Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were both great American poets of the 19th century. Aside from this, however, the two had very few in common. Without even going into their almost polar opposite personal lives, and concentrating solely upon their writings, one can still see the incredible diversity of American culture. Their views were different. Their beliefs were different. Their writing styles were different. But they both wrote some of the best poetry this country had ever seen. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman contrast in the ways of their different writing structure, subject tone, and topics discussed in the majority of their published works.
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 in the Fall” lines 1-4)
“Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.” (Whitman- “I Hear America Singing” line 11) Lines like this gives Whitman’s poems a sense of optimism and joy. “I Hear America Singing” is a proud poem about our country’s content and diligent work. “I celebrate myself and sing myself,” (Whitman- “Song of Myself 1.” line 1) is Whitman’s cheerful reflection on himself from the very first line of his poem “Song of Myself”. Walt Whitman writes his poems with enthusiasm and a willpower that makes his poems, all in all, uplifting to read. Emily Dickinson, however, tends to be a complete opposite to this. She uses her poems to express her deepest conflict and melancholy. In “Heart! We will forget him!” she almost seems to be screaming about her torments with love. “Heart! We will forget him! / You and I–tonight! / You may forget the warmth he gave– / I will forget the light!” (Dickinson- “Heart! We will forget him!” lines 1-4) Her poems can range anywhere from energetic, like this one, to depressing, gloomy, and dismal; “As he defeated–dying–/ On whose forbidden ear/ The distant stains of triumph/ Burst agonized and clear!” (Dickinson- “Success is counted sweetest” lines 9-12)
The actual subject matter of the poems is perhaps the most obvious topic to focus on. At first glance, and when only comparing between the two authors, it is clear that Whitman concentrates more on the physical attributes of human life. Dickinson revels more about the metaphysical senses and emotions. “I am the mash’d fireman with breast-bone broken,” (Whitman- “Song of Myself 33.” Line 26) is an example of Whitman’s vivid imagery toward a tangible role in his poem. Much like he would “become the wounded person,” ( line 24) Whitman uses reality in people and setting to convey his message. Dickinson’s writings concentrate heavily on metaphors, using symbolism to show a deeper message. Writing like this is open to so many more interpretations. “The Soul selects her own Society–/ Then–shuts the Door–/ To her divine Majority–/ Present no more–.” (Dickinson- “The soul selects her own Society” lines 1-4) With no definite and tangible evidence this poem leaves the reader to decide exactly what the poem means to them.
In conclusion, saying these two writers were different would be a gross understatement. However, their end result was the same. They both became great cultural influences on the country. Walt Whitman wrote stunningly depictive poems about the fight of the common man. Emily Dickinson wrote impressively deep poems regarding some of the most sensitive of human emotions. Whitman wrote powerful free verse expressing enthusiasm towards anything he spoke about. Dickinson used rhyming verse to make a more powerful connection with the reader over her deepest feelings and conflicts. These two poets had their share of great writing differences, but at the end of the day, were just that; different, great writers.
Courtney from Study Moose
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