Print vs. Manuscript

July 15, 2020

I love Emily Dickinson’s poetry, and I loved using her poems in the classroom. Another of my favorite lessons was comparing the printed version of a poem with the manuscript version. (Harvard’s Emily Dickinson Archive provides open access to the manuscripts.) The goal is to illustrate writing as a process and to encourage discussion about the role publishing plays in our understanding of a literary text. Dickinson’s manuscripts provide numerous illuminating examples to share with students, such as “After great pain, a formal feeling comes –” (Fr372) and “Of Bronze – and Blaze –” (Fr319). In “After great pain,” Dickinson has written a number next to each line in the second stanza’s first four lines, indicating that she possibly preferred a different line sequence. This is a useful way of showing students how changing the order of lines can change the poem’s flow and meaning. “Of Bronze – and Blaze –” is helpful in discussing the power of diction. In the manuscript, below “Daisies” in the final line, Dickinson has written “Beetles.” Many wonderful discussions stemmed from asking students which they preferred—beetles or daisies?

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