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Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson: A Comparative Review of American Poets

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Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson

Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were two very contrasting poets that wrote during the writing period of the American Renaissance between 1830 and 1865. This period happened around the end of the Civil War, and many of Whitman’s writings had to do with it, such as “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim.” Whitman also wrote with a bigger sense of nationalism, like he did in “I Hear America Singing.” Dickinson, on the other hand, was almost the opposite. She preferred a more solemn and simplistic writing style, with almost a sense of calmness. Whitman was broad, large, and bold in his writing, whereas Dickinson was a minimalist writer. Socially, Whitman was an extrovert, while Dickinson was a secluded and shy introvert. Both of their personalities were implemented in their writing. This is prominent in many of her poems. Whitman and Dickinson were both key contributors to American literature; they differ in some ways, and are similar in others.

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One of Emily Dickinson’s poems was “If you Were Coming in the Fall.” This poem is a love poem, and very smooth compared to Whitman’s writing style. When contrasted to Whitman’s piece called “Song of Myself,” it has a very different tone. Dickinson’s poem is a love poem about how if she knew when her astray love would return to her, she would do everything to make time go by faster; however, since she does not know when that time will be, she doesn’t find this waiting very appealing. Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself,” is a list of different scenarios that the speaker was a part of, with the point being to show that there are many different views of America and the American dream, and everything is always changing. Dickinson’s poem is more romantic, while Whitman’s piece is more proud and diverse. However, this is not the only way these two writings are different.

Dickinson’s poem, “If you Were Coming in the Fall,” has somewhat of a rhyme scheme; the first stanza has an ABCB rhyme scheme, with the third, fourth, and fifth stanzas following suit. The second stanza is almost the same rhyme scheme, but line 6 and 8 is internal rhyme. In Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself,” there is basically no rhyme scheme. In fact, the stanzas in this poem vary in the amount of lines, and there is rarely any structure; this is true for most of Whitman’s poetry. Also, Dickinson’s poem has a rhythm to it when read, while Whitman’s is read like any other story. Whitman wrote in free verse most of the time, including in this poem, and Emily Dickinson wrote with a structure to it. In summary, when it comes to the actual rhythm and rhyme of the poem, Whitman almost completely throws it all to the wind, while Dickinson wrote hers in a very structured, rhythmic style.

Not only are the poems structured differently, they also have very different tones to them. Dickinson’s tone has a sense of hopelessness in the last stanza. The speaker is “uncertain of the length” and it goads her; this implies a sense of reluctance in the speaker. For most of Whitman’s poem, the speaker is very sure of everything. Also, Dickinson’s poem is more melodramatic and solemn, while Whitman’s is bold. For example, in stanza two, the speaker sees the land and shouts with joy. This is very contrasted to Dickinson and her uncertainty. Also, the speaker had a fun time after digging for clams. Overall, the message behind Whitman’s poem is that everyone has different perspectives of the American dream; while his poem tells five stories, Dickinson doesn’t focus on any stories. In fact, these two poems barely have anything in common.

When it comes to figures of speech, Dickinson and Whitman can differ. In this specific poem by Dickinson, she uses parallelism; the first four stanzas start with the word “if” followed by how long it would take for her love to come back, and how she would make it go by faster. Also, Dickinson uses metaphors is her poem while Whitman does not; for example, she says if her love was coming in the fall, she would swat the summer away like a housewife would with a fly. Dickinson also under exaggerates some things while Whitman does not. For example, Dickinson says if it takes her long lost love centuries to return to her, she’ll count them all on fingers. Although Whitman does not make understatements, he is much more descriptive than Dickinson; this is true for most of his poems. Throughout “Song of Myself,” Whitman describes each detail of every story he tells and uses lots of imagery. In the first stanza, when the speaker is looking for a place to sleep, he says it’s in the wilderness, near the mountains, on top of a pile of leaves with his dog and his gun. In the second stanza, he describes the image of a Yankee clipper on their boat, cutting through the foam and the sparkle of the water before stumbling on land. The third stanza in this poem is on the more descriptive side; it tells about a wedding between a trapper and an Indian girl; it then goes on to describe the outward appearance of the girl’s family, the appearance of the groom, then the appearance of the bride. The last stanza describes a runaway slave as having a “sweated body and bruised feet,” and just generally creates an image of the scenario. In summary, Dickinson and Whitman have very differing styles, especially in these two poems; no matter what, both of them are still very popular writers that greatly contributed to American literature.

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