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Emily Dickinson & Walt Whitman

This paper will explore the similarities and the differences between selected poems of Emily Dickinson and of Walt Whitman, poets who wrote during the same turbulent decades in AmericaÆs late 19th century. These two were very different kinds of people, and perhaps we would not expect them to be interested in similar themes. Dickinson is famous for her homebound ways, was apparently strongly introverted, had a narrow field of acquaintances, and never traveled far from home. Whitman, on the other hand, was a worldly New Yorker, a man interested in politics who lived the life of a journalist, a traveler, an altruist, and a man-about-town. However, the poems of Dickinson and Whitman share an important concern with the nature of the human spirit and the quest to know the Self as spirit. In Dickinson, the quest for comprehending the nature of things spiritual in her distinctly modern voice is played out again and again in the poems that will be analyzed here. In Whitman, a very different kind of narrative voice explores these same issues.

The thesis in this essay is, then, that both of these poets explore the ôtranscendentalö nature of human consciousness and write poems to educate us in the nature of the human spirit. This involves several separate ôlessons.ö First, both poets are interested in how they might immerse themselves so wholly in the ônowö that it becomes a ôforever.ö Secondly, both poets concern themselves with the nature of death and the possibility of immortality. Hence, in spite of their great personal differences as individuals in the world, Dickinson and Whitman show a distinct similarity in asking questions about the nature of living a life of the spirit. Finally, although they arrive at their conclusions by very different routes, these two poets agree that the life worth living is informed by the spirit.

This essay will explore several of DickinsonÆs poems and examine to what extent these share...

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Emily Dickinson & Walt Whitman. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:58, June 24, 2019, from