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Whitman Vs Dickinson Essay Writing

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Dickinson vs whitman

Dickinson vs. Whitman

After receiving five years of schooling, Walt Whitman spent four years learning the printing trade; Emily Dickinson returned home after receiving schooling to be with her family and never really had a job. Walt Whitman spent most of his time observing people and New York City. Dickinson rarely left her house and she didn't associate with many people other than her family. In this essay I will be comparing Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

Emily Dickinson's life differs greatly from the life of Walt Whitman, although they lived during the same time period. Walt Whitman published practically all his poetry during his lifetime, but Emily Dickinson only published seven of her poems during her lifetime. Actually, her poetry wasn't published until after her death. Both Whitman and Dickinson were poetic pioneers because of the new ideas they used in their poetry. Emily Dickinson did not write for an audience, but Walt Whitman wrote for an audience about several national events. The forms each poet used are different as well. The rhyme in the poetry by Whitman is drastically different from the poetry written by Dickinson, because Whitman didn't use any rhyme.

Emily Dickinson grew up in Amherst, Mass, and Walt Whitman grew up in New York City, New York; this is one way that these poets' lives differ. The main people that influenced Emily Dickinson were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emily Bronte. Walt Whitman was influenced by many people, some of which were: Elias Hicks, James Macpherson and William Shakespeare. Whitman read many book reviews by many people; from these, he realized Emerson was very influential. Whitman was also influenced by the Bible, his walks in New York City, Tom Paine, and a strong love for music. After Whitman started preparing to be a poet, he said he was merely "simmering," but the ideas of Emerson brought him to a "boil." Dickinson wasn't addressing anyone in particular through her poetry, but Whitman addressed the citizens of the United States, most of the time, through his writings. After reading "The Poet" by Emerson and seeing how he defined the role of the poet in democracy, Whitman was eager to assume that role. Whitman loved to have his picture taken and there are many pictures of him. Dickinson only allowed her picture to be taken once and did so reluctantly. Neither Dickinson nor Whitman got married, but both had people interested in them or people they were interested in. Emily Dickinson started writing poetry in 1850, but most of her poems are dated after 1858. Whitman wrote for many newspapers before he actually began writing poetry. The world found out he wrote poetry when he published the first edition of Leaves of Grass. The major turning point for Whitman was in the 1860's, when his work started to gain more recognition from critics. Eighteen sixty-two was the major turning point for Dickinson's life; 1862 was when she wrote most of her poetry. She was writing about one poem each day. During the year 1862, the man Emily Dickinson loved left for San Francisco. After he left, she started wearing only white, and during the last ten years of her life she didn't leave the comfort of her home. The last years of Walt Whitman's life were spent revising and writing poetry. Emily Dickinson stayed very close to her family, but Walt Whitman traveled and lived alone toward the end of his life.

The forms that Dickinson and Whitman used are also different because both used new and innovative ideas in writing their poetry. Walt Whitman used no real form other than free verse. The characteristics of free verse are: 1) No rhyme or rhyme scheme, 2) Has a cadence or beat, 3) No set line length, 4) Has stanzas, but no set stanza length, 5) Uses repetition. Whitman's use of free verse marked a break in the syllable-stress tradition. In his poetry he didn't count the syllables stresses, or feet, in the long lines of poetry. Whitman used the item of anaphora, which is the use of repetition at the beginning of back to back verses, and the repetition of syntactical units. Walt Whitman was a 20th-century innovator of poetry because he used nonmetrical prosody. Whitman got most of the techniques of writing poetry from biblical verses. He often used parallelism like in the Psalms. Parallelism is the use of phrases, clauses, or sentences that are similar or complementary in structure and meaning. Whitman often used regular metrical sequences but the lines cannot be measured by the graphic method of marking syllables and feet. The following lines from the poem "Out of the Cradle" should portray the slow lengthening of lines and the sudden diminution of the line length. The lines also show the repetition of the word carols and the alliteration of the s sound. He also used falling rhyme in the words "lagging," "yellow'" and "waning":

Shake out carols!

Solitary here, the night's carols!

Carols of lonesome love! deaths carols!

Carols under that lagging, yellow, waning moon!

O under that moon where she droops almost down

into the sea!

O reckless despairing carols.

The following lines from "Beat! Beat! Drums! ," include parallel phrases, sentence structures

and meaning:

Beat! beat! drums! - blow! bugles! blow!

Make no parely - stop for no expostulation,

Mind not the timid -mind not the weeper or prayer

Mind not the old man beseeching the youngman.

In nearly all of Emily Dickinson's poetry there is the use of quatrains of three iambic feet, that is four lines of poetry to a stanza, where each line has an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, three times. The early poems by Dickinson are conventional in sentiment and in form. She used many forms in her poetry, but the forms she used had a twist from the normal because she would make them more complex and altered the metrical beat. Dickinson did this to fit her thought. Dickinson also started the wide use of off-rhyme.

The subjects that Whitman and Dickinson used in their poetry are very different. There is a big difference because the things that each poet was interested in. Whitman often wrote about the Civil War. Dickinson often wrote about death and nature. The punctuation is drastically different as well. Whitman used mostly traditional punctuation in his poetry, but in the poem "Beat! Beat! Drums!" he used a big amount of dashes: "Beat! beat! drums!-blow! bugles! blow! Through the windows-through the doors-burst like a ruthless force." Dickinson used a form of punctuation unique to her poetry as well as capitalization. She used irregular capitalization to emphasize certain words for example, in the poem "This is My Letter to the World," she capitalized the words, World, Me, News, Nature, Majesty, Message, Hands, Her, and Sweet. She did this because those things were important to her.

Walt Whitman's and Emily Dickinson's lives were very different, although they lived during the same time period. Each poet chose to be around certain people and things. Those people and things they chose to be around greatly influenced their poetry. The forms and subjects are different because they liked writing about things that happened in their lives. They are both innovators in poetry because they chose to change common things in writing poetry.


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The 1800s was a time of new and exciting change in literary culture in America. Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson are two of the most famous poets from the time period who daringly revolutionized both the subject and style of American poetry. While both are famous trailblazers the two are vastly different. The poets come from opposite backgrounds, and while they do write from some shared inspiration sources, they do so in distinctive ways. Together, they have helped to shape American poetry, and their influences can still be seen today.

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously called for a “metre-making argument,” which spurred a pursuit of ingenuity within Whitman and Dickinson (Baym 20). This allowed the two poets to push through the standard mold of poems to invent their own styles. Whitman uses extensive nature imagery throughout his works, such as in Song of Myself: “The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,” (24). Dickinson also uses nature imagery in some of her poems: “These are the days when skies resume / The old – old sophistries of June - / A blue and gold mistake,” (83). Additionally, both poets submitted some of their pieces to politically-based works. Whitman was published by Democrat, while Dickinson was published by Republican. Interestingly, there is speculation that both poets may have had homosexual relationships (Baym 81). This, however, is where the similarities between the two run short, as they are more opposite than they are alike.

Walt Whitman seems carefree and easy going, both in his life and his poems. Whitman grew up in the working class in a family of Quakers (Baym 20). He worked many jobs throughout his life, including working for many magazines and printers. Later in life, he took up nursing wounded soldiers, about which he was very passionate (Baym 22). His time as a nurse greatly influenced his writing, and the dying men surrounding him moved him to question the morality of war. During his life, Whitman wanted badly to become famous for his writing. Although he was not immediately popular, other than with Emerson, whom he deeply admired, people eventually warmed up to his work. Toward the end of his life, Whitman even had an expensive mausoleum erected in which he wanted to be buried so that everyone would remember how famous he was (Baym 23).

Whitman’s progressive, liberal nature is seen in his work, through both the style and content. He responded to Emerson’s call to be more creative by abandoning poetic structure – so he wrote in free verse, with no meter or strict rhyme (Baym 20). However, he does play with other poetic devices, such as repetition, alliteration, and stanza breaks, that give his poems life. Whitman wrote extensively about nature and the average man. He also wrote a lot about soldiers and war later in life. His poems are generally long and winding with intense imagery. They also seem very personal, as if Whitman is telling you everything he has ever thought within his poems. Whitman does not hold back – in fact, his poems are sometimes too revealing, which garnered criticism, especially when the topic involved sex or the human body (Baym 22). Overall, Whitman can be seen as a bohemian who wanted to join the artists whom he admired, most notably Emerson, in literary fame.

Emily Dickinson, on the other hand, was very structured and conservative. She was born into an upper-class Calvinist family, which meant that she never had to work (Baym 80). She was sent to a religious boarding school, which she did not complete because she told her teachers that she had “no hope” (Baym 80). Dickinson lived with her parents for her whole life and did not leave the house much, leading to tales of her being a recluse. However, she did have a few friends and possibly some love interests, which may have inspired some of her love poems (Baym 81). Unlike Whitman, Dickinson did not seek fame during her life. In fact, very few of her poems were published until after her death.

Dickinson’s reserved personality translated over into her writing. She was very well read; in fact, influences from Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Browning, and even the Bible can be seen in her works (Baym 80). The poems she wrote indicate that she was fascinated with the concepts of death, love, and religion. She explores these through the use of figurative language, such as the personification in poem 479: “Because I could not stop for Death - / He kindly stopped for me,” (Dickinson 91). Dickinson answered Emerson’s call in a way that some would argue is even more creative than Whitman’s style. Rather than throwing away all poetic structure, she added her own stylistic touch – most notably, dashes and capitalization. Dickinson wrote in a very strict fourteener meter that is commonly seen in nursery rhymes and church hymns. However, within these poems, she covers serious topics and often surprises the reader with her treatment of a topic or the conclusion she draws from it. For example, in her poem 236, she basically puts down those who go to church and says that she is better off talking directly to God in her own home (Dickinson 84). This would have been a fairly scandalous idea for the devoutly religious, even though the poem is presented in a simple, almost sing-song fashion that is enhanced by her ABCB rhyme scheme, which is consistent throughout all of her works. Overall, Dickinson’s style is rigid but defies expectations in both style and content.

While Whitman’s flowing, carefree, hippie-like poems seem very different from Dickinson’s rigid and sometimes ambiguous work, both poets have two very important things in common. First, they both answered Emerson’s request for poetry that transcends the everyday poems from that time period. As a result of this success in Emerson’s mission, the second commonality was achieved – both have become hugely influential poets whose work still persists to this day. Whitman’s legacy is large, containing the likes of Langston Hughes and Allen Ginsberg. Dickinson’s pervasive inspiration, for both style and content, can arguably be seen in the works of writers such as Sylvia Plath and E.E. Cummings. Both poets will be remembered as innovators who changed the landscape of American poetry by thinking outside of the box.