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"If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?" A rhetorical question, for Emily Dickinson, the lyric poet sometimes known as the New England mystic, knew there was no other way. She spent her life creating an opus of 1,775 poems, only ten of which were published in her lifetime.
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), poet and novelist, explored her obsessions with death, self, and nature in works that expressed her ambivalent attitudes toward the universe. Sylvia Plath was born in Boston's Memorial Hospital on October 27, 1932, to Aurelia and Otto Plath. Otto, who was a biology professor and a well-respected authority on entomology at Boston University, would later figure as a major image of persecution in his daughter's best known poems--"Daddy," "The Colossus," and "Lady Lazarus."
"I didn't know the upper class Negroes well enough to write much about them. I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren't the people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too." Born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri, Langston Hughes was for several decades the most popular Black American writer in the U.S. He died on May 22, 1967, in New York City.
Rainer Marie Rilke
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is considered the greatest lyric poet of modern Germany. His work is marked by a mystical sense of God and death. Born in Prague on Dec. 4, 1875, Rainer Maria Rilke grew up in a middle-class milieu he called "petit bourgeois," of which he later felt ashamed. In spite of his sensitive, almost feminine nature, he was expected to become an army officer and was forced to spend 5 years (1886-1891) in the military academies of St. Pölten and Mährisch-Weisskirchen.
Anne Dudley Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672) was a Puritan poet whose work portrays a deeply felt experience of American colonial life. She was the daughter and wife of Massachusetts governors. Anne Dudley, born about 1612 probably in Northampton, England, grew up in the cultivated household of the Earl of Lincoln, where her father, Thomas Dudley, was steward. Tutored by her father and availing herself of the extensive library, she was highly educated. Her later work reveals familiarity with Plutarch, Du Bartas, Sir Walter Raleigh, Quarles, Sidney, Spenser, perhaps Shakespeare, and, of course, the Bible.
The American poet Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962) presented romantic attitudes in technically experimental verse. His poems are not only ideas but crafted physical objects which, in their nonlogical structure, grant fresh perspectives into reality. In his publications E. E. Cummings always gave his name in lowercase letters without punctuation (e e cummings); this was part of his concern for the typography, syntax, and visual form of his poetry.
Phillis Wheatley (ca. 1753-1784), the first African American woman poet, was a celebrated literary figure in Boston during the Revolutionary era. In 1761, a frail child of seven or eight years, Phillis Wheatley came to America by slaveship from Senegal and was auctioned to Mrs. John Wheatley, wife of a prosperous Boston tailor. The Wheatleys and their children, Mary and Nathaniel, found Phillis, as they named her, highly intelligent and responsive. Mary taught Phillis to read and write.
Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963) was an intentionally American and traditionalist poet in an age of internationalized and experimental art. He used New England idioms, characters, and settings, recalling the roots of American culture, to get at universal experience. Robert Frost was born in San Francisco on March 26, 1874. His father came from prerevolutionary Maine and New Hampshire stock but hated New England because the Civil War it had supported had robbed his own father of employment in the cotton mill economy.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is generally considered to be the most important American poet of the 19th century. He wrote in free verse, relying heavily on the rhythms of native American speech. In all, over a 37-year period, Walt Whitman published nine separate editions of his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass. The final, 1892 edition, is the one familiar to readers today. He has strongly influenced the direction of 20th-century American poets, especially Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and, most recently, Allen Ginsberg and other "beat" poets.
A leading contemporary American poet and the first black writer to be honored with a Pulitzer Prize, Gwendolyn Brooks was acclaimed for her technically accomplished and powerful portraits of black urban life. Throughout a career that spanned six decades and included both poetry and fiction, the prolific Brooks was noted for her carefully wrought and insightful portraits of everyday black life, in which she illuminated racism, poverty, interracial prejudice, and personal alienation.