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Sagaser, Elizabeth Harris: "'DEVOURING TIME,' DEATH, & 'ALL OBLIVIOUS ENMITY' versus Emily, Will, you & me" or (alternative title): "Hearing with Eyes: Reader Engagement in Dickinson & Shakespeare's Sonnets" UPDATED

'DEVOURING TIME,' DEATH, & 'ALL OBLIVIOUS ENMITY' versus Emily, Will, you & me (or, alternative title): Hearing with Eyes: Reader Engagement in Dickinson & Shakespeare's Sonnets

Elizabeth H. Sagaser, Colby College

Dickinson, a poet whose words engage readers so powerfully that it is no stretch to call her a "world citizen," was herself deeply engaged in reading Shakespeare, a poet who wrote with the explicit goal of engaging readers, actors and audiences. Shakespeare could not have succeeded in hardscrabble Elizabethan and Jacobean London if his verse did not rouse and captivate the ear from the get-go. Nor would he have succeeded if those words did not continue to resound meaningfully in the minds of hearers and readers. It is thus logical and enticing to compare in Shakespeare and Dickinson those elements of craft-- rhetorical, aural, performative--that foster reader engagement. I focus on the Sonnets, which have received less critical attention in Dickinson studies than the plays. Particularly, I introduce my work on those Shakespeare sonnets that challenge, develop, and recast the 'eternizing conceit,' the conventional claim in many Renaissance lyric poems that the poem will itself grant the beloved other immortality, or at least ensure the beloved's virtues and beauty will be known to future generations. We can be quite sure Dickinson did not read casually poems by her revered Shakespeare that confront boldly her own flood topics--death, poetry, immortality. Several Dickinson poems in fact seem to test, extend, challenge, demonstrate or revise Shakespeare's 'eternizing-conceit' sonnets; the resonance in many involves representations of and/or appeals to future readers, including aural appeals in finely woven sound patterns including what I call 'sound chiasmus.' These patterns engage readers like a seductive, subliminal music even while they are engaged by the tension between speech rhythms and abstract pattern.