Walt Whitman & Emily Dickinson’s Views of Death Reflected on Their Poems

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

The aim of this essay is to show and analyze the differences and similarities that Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman have had in connection with the symbol of death, as they have expressed this subject in their poems, not only in terms of structure they used it in writing, but also in the way that both give it this meaning. In order to achieve this goal and how certain facts in their life are related to the topic discussed in this essay, the authors will be analyzed in common terms of a recurrent topic that the two were talking about in some of their poems.

First of all, it is necessary to contextualize the reader in relation to these two authors and the facts that would inspire them and influence them to write about death. On the one hand, Dickinson had a close relationship with death, living her all her life, making death a recurrent subject in her poems. On the other hand, Whitman had a close connection with death during the civil war, witnessing the images and scenes the cruelties that this war offered, watching the human remains that flooded the hospitals of the battle camps, and how these people died before him; these events have had a major impact on his poems and also in the way he saw human beings.

Similarities between Dickinson’s Poetry and Walt Whitman’s Work

Dickinson and Whitman present a lot of similarities through their relationship in transcendentalism, and have also been recognized as founders of American poetry, yet there are many differences, from writing to perceiving life.

Walt Whitman is the adherent of poetry in which he talks about the joys of life, but to the same extent is a poet of the dead. Whitman’s poem illustrates the universal truth that death is not only the most overwhelming and least understood event of our existence, but also the most interesting. He has realized since the beginning of his poetic career that he must talk about death openly, imaginative.

As he tries to convince the public that death is not a terrible closure of life and that immortality is a quest, the Whitman character takes many ideas. He also confesses and imagines many kinds of empty-head experiences and contemplates his own death through fantasies.

His statements about death can hurt the reader, who can see him as tempting, contradictory, or provocative. He is rarely doctrinal; he never develops a first consistent theory of death. And, as his poems attest, he is aware of him, of the limited capacity to understand cosmic truths while struggling to maintain a human and ameliorative belief. Confronted in all ways with contradictory evidence and conception of ideologies, he chooses to preserve his own situation, convinced that his wisdom in death is as valid as any argument or body of evidence.

In ‘Song of Myself,’ Walt Whitman does not capitalize on death, personifying it as Emily Dickinson, ‘Song of Myself’, as a normal process, as a law of nature, as a beginning process rather than an end Whitman denies the significance of death as a negative aspect of life and gives it positive qualities

Historical Context

Whitman and Dickinson, two of America’s poets, lived and wrote poems during the Civil War. Dickinson did not interact with the world around her as Whitman did, but part of her body was written during the Civil War. One of Dickinson’s most famous poems about war opens: “lt feels a shame to be Alive —/ When Men so brave — are dead —” drawing a question clearly around the value of life and death in war.

In the poem “The Wound-Dresser,” found in the Mid-war poems, Whitman writes that “Arous’d and angry, I’d thought to beat the alarum, and / urge relentless war” (Stanza 1. Lines 5-6). This quote sums up the entire tone of the first part of Drum-Taps and is the greatest explanation of how Whitman viewed the coming of the war. This spirit finds its way into much of the early poetry, including the three early poems that will be analyzed throughout this paper, but only one of those three can be considered truly autobiographical. “First O Songs for a Prelude” opens this work and sets the tone for the first half by expressing the jingoistic tone of the early war while acknowledging that some sacrifices will be made. As a whole, it can definitely be termed a celebration of the dominant American spirit, but despite all of that it provides a clear view of how Whitman viewed the war, and, by extension, how he viewed America. This view of America is extremely important because, as noted above, it influences every poem.’

Theme of Death in ‘I Felt Funeral in My Brain’

The focal point of the poem is death, which is actually a physical death, a desperate attempt to remove the pain of mind with repression or cessation of consciousness or mental dislocation. ‘I Felt Funeral in My Brain’ like many of the Dickinson’s poems, deals with the subject of death. In particular, she likes to deal with the subject of the moment of death and burial.

The whole scene takes place in the brain of the speaker, in his mind and soul. She is not sure if it happens in her mind, a huge, hollow world that contains a whole universe, or if the speaker is alive or dead. ‘I Felt Funeral in My Brain’ by Emily Dickinson is a terrible poem that follows the speaker’s crazy fall. The speaker is confronted with self-loss in the chaos of the unconscious, and the reader feels the upward madness of the speaker. Dickinson uses the funeral metaphor to represent the speaker’s feeling that part of it is lost, dying, being overwhelmed by the irrationality of the unconscious. A funeral is a good image for this attempt. The most obvious connotation with a funeral is death.

Life, death, and reincarnation are portrayed in Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘I Felt a Funeral in My Brain.’ The use of words associated with death gives poetry a stunning and dark atmosphere. At the beginning of this poem the feelings of pain are obvious, but not a physical or mental pain, a pain that comes from the most hidden place of the speaker’s consciousness, in a state of impossibility in relation to the world. In a first reading of poetry, the speaker has to make a choice between a world full of trouble and pain or a heaven that brings solitude and peace. All of this is part of a vicious circle. This is clearly reflected at the end of poetry. The speaker lives life, moves away and reborn again into this world, in all this poetry.

It is a poem condensed with striking images and amazing ideas about the irrationality of the human being. It’s a terrifying poetry that allows readers to imagine themselves in their place, living in full consciousness, their death. This poetry is not just a description of the physical death of the speaker, but rather a description of the death of a part of the speaker, namely the death of his mental health. The most likely interpretation that the speaker describes is actually the life of his own burial in consciousness.

The feeling of hearing and the ability to feel the speaker is one of the main points of poetry and describes the sound of a high box the ‘Box’ is capitalized because it means importance. While the speaker hears a big box, she also feels something ‘hurt in her heart’. When the box is high and feels, readers can start entering the space they created, taking part in her funeral. She is transported to her coffin in her funeral home, and the sound of those who go there is like ‘lead boots’. Again, the words ‘Boots’ and ‘Lead’ are capitalized because they are like doing the action of wearing it in her coffin. ‘Space – has begun to happen.’ The speaker may feel that he is moving through space and can hear the sound of the boots on the ground, but he cannot see what’s going on.

The use of burial as a metaphor means symbolically the death of rationality. The funeral involves direct death and also a formal event where rules and procedures are followed. Strict rules and regulations in funerals show ironically the gap between health and madness. There is no self-control in madness, and rationality is threatened.

Although the feeling of a burial takes place in the speaker’s brain, analogy suggests premature burial. The mental state that the speaker describes is not just a funeral in her brain, it’s like being buried alive: increased awareness of the sounds (treading, beating, tolling) and feeling of jail (‘in my brain’ everyone was seated, ” a box ‘) combines with other evidence in poetry to suggest that those who want to make complaints run a funeral service for a non-dead speaker (‘My Mind was numb’, “squeak over my soul ‘).

The mental state described here begins as a sentimental, monotonous, claustrophobic feeling, but advances to its opposite. If the beginning of the poem shows extreme inwardness, the end of the poem presents an even more worrying exterior, whose limit is ultimately indescribable. ‘Plank in Reason’ that breaks in the final pitch is anticipated in the transition from inside to outside, as if the walls, floor and ceiling of the room (or the sides, the lid and the bottom of the coffin), all made of boards, suddenly disappear, throwing speaker in an unlimited and frightening space..

As a conclusion, we can say that although Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman come from different worlds, the differences they have in their writing styles in terms of structure are obvious, agreeing with the views they have had about several topics, such as: death and relationship with human beings. In this sense, it is also possible to say that transcendentalism had an influence on this way of appreciating human life and beings. Moreover, each author has his own way of appealing to readers through the problems they usually talked about in their poems and writing styles.


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