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English III Midterm Essay

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman hold a different fundamental view of the purpose of poetry. Hence, they employ diametrically different techniques in conveying their messages. Examples of this different view can be seen in the manner they structure their poetry, their approach, and their wording. Examining their approaches leads to the conclusion that their view of poetry is quite different.

The poet’s difference in priorities can be seen in the manner they handle identical themes. Whitman approaches the theme of loss with a sort of narrative style: “Found you in death so cold dear comrade, found your body son of responding kisses (never again on earth responding)...But not a tear fell, not even a long - drawn sigh, long, long I gazed...not a tear, not a word.” (Whitman, Vigil Strange I Kept On The Field One Night). This passage is indicative of Whitman’s approach to an emotion. Whitman focuses primarily on extrinsic occurrences, events or lack thereof. This instills an image in the reader’s mind, which in turn invokes an emotional response (if desired by Whitman). This is a method common in Whitman’s works. Dickinson uses a combination of imagery, symbolism, and her own intrinsic emotional response to convey her intended message: “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, And Mourners to and fro, Kept treading --- treading --- till it seemed That sense was breaking through --- And when they all were seated, A Service, like a Drum --- Kept beating --- beating --- till I thought My Mind was going numb ---... and creak across my Soul.” (Dickinson, 280) This shows how Dickinson allows the reader to comprehend the poem by means of imagery and emotion.

Each poet’s methods are suggestive of their priorities as poets. Whitman prioritizes scene (events, characters, external entities) over emotion. This can be inferred by his exclusion of emotion: “From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand, I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood, Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv’d neck and side-falling head, His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump.” (Whitman, The Wound-Dresser) In series of events that are overtly inundated with emotion (of both Whitman and the man he is aiding), Whitman describes none of it. Rather, Whitman relies of the reader to infer emotion based on events. Conversely, it appears as though Dickinson relies solely on emotion and analogy, and seldom uses events that are not symbolic to induce emotion. “And then a Plank in Reason, broke, And I dropped down, and down--- And hit a World, at every plunge, And Finished knowing --- then ---” (Dickinson 280).

Structural differences in works by Dickinson and Whitman arise from variations in technique. A blatant structural difference is the common length of their works. This difference in size comes from Whitman’s focus on forming a scene and properly describing events, and Dickinson’s focus on conveying emotion directly or through symbols. Consequently, their works differ greatly in length as it is more difficult to describe a scene effectively and concisely than an emotion effectively and concisely.

Finally, the common structure of each poet’s poems are conducive to the effectively conveying their message. Being succinct when conveying an emotion helps limit the range a reader may interpret a given line, allowing for the greatest accuracy. A more verbose tactic is ideal for descriptions because it allows for a more accurate picture, and thus, more accurate inferences (as to the emotions of the characters etc.) can be made by the reader.