Compare and contrast Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Walt Whitman's poetry expresses an enlarged vision that encompasses the universe in a broad way, in expansive outward gestures and long poems. In contrast, Dickinson's poetry is interior, dealing with her states of mind, and is short and compact.

In the opening lines of Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric," in Song of Myself, he reveals an embrace of the many, a vastness of vision, describing those he loves as no less than armies:

I sing the body electric, 
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them

This is highly energized, electric verse. But if Whitman wants to sing his feelings in a way that includes all the world, Dickinson, on the other hand, eschews the grand stage. In "I am Nobody! Who are You?", she writes a compact poem in favor of a reclusive vision:

I’m Nobody! Who are you? Are you—Nobody— too? Then there’s a pair of us! Don’t tell! they’d advertise—you know! How dreary—to be— Somebody! How public—like a Frog—To tell one’s name—the livelong June—To an admiring Bog!

It is hard to imagine Whitman thinking it "dreary—to be—somebody." If Dickinson was nobody and glad of it, Whitman thought his being encompassed everybody, the entire universe.

However, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson both had an interest in death that marks them as 19th century poets, and both used everyday imagery, such as of hair or a house, to describe death's presence among the living. Whitman, in "Song of Myself," writes of grass as the "the beautiful uncut hair of graves."

In with a similar vein, Dickinson writes in "Because I could not stop for Death" of a gravestone as the roof a house:

We paused before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground—The Roof was scarcely visible—The Cornice—in the Ground

Perhaps most importantly, both were bold innovators with sharply distinctive voices. Dickinson's poems, with their many dashes and short verses and simple words packed with emotional intensity, are startling in their originality. Whitman also innovated, developing his own style of free verse that is unmistakably his own, with passion sizzling through his words.

James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One point of comparison, of course, is that both Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are considered today by many to be the founders of modern American poetry. See, for example, the video program and printed anthology with the title Voices and Visions. (The link is provided below.) Both poets also lived and wrote in the northeastern United States in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Other points of comparison and contrast include:

Intro- and extroversion -- Dickinson's voice is quiet, sometimes even a little self-effacing (as in her poem "I'm nobody"), whereas Whitman's is loud, expansive, and often boastful.

The natural world and beyond -- Both poets often reflect on their experiences with and their relation to the natural world, and both move from concrete observations of nature to metaphysical or spiritual reflections.

Line length, meter, and structure -- Dickinson's poems are more regularly structured that Whitman's (often following the structure of Protestant hymns), although hers, too, have their own unconventional traits, including punctuation.

If you are completing an assignment on this topic, you may want to identify and systematically discuss one or two specific poems by each authors. Generalizations, like what I've given in this post, are fine, but examples go a long way toward making a good argument. If this topic is for a longer paper, you may even be interested in exploring Dickinson's disapproval of Whitman's subject matter and style. There are also many internet links (a couple are interested below) that may point you in further directions.

giorgiana1976 | Student

The poems written by Emily Dickinson’s  and  Walt Whitman have numerous differences.For example, the Dickinson’s poems are simple and short while Whitman’s poems are complex and  long. Though there are similarities between the writers:

- both are writers form twentieth century;

- both approaching death as a main theme,they remaining unruffled in the face of death phenomenon;

- both are dealing with the idea of religion, linking it with the subject of death, being known that, at that time,Romantic era, the religion was considered obsolete.

Although their works were unique and original, impossible to imitate, however subjects they focused on, were the same.

Whitman’s style introduced the notion of free verse, this style becoming his original mark. Also, his courage to deal with “taboo” subjects, namely sex, human body, and numerous other, brought view changes of the American publics of poetry.

Dickinson’s works are just as unique, due mainly to her odd placement of punctuation, unusual grammar, and simplicity of language. Her lines end abruptly, outwardly innocuous words are often capitalized, and her tendency to write meters typical of hymnals all distinguishes her from other writers.

Critics have hailed the dawn of poet women, Walt Whitman like , spiritual and concise, recognizing in poet  the embodied  spirit and mysticism of New England. Later coming popularity of "nun of Amherst" was the most deserved, high views animating her poems, the simplest phrases having the focus of its purpose.