Walt Whitman

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What were Whitman's and Dickinson's attitudes toward death?

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Margarete Abshire eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Dickinson and Whitman saw death as a mysterious, transcendent experience. Their attitudes towards death reflect the temperament of their poetry. When I think about Whitman and death, or simply a phrase that seems definitively "Whitmanian," I think of the passage from "Song of Myself" about death:

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
The Whitmanian elements here have to be the sense of life and death forming a kind of totality— the notion of life ever expanding, but also what he calls the "luck" of dying, the notion that death is an unexpected bonus.
Dickinson's sensibility is more internal and...

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