HUMS 356, Interpretations - Emily Dickinson

Meeting Time: 

Course Description:

Emily Dickinson is widely recognized as one of the most original and challenging poets ever to write poetry. In this seminar we will close-read a wide range of her poems, seeking to understand tensions that run throughout her work, between feeling and intellect, chaos and control, power and passivity, things hidden and revealed, ecstasy and despair, life and death. We will also locate Dickinson in her historical moment and in relation to important precursors and sources of literary influence, including the King James Bible, English Romantic poetry, and the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Attention will be paid to Dickinson’s identity as a woman writing within and against an inherited tradition of male poets and thinkers, as well as to the unique materiality and process of Dickinson’s approach to composition. 

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Riley Soles's picture

Professor Riley Soles

Riley Parker Soles is currently a Lecturer in the Humanities Program where he works on poetry and religion in a variety of cultural contexts. Previously, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music (2019-2021). He attended Harvard College (BA, 2005) and Harvard Divinity School (MTS, 2008) and earned his PhD from Yale’s East Asian Languages and Literatures Department in 2018. His dissertation, titled The Ecstasy of the Text, won the Marsten Anderson Prize for exceptional work in the field of East Asian Studies. At Yale, Soles has taught a variety of courses across several departments and programs, including Religious Studies, East Asian Studies, Comparative Literature, the Humanities Program, and Directed Studies. His book manuscript, based on his dissertation, traces the influence of ecstatic experience on a variety of literary and religious texts, both Western and Eastern. Soles has written and lectured on the relationship between literature, religion, and philosophy using a wide range of materials, from classical Japanese poetry, Buddhist scriptures, and Chinese Buddhist commentaries, to the works of Franz Kafka, the poetry of John Milton, and philosophical treatises on the Sublime. He is particularly interested in the ways poetic tropes transform between poems over time, and in the ways poetic texts create their own ontologies. 

Soles reads, understands, and teaches poetry as if the stakes were life itself. He believes it is essential both to possess and to be possessed by poems, and his students are usually required to memorize and recite some amount of poetry in his classes. His most recent offerings include courses on religious ecstasy, visionary poetry, and the Sublime.