Differences Between Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson
Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson’s works have numerous differences. Compared to Dickinson’s short and seemingly simple poems, Whitman’s are long and often complex. Both pioneered their own unique style of writing. Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson both have been hailed as original and unique artists. They each have distinctive voices that many have attempted to replicate and have been unable to do so. Whitman wrote in epic like proportions; he developed his own rhythmic structure, creating complex lines and stanzas.
Whitman’s style of free verse become synonymous with his name and works, and helped distinguish him as a great American poet. By using free verse poetry, Whitman tore down the boundary and structure of traditional poetry with the rhythm of cadence, allowing all types of people to use poetry as a form of expression. Whitman’s poems tend to run on and on; there was no set length for his poems, stanzas, or even lines. Dickinson, on the other hand, wrote poems with a definite structure.
She wrote ballad stanzas, which were four line stanzas alternating in iambic tetrameter and trimeter.
So the structure of their poems is very different. Another difference between their poetry is the use of rhyme. As with structure, Whitman’s poetry has no rhyme. In this way Whitman also breaks from tradition. Dickinson’s poems, unlike Whitman’s, made use of slant rhyme. This is the use of near or approximate rhymes, and is a relatively modern idea. So this is yet another way in which they differ in style. First, the most forthcoming evidence of their differences would be the structure that the poets use to express themselves through. Whitman uses free verse in his poems.
A clear representation of this is any excerpt from “Song of Myself”. This poem has a set rhythm, but no definite rhyme scheme. “The Yankee clipper is under her sky-sails, she cuts the sparkle and scud, / My eyes settle the land, I bend at her prow or shout joyously from the deck. ” (Whitman- “Song of Myself 10. ” lines 6-7) This makes the poem less appealing to read but leaves a lot more room for expression from the author. Dickinson, however, uses well planned out short lines of rhymes. Her poems don’t usually consist of many more than 6 words per line and are written in verse.
This gives each poem an easier pattern and flow to comprehend. These poems may not sound as sophisticated, but are equally brilliant. “If you were coming in the Fall, / I’d brush the Summer by / With half a smile, and half a spurn, / As Housewives do a fly. ” (Dickinson- “If you were coming… His preoccupation with sex, the human body, and numerous other “taboo” subjects, changed the American publics view of poetry. Dickinson’s works are just as unique, due mainly to her odd placement of punctuation, unusual grammar, and simplicity of language.
Her lines end abruptly, outwardly innocuous words are often capitalized, and her tendency to write meters typical of hymnals all distinguishes her from other writers Although they were both Romantics, Whitman and Dickinson were so different from each other. Whitman grew up reading a myriad amount of literary works, including Homer’s Odyssey and the Bible. His poetry is reflective of the works he read in his early years. Dickinson, on the other hand, learned how to read and write in a time period of male authority. Her poetry is metaphysical, and expressive of her soul.
Together, Whitman and Dickinson marked a turning point in American poetry. In the poem, “Song of Myself,” Whitman opens with an oceanic scene of a skipper who struggles to save the weary passengers of a sinking ship that is hit by a violent storm. As the skipper watches the wrath of the storm, Whitman uses personification to bring life out of the scene. “How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of the steam-ship, and Death chasing it up and down the storm” (Whitman 1). The death that chases the ship up and down the storm is the waves that relentlessly crash against the hull.
In the same way that death is the end of life, the wrath of the waves is the end of the passengers. When the skipper cannot bear the tragic scene no more, and decides to save all the stricken passengers, Whitman uses a Biblical allusion to add a deeper meaning to the skipper’s heroic act. “How he follow’d them and tack’d with them three days and would not give it up, how he saved the drifting company at last” (Whitman 1). The skipper’s strife to save the drifting passengers for three days is an allusion to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Bible, Jesus dies to save mankind from sin, and resurrects three days later.
Whitman uses this Biblical allusion to bring the skipper up to the level of Jesus Christ, making the two saviors equal. As the skipper looks onward at the faces of the survivors, Whitman applies imagery to describe the passengers. “How the silent old-faced infants and the lifted sick, and the sharp-lipp’d unshaved men” (Whitman 1). The passengers that survive the ship wreck are no longer the same people that stepped foot on that ship. The image of old babies doesn’t describe their age, but their sense of maturity, even though babies cannot be mature.
Likewise, the image of the sharp-lipp’d unshaved men doesn’t describe their lips and hair, but their burden of being unable to save their own families from the storm, even though that is the duty of a father. At first, it may seem as if the skipper is the sole hero in the poem, but that is not the case. Through “Song of Myself,” Whitman illustrates that a hero is not defined by an act of salvation, but rather by the hardship a person endures. The skipper and the survivors of the shipwreck are all heroes, because they endure a hardship nobody knows.
The skipper endures the hardship of saving each passenger and the passengers endure the waves of the violent storm. Their endurance through troubling times is what counts them as heroes. In the poem, “Success is Counted Sweetest,” Dickinson centers all attention on an ambitious soldier who comes close to victory, but fails to grasp it in his hands. As the soldier lays wounded on the ground, Dickinson uses taste to interact the reader’s senses with the moment. “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed” (Dickinson 1). Something that is sweet tastes very good, because it creates a very pleasing sensation.
In the same way that a candy bar is sweet, success is also sweet because it feels good. However, Dickinson expresses that success is sweetest to those who almost reach it. Victory means the most to the wounded soldier because he comes so close to winning, but ends up losing. It’s as if he can almost taste victory, but his tongue never touches it. When the dying soldier sees the opposing army in victory, Dickinson adds irony to apply a deeper meaning to the poem. “Not one of all the purple Host who took the flag today can tell the definition so clear of victory” (Dickinson 1).
The army that has the flag is the army that wins the battle. However, Dickinson expresses that the victorious army does not know the true definition of victory. This is ironic, because the one that wins should be able to describe victory, and the one that loses should be able to describe failure. It is not the other way around. As the soldier and his comrades listen to the sound of the other side’s victory, Dickson uses imagery to end the scene. “As he defeated – dying – on whose forbidden ear the distant strains of triumph burst agonized and clear” (Dickinson 1).
The solider is dying on the ground from his battle wounds and he is in complete agony. However, his agony is amplified because the soldier can hear the sound of victory from the other side. This is more painful to him than his physical wounds, because their sound of victory is the impending sound of his failure. Although it may seem as if the heroes in the poem are the victors, the dying soldier is the actual hero. Through “Success is Counted Sweetest,” Dickinson illustrates that a hero is not defined by his victories, but by his sacrifice for a cause.
The dying soldier is a hero because he sacrifices his life for the cause of his army. Likewise, the victorious soldiers are also heroes because they also sacrifice their lives for the cause of their army. It doesn’t matter which cause emerges victorious, because not every army succeeds. It’s because heroes don’t always win – they sacrifice. As the greatest Romantics of their age, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson influenced American literature and poetry to the highest degree.
Through his works, Whitman changed poetry by creating cadence and free verse. Again the long roll of the drummers, again the attacking cannon, mortars, again to my listening ears the cannon responsive” (Whitman ). By using free verse poetry, Whitman tore down the boundary and structure of traditional poetry with the rhythm of cadence, allowing all types of people to use poetry as a form of expression. Aside from Whitman, Dickinson was a lonely woman who wrote poetry to express her inner feelings. Having never found true love, she spent many days isolated from others, allowing her imagination to grow wild. She found ways to superficially describe objects, ideas, and feelings.
However she only meant for her writings to remain in a box. Through her works, Dickinson expanded poetry by way of rhyme and meter. “If you were coming in the fall, I’d brush the Summer by with half a smile, and half a spurn, as Housewives do, a fly” (Dickinson 1). By using rhyme and meter, Dickinson opened American literature to women, showing that men were not the only ones who knew how to use ink and paper. Through her unique writing style, she took poetry to a higher level, making it a complete and concise language of the soul.
Dickinson’s poetry followed a much stricter meter and rhyme scheme. She is known for her carefully worded and arranged poems. Many of Dickinson’s poems are in quatrains, which are four lines per stanza. Together, Walt and Emily are the reason behind today’s American literature. Although Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson could paint pictures with words, their contributions to American Romantic literature were not equal. They often wrote about the American hero, but both authors are the living American heroes. The greater author is Walt Whitman, because he didn’t solely speak for himself.
He spoke and wrote for the American people. This is important because he wanted the voice of all American people to be heard as testimony to world peace. Dickinson, on the other hand, only hid in her house to write, not making her voice heard. She made poetry metaphysical, but Whitman made poetry powerful. Dickinson opened doors for women, but Whitman opened the houses of America’s ideology. Through cadence and free verse, or rhyme and meter, Dickinson and Whitman changed American Romantic poetry. However, Walt Whitman gains the title, Master of the Word.
There are by far more differences in the writing styles of Whitman and Dickinson than there are similarities. One difference is the way they structured their poems. Basically, the structures of Whitman’s poem is the lack of any structure. Whitman’s poems tend to run on and on; there was no set length for his poems, stanzas, or even lines. Dickinson, on the other hand, wrote poems with a definite structure. She wrote ballad stanzas, which were four line stanzas alternating in iambic tetrameter and trimeter. So the structure of their poems is very different.
Another difference between their poetry is the use of rhyme. As with structure, Whitman’s poetry has no rhyme. In this way Whitman also breaks from tradition. Dickinson’s poems, unlike Whitman’s, made use of slant rhyme. This is the use of near or approximate rhymes, and is a relatively modern idea. So this is yet another way in which they differ in style. First, the most forthcoming evidence of their differences would be the structure that the poets use to express themselves through. Whitman uses free verse in his poems. A clear representation of this is any excerpt from “Song of Myself”.
This poem has a set rhythm, but no definite rhyme scheme. “The Yankee clipper is under her sky-sails, she cuts the sparkle and scud, / My eyes settle the land, I bend at her prow or shout joyously from the deck. ” (Whitman- “Song of Myself 10. ” lines 6-7) This makes the poem less appealing to read but leaves a lot more room for expression from the author. Dickinson, however, uses well planned out short lines of rhymes. Her poems don’t usually consist of many more than 6 words per line and are written in verse. This gives each poem an easier pattern and flow to comprehend.
These poems may not sound as sophisticated, but are equally brilliant. “If you were coming in the Fall, / I’d brush the Summer by / With half a smile, and half a spurn, / As Housewives do a fly. ” (Dickinson- “If you were coming… Whitman began a new era in the writing world; he was the first not to conform to the usual standards of writing. His poems don’t have specific rhyming patterns, and some don’t rhyme at all, where as Dickinson’s poems fit more into the form that had been set at that time. Dickinson’s poems usually have at least two end rhymes in each stanza, which was usually how poetry was written.
While Whitman’s poems are large and expansive, the lines long and visually descriptive, Dickinson’s works, in contrast, are highly compressed, squeezing moments of intense emotions and thought into tight four line stanzas which contract feeling and condense thought. Whitman doesn’t use metaphors in his poetry which creates a more democratic form of poetry, in which not has pride of place. His voice submerges and surfaces at odd intervals, losing itself in a… She wrote her poetry for herself rather than others. Whitman tended to write as a representative of all the American people.
Dickinson wished to reserve her poetry to herself, as she did not want her works to be judged by others. (Gall4) “Whitman sees the poetic act as a means of reconciling the solitary self with the world while Dickinson views consciousness as always at war with a recalcitrant, ultimately alien and unknowable universe. “(Library Journal 82) While they vary in numerous ways, Whitman and Dickinson endure as this nation’s most prominent contributors to American poetry and are our greatest understanding of the distinctively American Essence One of the hallmark differences between them is in the length of lines they use in their poems.
Characteristically, Whitman employs, and is indeed the master of, the long line. Dickinson, on the other hand, makes use exclusively of short, staccato, unadorned lines. A case can be made for the notion that a relationship exists between line length and the kinds of ideas expressed by these poets. The ideas Whitman presents in his poems are more individual, personal, and emotional, whereas Dickinson presents ideas which seem more universal and at times almost factual in nature. This basic difference between the two can be supported by examining a “typical” poem by each poet.
When Whitman presents the idea of death in his poetry it is very personalized, almost to the point of being unique to him. In “Song of Myself,” stanza 49, he addresses Death directly: “And as to you Death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me” (Norton, p. 33, l. 1289). He admits that Death has the power to do as he wishes, to do him harm, to take him away in his “bitter hug of mortality,” but he will not be afraid. He is not readily resigning himself to Death, and he will certainly not be intimidated. “And as to you Corpse I think you are good manure, but that does not offend me” (Norton, p. 3, l. 1294). He sees the good that can come from Death. “I smell the white roses sweet-scented and growing, I reach to the leafy lips, I reach to the polish’d breasts of melons” (Norton, p. 33, ll. 1295-96). Furthermore, even though Death may take him now, killing him, bringing him down, “(No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before)” (Norton, p. 33, l. 1298). He is going because he has no choice, but it is not the end, and he will argue and put up a fight. He will rise above the inevitable: Emily Dickinson, on the other hand, presents the idea of death in a much different way.
In her poem, “Because I could not stop for Death,” one simple idea is expressed, that Death is inevitable. Because most people do not ask for Death, “He kindly stopped for me” (Norton, p. 52, l. 2). Then he went slowly about his business, taking her along with him on his journey. They passed by life, youth, children, and the fields and light of Earth. They “paused before a House that seemed / A Swelling of the Ground” (Norton, p. 52, ll. 17-18) before continuing “toward Eternity. ” Not once does she fight the inevitable tug of death. She is going just like everyone else has gone and must go.
It is a simple thing. There is nothing to be done about it, so go along just like everyone else. She is uninterested in persuading or in even discussing the subject. Instead she presents her idea as it is, almost factually – Death is here and I am going with him. She is resigned to her fate, a universal fate, not particularly personalized for her. In this case, it is almost a pleasant experience, a comfortable resignation to what is inevitable. We can see then that the long and complex lines of Whitman are used for deep and complicated and emotional expression.
His ideas are seldom simple, but instead, multifaceted and sprawling in scope. They are steeped in individuality, rooted in and reflecting the frequently illogical fluctuations of personality. There is plenty of room in his lines for such expression. Whereas Dickinson, due in part to the abbreviated, staccato nature of her lines, is much more limited. There is no room in her poems to expand and explore, demonstrate, preach, convince, and implore. Yet both, needless to say, say what they must clearly and beautifully.
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