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Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

The Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts

The Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts (garden)

The Evergreens – the home of Emily’s brother Austin and her sister-in-law Susan.

The Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts (bedroom)

The Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts (Dress

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)
(1) Life A. She was born in a Puritan’s family. Her father was a famous lawyer. B. She received college education. C. She lived a leisure and simple life and kept single all her life. She enjoyed gardening and writing and tried to avoid visitors. (Her life style is similar with Jane Austen’s.) D. She wrote 1775 poems, but only seven of them published in her life time. E. Before her death, she asked her sister to burn all her poems. However, her sister published those beautiful poems.

(2) Her life story
Emily Dickinson , born in Amherst, Massachusetts on Dec. 10, 1830, was the best poetess American ever created. She was a daughter of a prominent lawyer and politician. She did not receive much formal education but read widely at home. Actually, during the narrow span of her lifetime, she kept staying at home except for a few short trips to Boston or Philadelphia. Emily Dickinson was a witty woman, sensitive, full of humanity and with a genius for poetry. While she was living in almost total seclusion, she wrote in secret whatever she was able to feel, to see, to hear and whatever she was able to imagine. She wrote whenever and wherever. Although she guarded her poems even from her family, 1775 poems were discovered and published after her death. However, as the only noteworthy woman poet in American literature of the 19th century, she had only seven of her poems published during her lifetime, and it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that her genius was widely recognized.

(3) Analysis of Her
A. Strong influence of Puritanism on her thought (pessimism and tragic tone of her poems) B. Care about death and immortality (1/3 of all her poems talked about these two themes.) C. exploring human’s inner world (psychology description in her poems) D. severe economy of expression E. original images F. direct and plain language G. great influence on the Imagist Movement in the 20th century

(4) Features of Her Poems
1. In subject matter Emily Dickinson was very similar to the great romantic poets of her time. Her poems are short, many of them being based on a single image or symbol. But within her little lyrics she wrote about some of the most important things in life: love, nature, morality and immortality. She wrote about success, which she thought she never achieved; and she wrote about failure, which she considered her constant companion. She wrote of these things so brilliantly that she is now ranked as one of American’s greatest poets.

(4) Features of Her Poems
2. Poetry is for Dickinson a means to attain pleasure, away to preach her doctrine, and a medium to express her world outlook, an outlet for her despair and a remedy to pacify her soul. Her life experience fostered her belief as an existentialist as well as a great poet.

(4) Features of Her Poems
3. Despite her seclusion of life, Emily Dickinson covered a wide range of subjects in poetry. Her favorite subjects are love, death or natural beauty. In her writing she wrote about life and death, expecting to understand the meaning of life by understanding the meaning of death.

(4) Features of Her Poems
4. Living in the 19th century, a comparatively religious era, she did not belong to any organized religion. However, she wrote of God, man and nature; she probed into the spiritual unrest of man and often doubted about the existence and benevolence of God, because she felt that wild nature was her church and she was able to converse directly with God there.

(4) Features of Her Poems
5. Emily Dickinson was a poet who could express feelings of deepest poignancy in terms of the true and wide saying, often in an aphoristc style. Her gemlike poems are all very short, but fresh and original, marked by the vigor of her images, the daring of her thought and the beauty of her expression.

(4) Features of Her Poems

6. Emily Dickinson wrote in the conventional metrical form, though she did not always strictly observes the rules of versification.

(4) Features of Her Poems
7. Emily Dickinson defamiliarised conventional poetic form, deliberately overusing capitalization and deahes, to make her poems looking strange. In some way, she is very much similar to the style of John Donne.

(5) Selected Poems:
Because I Could Not Stop for Death I Heard a Fly Buzz---When I Died My Life Closed Twice before Its Close As Imperceptibly as Grief Mine---by the Right of the White Election Wild Nights---Wild Nights A Narrow Fellow in the Grass Apparently with No Surprise I Died for Beauty---but Was Scarce Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant I Like to See It Lap the Miles The Brain---Is Wider than the Sky

Because I Could Not Stop for Death
Stanza 1: The angel of death, in the image of a kind person, comes in a carriage for the sake of Immortality and the poet. Stanza 2: To show my politeness to god of death, I gave up my work and my enjoyment of life as well; I give up my life. Stanza 3: The journey of our carriage implied the experience of human life; school implies time of childhood; the fields of gazing grain, for youth and adulthood; while the setting sun, for old age. Stanza 4: Probably we may say the sun sets before we reach the destination---the night falls, death arrives. I felt a fear and chilly after death, for my shroud is thin and my scarf too light. Despite the description of “death”, the usual gloomy and horrifying atmosphere is lightened by the poetess with the elegantly fluttering clothing she describes. Stanza 5. Several centuries had passed since the arriveal of death upon me. However, I felt it is shorter than a day. On that day I suddenly realized that death is the starting point for eternity, and the carriage is heading towards it.

Comment on the poem
The poem is discussing death, a very gloomy subject, but it is done with a rather light tone. The tone is light just because the author does not take death as a catastrophe; instead, she treats the angel of death as a very polite gentleman, as a long-missing guest, giving up her work and leisure, putting on her fine silky dresses, she accompanies death in the same carriage to eternity. All the beauty of this work lies in the poetess’ openminded attitude towards death.

I Heard a Fly Buzz---When I Died
Stanza 1: When I was dying, I heard the buzz of a fly which reminded me of the stillness in the air. Stanza 2: Before the absolute power of death, I was helpless, so were my relatives and friends. They could do nothing more than gathering around me, tearless and breathless, and watching the arrival of death to me. Stanza 3: When I was abandoning this material world, a fly comes to me.

Comment on the poem
This poem is the description of the moment of death. The poetess made use of a very strange image of a fly to symbolize her last touch with the human world and, moreover, the perspective of a decaying corpse. The fly appeared as something which is able to fly between the two worlds of life and death. Besides, the word “fly” is very cleverly used in the work. On the one hand, it refers to that insect; on the other hand, it may indicate “free flying”. Before death, the “fly” was buzzing around, I hear it; after death, it may lead me to go far and forever, I am flying. The fly is inconsequently, of little importance---implying perhaps that death is the same.

Because I Could Not Stop for Death
Stanza 1: The angel of death, in the image of a kind person, comes in a carriage for the sake of Immortality and the poet. Stanza 2: To show my politeness to god of death, I gave up my work and my enjoyment of life as well; I give up my life. Stanza 3: The journey of our carriage implied the experience of human life; school implies time of childhood; the fields of gazing grain, for youth and adulthood; while the setting sun, for old age. Stanza 4: Probably we may say the sun sets before we reach the destination---the night falls, death arrives. I felt a fear and chilly after death, for my shroud is thin and my scarf too light. Despite the description of “death”, the usual gloomy and horrifying atmosphere is lightened by the poetess with the elegantly fluttering clothing she describes. Stanza 5. Several centuries had passed since the arrival of death upon me. However, I felt it is shorter than a day. On that day I suddenly realized that death is the starting point for eternity, and the carriage is heading towards it.

Comment on the poem
The poem is discussing death, a very gloomy subject, but it is done with a rather light tone. The tone is light just because the author does not take death as a catastrophe; instead, she treats the angel of death as a very polite gentleman, as a long-missing guest, giving up her work and leisure, putting on her fine silky dresses, she accompanies death in the same carriage to eternity. All the beauty of this work lies in the poetess’ openminded attitude towards death.


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