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Walt Whitman’s and Emily Dickinson’s Poetry Essay

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Updated: Aug 15th, 2020

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are often recognized as the most influential American poets who shaped various literary canons. This paper is aimed at examining the similarities and differences between the themes that they explore. One can discuss these issues by analysing such poems as Song of Myself by Walt Whitman and My Life had stood-a Loaded Gun by Emily Dickinson. Overall, it is possible to argue that both authors focus on the way in which individuals perceive their inner world and their relations with other people. These poems are largely introspective. However, there are some differences that should be considered.

In particular, Walt Whitman focuses on the experiences of a free individual who cannot be restricted by the conventions established the society. Additionally, the unnamed narrator of this poem lays stress on his self-sufficiency. In contrast, Emily Dickenson describes a person who is not independent. The narrator of her poem is guided by an external force; in fact, this narrator is compared to an object that can be manipulated. To a great extent, this poem reflects the vulnerability of Emily Dickenson and her religiousness.

The main similarity between these two poems is that the authors show how the narrators perceive their own experiences and their position relative to other people. For instance, Walt Whitman’s narrator says, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself” (Whitman 1). To some degree, this author wants to emphasise his freedom, independence, and ability to appreciate the beauty of nature. This person wants to reflect on his feelings or emotions evoked by various visual images and his encounters with other people.

In turn, Emily Dickinson’s narrator also lays stress on his/her identity. It should be noted that the gender of the story-teller is not identified. Still, Emily Dickenson wants to show how this person examines his/her inner world. Nevertheless, it is important to illustrate the main differences between the unnamed narrators since their worldviews and emotional experiences are not comparable.

At first, one should mention that Walt Whitman focuses on the experiences of a person who feels completely self-sufficient. Moreover, this individual believes that he is not limited by any artificial or natural barriers. This is one of the reasons why he says, “The big doors of the country barn stand open and ready” (Whitman 10). Furthermore, this person is amazed by his “lightness and glee” that will enable him to overcome various difficulties (Whitman 11).

Additionally, the narrative of this person suggests that he is not guided by social or legal conventions. In particular, he speaks about his encounter with a runaway slave. The narrator welcomes the fugitive, lets him stay in his cabin, and offers food to this victim of injustice. The main character is not restricted by existing stereotypes according to which black people could be discriminated due to their alleged inferiority. In turn, it is important to show how this person differs from the narrator of Emily Dickinson’s poem.

Overall, this author focuses on the experiences of a person who does not believe that he/she is independent. In particular, this narrator compares oneself to “a loaded gun” (Dickinson 747). Additionally, the author notes that this individual was ‘carried away” just like an object (Dickinson 747). The narrator also notes that he/she can become “a deadly foe” for every enemy of his/her master. So, one cannot say that the story-teller can act independently. This character differs dramatically from the protagonist described by Walt Whitman. In turn, one should examine the underlying causes of these distinctions because they can be related to the beliefs and values of these poets.

To a great extent, these distinctions can be explained by various social and philosophical influences that shaped the worldviews of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. In particular, Walt Whitman accepted the ideas of transcendentalism. This philosophical movement is based on the premise that social and political institutions tend to destroy the integrity of an individual. Moreover, a person can discover his/her best qualities only when he is completely independent or even isolated from other people.

This is why Walt Whitman highlights these themes in the poem. Admittedly, Emily Dickinson also admired transcendentalism, especially the literary works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nevertheless, she was also driven by the need for affection and religiousness. In many cases, she emphasised her devotion to God. In her opinion, this Supreme Being guides every action of an individual. This is why the notion of free will does not play an important role in her poem. These are some of the points that can be made.

On the whole, this discussion shows that Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman focus on introspection in the poetic works. The authors illustrate how the main characters experience various moments of their lives. The poets want to show how narrators see their role in the surrounding world. The main issue is that Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson focus on people whose worldviews differ considerably. Whitman’s character is not bound by any natural or social barriers that can prevent him from achieving growth.

In turn, Emily Dickinson describes the life of a person who is guided or driven by some external force. It is possible that this force can be regarded as the Supreme Being. These are some of the main issues that readers should take into account.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries, Boston: Harvard University Press, 2010. Print.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: A Textual Variorum of the Printed Poems, 1855-1856, New York: NYU Press, 2008. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Walt Whitman's and Emily Dickinson's Poetry." August 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/walt-whitmans-and-emily-dickinsons-poetry/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Walt Whitman's and Emily Dickinson's Poetry'. 15 August.

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