke 
the particular qualities of this beautiful creature. 

Writing Exercise 

Have students create four-line poetic riddles. Students should choose an element 
from nature or an object. Ask them to use the dictionary to incorporate at least 
one surprising word into their riddles. 

EJ Homework 

Have students read the Reader's Guide essays "Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886" 
(pp. 4-6) and "The Publication of Dickinson's Poetry" (p. 10). Read Dickinson's 
poems "Fame is the one that does not stay -," "Fame is a fickle food," and 
"Success is counted sweetest." 

* The incorrect apostrophe in line six of "A Route of Evanescence," is in Dickinson's manuscript 


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Biographical criticism is the practice of analyzing a literary work through 
the lens of an authors experience. It considers the ways age, race, gender, 
family, education, and economic status inform a writer's work. A critic 
might also examine how poems reflect personality characteristics, life 
experiences, and psychological dynamics. To understand some poems, 
readers need knowledge of the poet's biographical facts or experiences. 

As explained in the Reader's Guide essays "Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886 
(pp. 4-6) and "The Publication of Dickinson's Poetry (p. 10), Dickinson 
did not experience fame during her lifetime. However, fame is a subject that 
several of her poems explore. Although she sent about one hundred of her 
finest poems to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, in some ways he failed to 
be the mentor she needed, altering her poetry and publishing only a handful 
of her poems before her death. Still, though Dickinson was writing during 
a period that discouraged women writers, Higginson was one of few men 
who actively championed the reading and publication of work by women. 


From "Fame is the one that 
does not stay — " 

Incessantly, adv. 
Constantly; without ceasing 

Insolvent, adj. 

Unable to pay one's debts; 


From "Success is counted 
sweetest " 

Strains, n. 

A passage of melody, music, or 

Discussion Activities 

Ask some students to share their riddles in class, seeing if their classmates can 
figure out what is described. 

Emily Dickinson treated the subject of success with remarkable insight for 
someone who never experienced it. Compare the two poems "Fame is the one 
that does not stay -" and "Fame is a fickle food." How does she convey her 
attitude toward fame? What is the relationship between the crows and the men 
in the latter poem, and what might this suggest about success? 

Q Writing Exercise 

Dickinson's poetry often describes inner states of mind. However, several of her 
poems composed during the Civil War employ images of battle, including her 
popular poem "Success is counted sweetest." Ask students to explain, in writing. 
the following two paradoxes: Why can't "Victory" be defined by those who "took 
the Flag"? How and why can the "defeated" and "dying" hear a song of triumph? 

H Homework 

Have students read Handout One: Emily Dickinson and the Victorian "Woman 
Question." Ask them to consider the relationship between her poems on success 
or fame and the changing opportunities for women during the nineteenth century 
Read Dickinson's poems "They shut me up in Prose -." "I dwell in Possibility -." 
and "Crumbling is not an instant's Act." 

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The Speaker 
of a Poem 

Examining an author's life can inform and expand a literary text. Readers 
should be careful not to assume that the speaker of a poem is necessarily 
the poet. When we read a poem, one of our first questions should be: 
Whose "voice" is speaking to us? Sometimes a poet will create a persona, 
a fictitious speaker, and this speaker may not always be human. A speaker 
may be an animal or object, and good poems have been written from 
perspectives as various as a hawk, a clock, or a cloud. 

Because the opening lines of more than two hundred of Dickinson s poems 
are expressly written in the first person (either the singular "I" or the plural 
"we"), it is difficult to resist reading most of her poetry as autobiographical. 
Yet many of her poems do not concern the experiences of an "I" but 
describe natural phenomena (like Lesson One's "A Route of Evanescence"), 
characterize states of mind, or define abstractions through metaphor (like 
Lesson Two's "Fame is a fickle food"). 


From "I dwell in Possibility — 

Impregnable, adj. 

Difficult or impossible to attack, 

challenge, or refute 

Gambrel, n. 

A roof having a shallower slope 
above a steeper one on each side 

From "Crumbling is not an 
instant's Act" 

Dilapidation, n. 

A state of decay due to old age or 
long use 

Cuticle, n. 

Botany. A protective layer covering 
the epidermis of a plant 

Borer, n. 

A tool used to pierce or form a 
hole; an auger 

Discussion Activities 

In many of her poems, Dickinson attempts to describe psychological states 
objectively, as in "Crumbling is not an instant's Act." In these kinds of poems, she 
does not use the first person, or any overt reference to her life. Examine each 
stanza of this poem with your students, noticing the imagery Dickinson uses in 
her declarative statements about the slow process of decay. 

Discuss Handout One: Emily Dickinson and the Victorian "Woman Question." 
Have the class analyze the poems "I dwell in Possibility -" and "They shut me up 
in Prose -." Although the speaker of these two 1862 poems may be Dickinson, 
who else could it be? 

Writing Exercise 

Have students write a two-page essay on Dickinson's treatment of houses 
and nature in all three poems. How does she use imagery to portray both 
confinement and liberation? What might this suggest about her own struggles 
and triumphs as a poet? 

EJ Homework 

Ask students to read "Dickinson's Poetry" (pp. 8-9) in the Reader's Guide. Also 
have them read "The Moon is distant from the Sea -" and "After great pain, a 
formal feeling comes -." 


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Lesson Four 


Imagery and 

Poets use figurative language to help a reader imagine the events and 
emotions described in a poem. Imagery, a word or series of words that refers 
to any sensory experience (sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste), helps create 
a visceral experience for the reader. Personification is a figure of speech in 
which a thing, animal, or abstract term (truth, death, the past) takes on 
human qualities. 

To comprehend Emily Dickinson's poetry, the reader must understand 
the importance of figurative language as a way to suggest what cannot 
be literally stated. To appreciate her work, one must forgo readings 
that view truth as black or white. Dickinsons poetry is consciously 
mysterious and elliptical. The reader must attempt to use Dickinson s 
own logic, remembering that "Much Madness is divinest Sense - / 
To a discerning Eye - ." 


From "The Moon is distant 
from the Sea - " 

Docile, adj. 

Easily managed or led, teachable 

Impose, v. 

1. To force to be accepted, done, 
or complied with 

2. To take advantage of someone 

From "After great pain, a 
formal feeling comes - " 

Quartz, n. 

A hard, transparent mineral 

Stupor, n. 

A state of helpless amazement 

Discussion Activities 

Have students research the relationship between the moon and the sea. the 
tides, and the monthly lunar cycle. Then ask them to read "The Moon is distant 
from the Sea -," noticing that Dickinson personifies the connection by invoking 
the human body, saying that the moon's "Amber Hands" lead the sea "Along 
appointed Sands." In the second stanza, she deepens this personification by 
noting the sea's obedience to the moon's "eye," suggesting a scientific reality: that 
the moon controls the length and timing of the sea's tides. The poem turns to 
address a person ("Signor") in stanza three. How does the relationship between 
the moon and the sea parallel that between the mysterious "Signor" and the 
speaker's heart? 

P Writing Exercise 

List each example of personification in the poem "After great pain, a formal 
feeling comes - ." Ask students to answer the following questions: Which image 
resonates best with your experience of "great pain" ; How do the images in 
stanzas one and two build to the final image of "First - Chill - then Stupor - then 
the letting go - "? 

d Homework 

Read "'Hope' is the thing with feathers -." "There is no Frigate like a Book." and 
"Tell all the truth but tell it slant -." 

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Lesson Five 




From "'Hope' is the thing with 

Gale, n. 

A very strong wind 

Abash, v. 

Cause to feel embarrassed, 
disconcerted, ashamed 

From "There is no Frigate 
like a Book" 

Frigate, n. 

A warship with a mixed armament, 
generally lighter than a destroyer 

Courser, n. 

A swift horse 

Traverse, n. 

A route or path across or over 

Frugal, adj. 
Economical; thrifty 

Figurative language asks us to stretch our imaginations, finding the likeness 
in seemingly unrelated things. A simile is a comparison of two things 
that initially seem quite different, but are shown to have a significant 
resemblance. Similes employ a connective, usually "like," "as," or "than," or a 
verb such as "resembles." A metaphor also compares two seemingly different 
things, but it states that one thing is something else that, in a literal sense, it 
is not. By asserting that a thing is something else, a metaphor creates a close 
association that underscores an important similarity between them. 

Discussion Activities 

As a class, identify the opening comparison in Dickinson's poems "'Hope' 
is the thing with feathers -" and "There is no Frigate like a Book." What 
correspondence exists between hope and something with feathers in the 
first poem, and between a ship and a book in the second? Take the time 
to go through each line of the poem as a class. Discuss the way Dickinson 
develops these particular metaphors throughout each poem to make a more 
comprehensive point about "the Human Soul." What other metaphors can 
students find in these two poems? 

If time permits, discuss Dickinson's use of metaphor in other poems referenced 
in this Teacher's Guide. 

Ed Writing Exercise 

In the 1872 poem "Tell all the truth but tell it slant -," Dickinson compares 
"Truth's superb surprise" to lightning. Have students write a one-page analysis of 
what Dickinson's comparison between light and darkness might suggest about 
how we discern truth. 

To expand this question, consider the development of our scientific 
understanding of light and lightning since the nineteenth century, as well as 
Dickinson's own problems with her eyes and sight. 

F3 Homework 

Read "Before I got my eye put out -" and "Because I could not stop for 
Death -." 


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A poem's meaning can be found in its structural, stylistic, and verbal 
components. Two such components are rhythm and meter, long regarded 
as distinguishing features of verse. Poems may be written in fixed forms — 
traditional verse forms that require certain predetermined structural 
elements of meter, rhythm, and rhyme, such as a sonnet or a ballad — or open 
form. Not all poets write in fixed forms or meter, but all poets employ 
rhythm. Rhythm is created by the pattern of stressed and unstressed 
syllables in a poetic line. Scansion is the art of listening carefully to the 
sounds of a poem and trying to make sense of it. This includes paying 
attention to each poetic foot, each stressed ox unstressed syllable, and — if 
applicable — to the poems rhyme scheme. 

Most nineteenth-century poets, including Emily Dickinson, wrote 
primarily in fixed forms with identifiable meters. Dickinson drew her meter 
from Protestant hymns sung in the churches in Amherst, Massachusetts. 


From "Because I could not stop 
for Death- " 

Gossamer, n. 

1. An extremely delicate variety of 
gauze, used especially for veils 

2. A cobweb 

Tippet, n. 

A woman's fur cape or woolen 

Tulle, n. 

Fine (often starched) net used for 
veils, tutus, or gowns 

Cornice, n. 

An ornamental molding around the 
wall of a room just below the ceiling 

Discussion Activities 

When scanning a poem, use an accent (') over each stressed syllable and a breve 
or "little round cup" (~) over each unstressed syllable. Here are examples of how 
to scan one of Dickinson's poems: 

Because I could not stop for Death - 
He kindly stopped for me - 
The Carriage held but just Ourselves - 
And Immortality. 

Have students scan "Because I could not stop for Death - ." Ask your students 
how scanning a poem helps them understand its meaning. 

Find a recording of the hymns "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" and "Oh God 
Our Help In Ages Past". Notice that one can "sing" the poem above to the tune 
of both hymns. 

E( Writing Exercise 

Ask students to consider a favorite song and write a short comparison to 
Dickinson's poetry. Does it employ meter, rhythm, or rhyme' How do fixed 
forms help the listener memorize the song? 

Q Homework 

Read "A little East of Jordan," "Come slowly - Eden!." and "All overgrown with 
cunning moss." Read "From The Gardens of Emily Dtckmson" (pp. 12-13) in the 
Reader's Guide. 

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Lesson Seven 



Most poets have an audience in mind when they write — a reader who will 
understand and appreciate their work. In trying to communicate with that 
audience, poets sometimes use overt or subtle references — allusions — to tap 
shared cultural memories, or enlarge the scope of their work. Allusions may 
appear in a poem as an initial quotation, a passing mention of a name, or 
a phrase borrowed from another writer — often carrying the meanings and 
implications of the original. When, for instance, poets allude to a person, 
image, or event in Homer s Iliad or the Bible, they presume readers will be 
familiar with those texts. In the same way, poets amplify the scope of their 
work by connecting images and ideas to outside sources. 

Emily Dickinson drew from Greek and Roman myths, the Bible, and 
British writers for inspiration. Her poetry is rife with references to religion, 
botany, biology, history, art, music, and literature (especially Shakespeare). 
For example, her poem "All overgrown by cunning moss" refers to the 
grave ("little cage") of Currer Bell (the pseudonym of Charlotte Bronte) 
in Haworth, Yorkshire County, England — a detail that would have been 
familiar to readers due to the popularity of Brontes 1847 novel, Jane Eyre. 


From "A little East of Jordan" 

Waxing, v. 

Becoming larger or stronger 

Worsted, v. tr. 

Gained the advantage over; defeated 

From "Come slowly — Eden!" 

Jessamines, n. 

A variant of jasmine; a shrub or 
climbing plant with fragrant white, 
pink, or yellow flowers 

Balm, n. 

1. A fragrant ointment; something 

2. A tree which yields a fragrant, 
resinous substance 

Discussion Activities 

Hundreds of Dickinson's poems either directly or indirectly refer to God, Jesus 
Christ, the crucifixion, resurrection, heaven, or hell. In "A little East of Jordan," 
Dickinson responds to a long-cherished story of Jacob as recorded in Genesis 
32:24-32. One night when Jacob is alone, a man — thought to be an angel — 
wrestles with him until dawn. The unknown man injures Jacob's hip in the fight, 
but Jacob refuses to let him go and demands a blessing. To his surprise, Jacob 
then realizes he has wrestled with God. 

Break up your class into four groups, asking each to read the original Old 
Testament story. Then read "A little East of Jordan" out loud. Ask each group 
to go through the entire poem, noticing each allusion. Then ask each group to 
report its discoveries to the class. In light of these literary allusions, what is the 
significance of the poem's final stanza? Might Emily Dickinson have felt that she, at 
times, was wrestling with God? What might she mean when she says Jacob "had 
worsted God"? Explain. 

Writing Exercise 

Ask students to write a two-paragraph interpretation of "Come slowly - Eden!' 
How does Dickinson portray Eden? How does the poem's treatment of Eden 
differ from the Old Testament view of paradise? 

Ul Homework 

Read "Now I knew I lost her - ," "Wild nights - Wild nights!," and "You left me 
- Sire - two Legacies." Then read Handout Two: Wild Legacies, and the Reader's 
Guide essay "The Homestead and The Evergreens" (p. 7). 

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a Poem's 


From "Now I kneiv I lost her — " 

Transmigration, n. 

The passage of a soul into another 
body after death 

Penury, n. 

Destitution, poverty 

Restitution, n. 

Restoration to a former or 
original state 

From "Wild nights 
Wild nights! " 

Moor, v. it. 

To attach (a boat or buoy) by cable 

or rope to a fixed object 

Hundreds of Emily Dickinsons poems deal with love and loss, denial and 
desire. Scholar Judith Farr identifies two thematic "cycles" in the poems as 
the "Sue cycle" and the "Master cycle." 

Emily Dickinson had several long and passionate loves. As a teenager, she 
deeply loved her friend Susan (Sue) Huntington Gilbert, who later became 
her sister-in-law when Gilbert married Austin Dickinson. After their 
July 1, 1856, wedding, Austin and Sue moved into The Evergreens, the 
house next door to the Homestead, the Dickinson family home. Their 
lifelong friendship was emotional and volatile; to Emily it was an "endless 
fire" that complicated both their lives due to their proximity. Sue is the 
"beloved woman" mentioned in many poems who taught Dickinson joy 
and renunciation. 

In the 1860s, another prominent name — "Master" — often appears in 
Dickinsons poetry. "His" exact Identity remains debated; some believe 
"Master" is God, or even Sue. (Three enigmatic letters were found after 
Dickinsons death. However, no one knows to whom they were addressed, or 
whether they were ever sent.) Sue once wrote a letter wherein she revealed that 
she had seen Dickinson "reclining in the arms of a man" in her drawing room. 
It is often assumed this man was Judge Otis Phillips lord, who proposed 
marriage to Dickinson when she was in her fifties. Although she loved him, 
Dickinson refused. Before Judge Lord was her suitor, Dickinson loved Samuel 
Bowles, a married man and close friend of Austin a\k\ Sue. Some scholars 
believe that "Master" was Bowles, evidenced by the poetry that she seni do 
him such as "Title divine - is mine! / The Wife without the Sign! 

Discussion Activities 

Read "Now I knew I lost her -," a poem that laments lost love despite physical 
proximity. List all the words in the poem connected to time or travel. How does 
the speaker's love defy time and distance? How does the beloved seem to respond 
to this love? First discuss the literal references in this poem, and then move to the 
symbolic. Does understanding the poem require knowledge of its context' 

^ Writing Exercise 

Have students write about the figurative language used in two of Dickinson's love 
poems: "Wild nights - Wild nights!" and "You left me - Sire - two Legacies" 
Does the imagery of these poems suggest that Dickinson wrote them to Susan 
Gilbert Dickinson. Samuel Bowles, or someone else' Does it matter if the ob|ect 
of the poem is identified? 

r] Homework 

Read "This World is not conclusion," "I know that He exists." and "Forever - is 
composed of Nows -." Then read Handout Three: Dickinson's Final Sorrows. 

National Endowment tor tin- \n-> 


Lesson Nine 


and Ideas 


From "This World is not 

Sagacity, n. 

The quality of being discerning; 
sound in judgment 

Contempt, n. 

The feeling that someone or 
something is worthless or beneath 

"No man was ever yet a great poet," said Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "without 
being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom 
and fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, 
emotions, language." Exceptional poets can pursue their craft without 
aspiring to greatness, as Coleridge defines it here, but the greatest poets 
through the ages are distinguished by their willingness to confront life's 
biggest questions: Does God (or do the gods) exist? What is the purpose of 
life? What happens when we die? 

Discussion Activities 

Dickinson's belief in the promise of eternal life sustained her through many 
sorrows, illnesses, and losses. The Christian doctrine of the resurrection and the 
belief that the body and soul will be united after death were especially precious 
to her. What evidence of this do you see in such poems as "This World is not 
conclusion" or "I know that He exists"? Use Handout Three: Dickinson's Final 
Sorrows to guide students' interpretations of Dickinson's "flood subject" — 

How might these two poems shed light on the following sentence, which 
Dickinson wrote to Higginson on April 25, 1862: "[My family] are religious 
- except me - and address an Eclipse, every morning - whom they call their 

How does her poem "Forever - is composed of Nows -" reflect on both life's 
trials and joys? Remember that despite all her pain, she told Higginson: "I find 
ecstasy in living - the mere sense of living is joy enough." 

Wa Writing Exercise 

Vane, n. 

A blade, plate, sail, etc., as in the 
wheel of a windmill, to be moved 
by the air 

The poem "This World is not conclusion" asserts that "Faith slips - and laughs, 
and rallies -," suggesting that faith may have more in common with the rising 
and falling tide than with a rock or fortress. Ask students to write a one-page 
response that considers how understanding faith, doubt, or religious conviction 
furthers an understanding of Dickinson's poetry. Ask students to return to at 
least one poem from a previous lesson that includes this theme. 

EJ Homework 

Have students choose from the essay topics suggested on page 14. Ask them to 
come to the next class with a draft of the essay. 

I 2 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

Lesson Ten 


What Makes 
a Poet Great? 

Poets articulate and explore the mysteries of our daily lives in the larger 
context of the human struggle. The writer s voice, style, and use of 
figurative language inform the themes and characters of the work. A great 
poem is a work of art that affects many generations of readers, changes 
lives, challenges assumptions, and breaks new ground. 

If one mark of a great writer's work is that it moves us to return to it again 
and again — whether for enchantment, wisdom, or consolation — then 
Emily Dickinson is surely one of our greatest writers. In her verse, we 
experience the "Transport" or pleasurable excitement that she herself looked 
for in poetry: "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire 
can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of mv 
head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the onlv ways I know 
it. Is there any other way[?]' 


From "The Poets light but 
Lamps — " 

Vital, adj. 
Indispensable; essential 

Inhere, v. 

To be fixed or permanently 
incorporated within something 

Disseminate, v. 

To spread widely 

Circumference, n. 

The outer boundary, especially of a 
circular area 

Discussion Activities 

Guide your students in a close reading of "The Poets light but Lamps -." 
This short poem contains a metaphor so complex that it may inspire several 
interpretations. Have your class consider the various symbolic meanings of 
objects such as the lamp, the wick, the light, and the sun. Does everyone have 
the same interpretation of the symbols and the poetic metaphor? 

How does Dickinson use the word "Circumference" to represent both a literal 
circle of light that surrounds the lamp stand and the power of great poetry that 
shines out to others over centuries? What is she saying about the eternal nature 
of great poetry? 

Ask students to list the characteristics of a great poet. Put these on the board. 
What elevates their poems to greatness? Have students discuss, within groups, 
other poems or songs they know that include some of the same characteristics. 
Do any of these works remind them of Dickinson's poems? 

y Writing Exercise 

Ask students to write a one-page essay on their favorite Dickinson poem. 

23 Homework 

Students should continue working on their essays. Final drafts are due during the 
next class. 

National Endowment tor the \m the big read • I 3 

The writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the discussion 
questions in the Reader's Guide. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as 
long as they are interesting and specific. Other ideas for essays are provided below. 

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis — that is, an argument or 
interpretation — about the poem or poems in question. This statement or thesis should be focused, 
with clear reasons to support its conclusion. The thesis and evidence should be supported by 
references to the text. 

1 . Choose two poems in which Emily Dickinson 
looks closely at the natural world. Research 
her references to botany and biology, providing 
your own interpretation as a result of this 

2. The popularity of poems such as "I felt a 
Funeral in my Brain" or "After great pain, a 
formal feeling comes -" have led some readers 
to characterize Dickinson as a morbid poet 
Does she deserve this reputation? Why, or 
why not? How might the many deaths and 
losses she endured have affected her poetry? 

3. Give a historical reading of Dickinson's poem 
"Some keep the Sabbath going to Church" 
by finding out about the importance of the 
Sabbath day to nineteenth-century Christians. 
Research the Second Great Awakening to 
provide context for this semi-autobiographical 

Read the poetry of some of Dickinson's 
contemporaries, such as American poets Edgar 
Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and 
Walt Whitman or English poets Alfred, Lord 
Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, or Elizabeth 
Barrett Browning. Choose one poet and 
examine his or her style and themes. How is 
Dickinson like this poet? How is she different? 

Listen to Aaron Copland's musical treatment 
of several Dickinson poems including "Because 
I could not stop for Death -." Dickinson loved 
music and was a reasonably accomplished 
pianist In what ways can Dickinson be 
considered a musical poet? What poetic 
devices does she use to bring musicality to her 

I 4 • THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

A glossary of some of the poetic terms used in the lessons is listed below.' 

Allusion: A brief, sometimes indirect reference in a 
text to a person, place, or thing. 

Biographical criticism: The practice of analyzing a 
literary work by using knowledge of the author's 
life to gain insight. 

Diction: Word choice or vocabulary in a particular 

Fixed form: Traditional verse forms that require 
certain predetermined structural elements of 
meter, rhythm, and rhyme, such as sonnets or 

Foot: The basic unit of measurement in poetry. 
Different meters are identified by the pattern 
and order of stressed and unstressed syllables in 
its metrical feet. A foot is usually two or three 
syllables, depending on the meter. 

Free verse: From the French vers libre, free verse 
describes poetry that organizes its lines without 
meter. It is not usually rhymed. 

Historical criticism: The practice of analyzing a 
literary work by investigating the social, cultural, 
and intellectual context around it. 

Meter. A systematic, rhythmic pattern of stresses 
in verse. 

Paradox: A statement that at first seems 
contradictory, but on reflection reveals some 
deeper sense. 

Persona: The Latin word for "mask." A fictitious 
speaker created by the poet. 

Rhyme scheme: The pattern of rhyme in an 
individual poem or a fixed form. A rhyme 
scheme is transcribed with lower-case letters 
representing each end rhyme — a for the first 
rhyme, b for the second, and so on. 

Rhythm: The pattern of stresses and pauses in a 

Scansion: A method of notation that measures 
rhythms in a poem. Scansion separates the 
metrical feet, counts the syllables, marks the 
accented ones, and indicates the pauses. Scansion 
helps the reader understand a poet's choice of 
rhythm, verse length, and sound. 

Stanza: A unit of two or more lines of verse 
with space breaks before and after. The stanza is 
poetry's equivalent to a paragraph in prose. 

Stress (or accent): A greater amount of force 
given to one syllable in speaking than is given to 

Theme: The central thought or idea of the poem. 
Short poems might have only a single theme 
while longer, complex works can contain multiple 

All literary definitions, both here and in the lessons, are taken from An Introduction to Poetry 1 1 Ith edition t. edited by X J Kennedy and 
Dana Gioia. or Handbook of Literary Terms, edited by X J Kennedy. Dana doia. and Mark BaueHem (2005) 

National Endowment ror tin 



Emily Dickinson and the Victorian 
"Woman Question" 

When Mary Wollstonecraft published A 
Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, 
women were still confined by law and custom 
to the domestic, "private" sphere, in contrast to 
the professional, "public" sphere of men. By the 
time Queen Victoria took the throne of England 
in 1837, this so-called "woman question" — what 
is a woman's proper place in society? — was 
hotly debated by many politicians, theologians, 
educators, and writers. 

A king in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The 
Princess" (1847) succinctly summarizes the 
viewpoint of many Victorians: "Man for the field 
and woman for the hearth: / Man for the sword 
and for the needle she; / Man with the head and 
woman with the heart, / Man to command and 
woman to obey." Yet women were denied basic 
liberties even in the domestic sphere. For example, 
women had no legal rights to their own children 
until 1839 when Parliament passed the Custody 
of Infants Act, allowing a divorced mother to 
obtain custody. It took until 1882 for the Married 
Women's Property Act to pass, giving women the 
right to keep pre-existing land and money in their 
own names. 

Throughout the nineteenth century, the proper 
education for women in England and America 
comprised music, languages, art, and needlework. 
An important milestone came in 1837 when 
Mount Holyoke College was founded in South 
Hadley, Massachusetts, and the school's principal, 
Mary Lyon, decided to teach her female students 
traditionally "masculine" subjects such as 
mathematics, botany, theology, rhetoric, logic, 
chemistry, and astronomy. This pioneering 

opportunity in women's education enabled 
Emily Dickinson to receive a uniquely privileged 
education. This successful "experiment" also led 
several universities to open their doors to women 
or create colleges especially for them, although 
women sometimes could not earn formal degrees. 

The "woman question" was especially pointed in 
literary circles, where women remained subordinate 
in the mid-nineteenth century. In England, 
writers Charlotte Bronte and Mary Ann Evans 
used pen names — Currer Bell and George Eliot, 
respectively — to avoid public censure for the 
radical ideas and passionate heroines described in 
their novels, especially Jane Eyre (1847) and The 
Mill on the Floss (1860). Greater barriers existed for 
female poets, since the genre of poetry traditionally 
belonged to men. A notable exception to Victorian 
prejudice against women writers was Elizabeth 
Barrett Browning, whose life and poetry deeply 
influenced Dickinson. In Barrett Browning's 
radical verse-novel, Aurora Leigh (1857), the poet- 
heroine refuses to renounce her artistic ambition, 
when the man she loves expects her to give up her 
writing to become his helpmeet. 

In America, it was even harder for women writers 
to publish and succeed. The young United 
States was slower to address women's rights than 
England. In an age that looked down upon women 
"scribblers," and as the daughter of parents who 
did not fully understand her intellectual pursuits, 
Dickinson may have composed such poems as "I 
dwell in Possibility -" and "They shut me up in 
Prose" — both written in 1862 — to express her own 

I 6 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 


Wild Legacies 

by Diane Thiel 

Dickinson's love poems are not the ones most often 
chosen to represent her, but they reveal complex 
aspects to her work. Much speculation exists about 
whether an actual relationship inspired these 
poems. While biographical matters are always 
interesting, it is even more important to recognize 
a writer's life of the mind, for the work of a writer 
often addresses aspects of a life that has been 
imagined or a life re-invented. The poems "Wild 
nights - Wild nights!" and "You left me - Sire - 
two Legacies -" are both seemingly simple poems, 
emblematic of Dickinson's compressed style, each 
offering a compelling example of Dickinsons love 
poetry with their expressions of deep") longing and 
the "Boundaries of Pain" that accompany loss or 
un fulfillment. 

"Wild nights - Wild nights!" is a love poem of 
intense longing. Perhaps the most evocative aspect 
of the poem is the way the speaker yearns for the 
wild experience of love and passion. The poem 
might be read as the expression of longing for a low- 
that can bring the speaker's "Heart in port." Yet, 
the words also reveal the craving for wild abandon 
or luxury. 

The poem's final lines encourage one to read and 
re-read the poem. The final word "thee" invites 
multiple interpretations. Is "thee" the apparent 
beloved ill the poem, or is she addressing the sea? 
K the speaker asking to be moored in the sc.i? It 
seems .is it the speaker, drawn to the wild nature 
of the Sea and the beloved, wants to be "mooted 
in this wildness. The poem has .in overtly erotic 
quality, from the desire tor "wild nights" in the fust 
line to the wish to "moor tonight / In thee! in 
the List. 

These layered possibilities occur in much of 
Dickinson's poetry, and take the reader of even a 
short poem through often unexpected turns. "You 
left me - Sire - two Legacies - portrays, in a few 
lines, the legacies of loving someone, describing 
the intensity of feeling that can barely be captured 
in words. But when intense love ends, whether by 
death or separation, another legacy remains. 

I he language in "You left me - Sire - two 
Legacies -" is simple but abstract, but the intensity 
is both deeply personal and universal. While the 
poem seems to speak about a romantic affair. 
it could also be interpreted as referring to any 
relationship that has left the legacies of love and 
loss. The intensity of such a love is summed up 
emphatically in the first stanza, a devotion that 
would "suffice" even .1 "1 leavenry lather. I he- 
second stan/a speaks to the nearly inevitable loss 
that follows. As in "Wild nights Wild nights!, 
Dickinson also evokes the sea in this poem. While 
"Wild nights - Wild nights! seems to cast the 
sea as wild and erotic. "Vbu left me - Sire - two 
I egacies emphasizes the vast nature of the sea 
and connects it to the incalculable pain that such 
,1 loss of love leaves behind. I he final lines ol this 
poem also otter multiple meanings, .is one might 
understand the sc.i to lx- the divide thai now cv 
between the two. 

Dickinsons ability to capture such mtensitx 

emotion is emblematic ol her spare, oompi 
highly charged style I hese short poems highlight 
Dickinson .is .1 poet who wnu itiveh about 

love. In |ust .1 tew words and lines, she traverses the 
scope ot longing, realization of love, and the lay* 
leg.u ies it lean 1 

National Endowment for th. the big read • 17 


Dickinson's Final Sorrows 

In a letter of 1883, Emily Dickinson declared that 
"The Crisis of the sorrow of so many years is all 
that tires me." Later she cited a line from one of her 
favorite poems: "As Emily Bronte to her Maker, I 
write to my Lost 'Every Existence would exist in 
thee - V' 1 

The darkest season of Dickinson's life began 
after her mother's death in 1882, followed by the 
death of her eight-year-old nephew Gilbert from 
typhoid fever in 1883. After this, she wrote to his 
mother: "I see him in the Star, and meet his sweet 
velocity in everything that flies — His Life was 
like the Bugle, which winds itself away, his Elegy 
an echo - his Requiem ecstasy -." Dickinson's 
posthumous editor, Thomas H. Johnson, claimed 
that "no death during Emily Dickinson's lifetime 
more deeply shocked and grieved her" for "with 
his departure went a certain inner light." Her final 
"poems" more closely resemble fragments, although 
she continued faithfully writing letters to many 
family members and close friends. 

One such friend who sustained her toward the 
end of her life was Judge Otis Phillips Lord, who 
had been one of her father's closest associates. 
He pursued a romance with Dickinson after the 
death of his wife. Although Dickinson loved him, 
she refused his marriage proposal. Lord's death 
from a stroke, only six months after Gilbert's, led 
Dickinson to write the following short fragment: 

Each that we lose takes part of us; 

A crescent still abides, 

Which like the moon, some turbid night, 

Is summoned by the tides. 

1 "Every Existence would exist in thee" is a line from Emily Bronte's poem "No coward soul is mine." 

This Dickinson line clearly refers to a line in the New Testament epistle of First Timothy: "For I know whom I have believed, and am 
persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (1:12). 

In June 1884, Dickinson suffered a second 
"nervous prostration" and never fully recovered. 
Intimations of immortality haunted Dickinson 
until the end, and from her earliest poetry to 
her final letters, a central theme emerges — what 
she identified as her "flood subject": immortality. 
In a letter dated November 19, 1884, she confessed 
that "to 'know in whom' we 'have believed,' 
is Immortality." 2 

That final day came for her on May 15, 1886. 
Despite her inability to "declare for Christ" during 
her year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, 
despite her failure to "keep the Sabbath going to 
Church," Dickinson wrestled with God to the 
end. One of her last letters to Thomas Wentworth 
Higginson ended with a citation from the Genesis 
32 story of Jacob's fight with the Angel: " 'I will 
not let thee go except I bless thee' — Pugilist and 
Poet, Jacob was correct -." This was a story she 
had dramatized earlier in the poem "A little East 
of Jordan." Dickinson's faith conformed neither 
to Calvinist orthodoxies nor to the fashions of 
Amherst, which makes Bronte's poem — which 
Higginson read at Dickinson's funeral — even 
more poignant: 

No coward soul is mine 

No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere 

I see Heaven's glories shine 

And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear . . . 

I 8 ' THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

The Poetry of Emily Dickinson 

Biographies and Literary Criticism 

Collected Poetry 

The three-volume Variorum Edition of The Poems of Emily 
Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin (Cambridge, MA: 
The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1998), is the 
most reliable edition of Dickinson's collected poems. The 
paperback "Reading Edition" of this collection is suggested 
for teachers, librarians, and the general reader (Cambridge, 
MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). 

Selected Poetry 

Recommended editions include Final Harvest, edited by 
Thomas H. Johnson (New York: Back Bay Books, 1964); 
The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson (New York: Modern 
Library, 2004), which includes an introduction by Billy 
Collins; and Essential Dickinson (New York: Ecco, 1 996), 
which includes an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates. 

Most poems used in this guide are on the Poetry 
Foundation's Poetry Tool: 
A biography and bibliography are also available there. 

Farr, Judith, with Louise Carter. The Gardens of Emily 
Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2004. 

Farr, Judith. The Passion of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge. MA 
Harvard University Press, 1 992. 

Habegger, Alfred. My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life 
of Emily Dickinson. New York: Modern Library, 2001. 

Longsworth, Polly. The World of Emily Dickinson: A Visual 
Biography. New York: Norton, 1 990. 

Lundin, Roger. Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief Grand 
Rapids, Ml: Eerdmans, 1998. 

Martin, Wendy, ed. The Cambndge Companion to Emily 
Dickinson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 

Pollak, Vivian R. A Histoncal Guide to Emily D<kmson. Oxford: 
Oxford University Press. 2004. 

Sewall, Richard B. The Ufe of Emily Dickinson Cambndge. 
MA: Harvard University Press. 1998 (Originally published 
by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1974) 

Emily Dickinson's Letters 

Johnson, Thomas H., ed. Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters. 
1 958. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard 
University Press, 1986. 


Copland. Aaron. Ejgin Poems of Emily Dickinson for Voce and 
Oiamber Orchestra. New York: Boosey and Hawkes. 1 970 


Luce. William The BeOe of Amherst A Play based on the Ufe of 
Emily Dickinson Boston Houghton Mifflin. 1976 

National 1 ndowmeni t<u the- \us 


National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards' 

1 . Students read a wide range of print and 
non-print texts to build an understanding of 
texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of 
the United States and the world; to acquire 
new information; to respond to the needs 
and demands of society and the workplace; 
and for personal fulfillment. Among these 
texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and 
contemporary works. 

2. Students read a wide range of literature from 
many periods in many genres to build an 
understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., 
philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human 

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies 
to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and 
appreciate texts. They draw on their prior 
experience, their interactions with other 
readers and writers, their knowledge of 
word meaning and of other texts, their 
word identification strategies, and their 
understanding of textual features (e.g., sound- 
letter correspondence, sentence structure, 
context, graphics). 

4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, 
and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, 
vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a 
variety of audiences and for different purposes. 

5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as 
they write and use different writing process 
elements appropriately to communicate with 
different audiences for a variety of purposes. 

6. Students apply knowledge of language 
structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling 
and punctuation), media techniques, figurative 
language, and genre to create, critique, and 
discuss print and non-print texts. 

7. Students conduct research on issues and 
interests by generating ideas and questions, and 
by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and 
synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., 
print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to 
communicate their discoveries in ways that suit 
their purpose and audience. 

8. Students use a variety of technological and 
information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, 
computer networks, video) to gather and 
synthesize information and to create and 
communicate knowledge. 

9. Students develop an understanding of and 
respect for diversity in language use, patterns, 
and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, 
geographic regions, and social roles. 

10. Students whose first language is not English 
make use of their first language to develop 
competency in the English language arts and to 
develop understanding of content across the 

1 1 . Students participate as knowledgeable, 
reflective, creative, and critical members of a 
variety of literacy communities. 

12. Students use spoken, written, and visual 
language to accomplish their own purposes 
(e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and 
the exchange of information). 

* This guide was developed with NCTE Standards and State Language Arts Standards in mind. Use these standards to guide and develop 
your application of the curriculum. 


National Endowment for the Arts 


I find ecstasy in living — the mere 
sense of living is joy enough." 


in conversation with, and recounted by, 

Thomas Wentworth Higginson. 1870 


There is no Frigate like a Book 

To take us Lands away 

Nor any Coursers like a Page 

Of prancing Poetry - 

This Traverse may the poorest take 

Without oppress of Toll - 

How frugal is the Chariot 

That bears the Human Soul -" 


The Big Read is an initiative of the National 
Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading 
to the center of American culture. The NEA presents 
The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of 
Museum and Library Services and in cooperation 
with Arts Midwest. 

A great nation deserves great art. 

'•«• . -INSTITUTE of ., 

•;.'.. MuseurrUndLbrary