Who were Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman exactly? In simple terms they were some of the founders of a uniquely American style of poetry. While their lives only spanned the last eight decades of the nineteenth century, their influence on literature has spanned centuries. They became the iconic writers because of their blatant disregard for previous rules of poetry. Dickinson and Whitman’s poems were unique to them and them alone. Besides being unique during their time, their works give insight into the culture and society during the time.
Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson are both important poets in the creation of an American style of poetry for the way they wrote and their lifestyles, but Whitman had a larger immediate impact. Walt Whitman’s poetic style was his own and had not appeared in literature before his time. The form he uses most often in his works is called free verse. Whitman “abandoned traditional rhyme schemes and formal meters in favor of natural rhythms and speech patterns of free verse.
He embodied the ideals of romantics by not dwelling in the past or letting himself be swept up by what society saw as right, where as Emily Dickinson kept to a strict meter and rhyme. His attitude of doing things in his own particular way also translated over to the diction of his poems, which is known for being extravagant. His special way of wording poems made them come alive to readers, making them able to feel the emotions carried within the words. Similarly, one of the literary devices whitman utilized is imagery, which he employed to make people see what wished them to see.
However, the device that made his poems recognizable as his was the cataloging or listing that he frequently uses. One such example come from his poem “I Hear America Sing”, “The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing. ” This accentuates the importance of this particular excerpt or of others to the reader. Additionally, his works have a simplicity about them. They language is not shrouded in multiple meanings and is written in a way that is easy to understand with some background knowledge on the poem.
Many of his poems also take on the flow of a conversation or song if fitted to music. Whitman’s disregard for poetic outlines enabled him to create a new type of poetry that would become part of distinctly American form. Whitman’s lifestyle was what gave him the inspiration and ideas for his writing. During his lifetime he worked as a writer and made a middle class living. This put him in a position to know the struggles of people and what life was like for an average person in nineteenth century America.
He was a traveler and adventurer who journeyed across most of the eastern seaboard interacting with people, unlike Dickinson who lived most of her life as a recluse. His way of life had an impact on his personality as well. At times he was the outgoing traveler who was described as having “the carefree spirit of a hobo” and at other times he was the poet who had the “demure shyness of a shrinking violet. ” But without both of those side of his personality his poetry could not be what it is. In his poems many of the major themes were taken from his own life.
While there are many topics most seem to center around humanity, democracy, and general things he noticed around himself. In one of his poems the people “sing” as they go about their work, “The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam. ” While the people themselves are not singing, but rather their work. The singing exemplifies how things move smoothly and happily in America for average people who are governed by a democratic government. The experiences Whitman had shaped not only his life, but his poetry as well.
On the other side of American literature was Emily Dickinson hose style stayed within the rules of poetry, but still had her own twist. Her style was called fixed form or traditional which remained within the confines of the rules, as said in the name traditional, which means doing things according to how it was originally done. Even though her poems were abruptly short she was still able to convey numerous meanings through those very few words. For example, in one of her poems she writes” But Microscopes are prudent / In an emergency. ” In this case Dickinson uses the word microscopes as a substitute for rational or scientific ways such as medicine.
She was able to put so much meaning in one or two words because of her meticulous word choice that has been described as “economical” and precise as a diamond cutter. Additionally, she uses many unconventional literary devices. For instance, all of her poems contain an unusual use of punctuation, capitalization, and dashes. This allows her to put emphasis on certain words to show their meaning and importance to the poem. The flow of her works are similar to church hymns, which would have been a large part of her life. Most of her poems rhyme and follow either iambic tetrameter or trimeter.
Dickinson makes use of imagery like Whitman, capturing minds and transporting them to a place found within the poem. In this excerpt from her poem she writes” To make a prairie it takes a / clover and one bee–. ” This piece puts the image of a bee flying across a field in a person’s mind no matter who reads it because of how it is written. They can actually visualize the scene creating the effect Dickinson hoped for. While she wrote precisely and with few words, those few words were able to convey meanings in one or two stanzas that took other authors pages to do.
Living the lifestyle she did definitely left its mark on her writings and topics. After falling in love with a married man who left to go west, Dickinson went into seclusion in her New England home. She very seldomly ever left her house and by most accounts was very shy. For a time she wrote for the newspaper Atlantic Monthly, but soon gave up on finding an audience. She continued to write for herself and as gifts for family members. During her life her imagination was where she found most of her ideas. She was able to “see the universal in the particular and vise versa” which allowed for her to create places that she had never seen.
Religion played a role in life in New England stemming from the Puritans and influencing Dickinson’s writings. One instance is described where a neighbor’s barn burns down, which Dickinson saw” as a reminder of ultimate doom, of Biblical prophecies of destruction of the earth by fire. ” Death and religion are prevalent themes seen in many of her verses. Her personal life is frequently used as well. One of her poems covers the topic of her broken heart; “Heart! We will forget him! ” She is using her personal love life and experiences to evoke emotions from readers and tell her story.
Some other themes reoccurring themes encompassed in her poems include nature and humanity like Walt Whitman. Dickinson’s reclusive life provoked many of the subjects portrayed in her poems. Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson’s styles of poetry were new in their time. Whitman threw almost all the rules out the window with his free verse and extravagant diction. These granted his poems a passion that people could feel and seemed like apart of conversation or song because of the way it is composed. Dickinson on the other hand retained much of the structure aspect of old poetry, but within those confines was something new.
She crammed meaning into few words, but was still able to convey her thoughts and supported them through her unusual literary devices. However, between the two Walt Whitman had a larger effect on creating an unmistakable American genre. The focus of his writings were more upon things people could relate to. Furthermore, he was able to advertise his works making more people aware of him, compared to Dickinson who no one really knew about until years after her death. The manner in which Walt Whitman writes leaves a lasting impression because of how it can relate to just about everyone.