"The Dead, the dead, the dead" : encountering loss in Civil War poetry
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] This Master's thesis presents a detailed examination of the ways in which Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman struggled to incorporate the Civil War's mass death into their respective poetic oeuvres, ultimately arguing that these three now-canonical poets attempt to know the realities of death on the deepest levels possible. In the process, the author argues, they "actually complicate any fully comprehensible understanding of death" and they thus diverge quite radically from other poems widely circulated during the war that instead present human suffering and loss in ideologically comforting terms. Melville, Dickinson, and Whitman choose to dwell in human loss and thus they "scope out a new facet of death that, by hovering between the comprehensible and the incomprehensible, actually transforms poetic language itself, especially as that language remains political." Relying upon Susan Stewart's conception of poetry as a force of world-making in her 2002 book Poetry and the Fate of the Senses as well as Sigmund Freud's essay "Mourning and Melancholia" and Judith Butler's work on "Violence, Mourning, and Politics," this thesis reveals how these poets defied ideologically-fueled frameworks for presenting human loss as necessary for national unification and as a divinely sanctioned occurrence. Instead, they dwell in loss, showing us how it remains, ultimately, a component of the human experience that remains inscrutable and that therefore resists appropriation within national ideologies.
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