Many of Dickinson’s poems anticipate the associative structure and indirection of twentieth-century modernism, but the most compelling of them often contain suggested or incomplete stories. This remnant of narrative is also a symptom of Dickinson’s obsession with Christian teleology. The flickering promise (or threat) of the Christian narrative tilts the poems toward cosmic significance and risk while allowing for our common inability to take in the fact of death, the end of our own stories. Comparing several of Dickinson’s poems to poems by Walt Whitman and Charles Wright, Mayer argues that Dickinson’s use of incomplete narratives allows an intimacy that is her own along with the philosophical reach the poets have in common. Both qualities are epitomized in her endless interrogation of the Christian narrative, which, in contrast to Whitman’s Zen-like non-resistance and the cool evanescence of Wright’s modernism, forces an acknowledgement of our necessary limitations.


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pp. 1-23
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