Essay Example Comparing Whitman and Dickinson's Poetry

Published: 2022-02-18
Essay Example Comparing Whitman and Dickinson's Poetry
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Walt Whitman Emily Dickinson
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1332 words
12 min read

Poetry is beautiful because it can pass messages which would otherwise be impossible to convey. Poets use stylistic devices to paint vivid pictures in the minds of their audiences. In addition to that, there is also the propensity of these artists to tackle emergent themes in the country or the society at the time of composing the poetry. In this discussion, the paper will look into how Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson use wordplay to deliver their poetry around the locomotive. There is a poignant use of symbolism regarding the train, a significant innovation of their time that signified progress-albeit at different levels. The engine is a fixation in both poems, making its imagery and symbolism a central feature of their delivery.

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In the To a Locomotive in Winter, Whitman speaks to a locomotive, an inanimate object. He calls the locomotive a man, with lines such as: "Thy black cylindric body..., thy ponderous side-bars, parallel and connecting rods, gyrating, shuttling at thy sides...Thy great, protruding head-light fixed in front" (Whitman). The course of the poem unfolds with the poet describing the masculine and feminine traits of the machine. In all instances, one will notice Whitman ascribes attributes that are adventurous. Reading the poem gives one the feeling that the poet is a traveler, a well-traveled individual that knows locomotive travel. It paints the picture of a poet that is prone to painting intensely vivid pictures.

Conversely, in the I Like to See it Lap the Miles, Emily Dickinson takes a more conservative approach in her poetry. It is reflective of the fact that she is a woman. When Emily Dickinson was young, she seldom traveled; and after growing up, she took on the life of a recluse. It is from this perspective that the interrogator can deduce that she is less emotional about the locomotive. However, that does not take away from the intimacy of her approach. In many ways, her focus on specific elements gives her work a microcosmic feel. She lived in Amherst, Western Massachusetts, and must have seen the trains from a vantage point in her heritage. She wrote about her locomotive a full two decades before Whitman penned his ode to the locomotive. Dickinson was an urbanite, and his familiarity with the train's route made their styles distinctly different.

Whitman came from a rural area, so for him, the train was an adventure. He saw the progress of the train as something that was conquering new frontiers. Whitman equates the train to the mighty men that were forging a new destiny for society during that time. He relates the movement of the train to the order in society. For instance, the carriages of the train follow the head like followers to the leader. They go along, "obedient, merrily following" their "parent." Whitman claims that the locomotive is an authority in the society. It makes it is possible for society to tame the obstacles in society. It is a sentiment that is clear when one reads that the train was launched, "Launch'd o'er the prairies wide, across the lakes, to the free skies unpent and strong."(Whitman). In other words, a locomotive is a tool for conquering adversity; using its lawlessness to bring its new order. He sees them "Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music, thy swinging lamps at night."

On the other hand, to Emily Dickinson, the locomotive is a different quantity altogether. She does not consider it a novel entity since she lived in an urban area close to passing trains. That explains why she was underwhelmed by the locomotive, to the extent that she compares it to something else in her environment-the horse. To her, the train "laps the miles and licks the valleys up." The way a thoroughbred horse would. Her concept of the train as an advancement of the horse is so bright that it feeds and neighs the same way a horse does. Dickinson's idea of the train is thus something that is familiar, moving amidst familiar things. For instance, one sees Dickinson describe the topography around her as a 'pile' of hills.

The Tones and Attitudes Adopted Towards the Locomotive

The tone of a poem is the attitude that the poet creates in making the audience feel a particular way using their choice of words. Both poets are meticulous enough to create a tone that is consistent all through their performance. For one Whitman creates an exaggerated tone of hope and happiness in his poem. He ascribes some major masculine elements to the train, calling it bold, reliable, and worthy of the qualities of leadership. In the same breath, one can see that the poet cultivates an attitude of benevolence by creating the impression that the train carriages follow their path obediently, much the same way that children follow their mother. These two perspectives make it possible for the reader to understand the tone and attitude of Whitman. Overall, the tone of Whitman's poem is approval. He not only approves of the activities of train travel but also thinks of it as a way of shining light on the known elements of the environment which are difficult to conquer.

On the other hand, Dickinson takes a laid-back tone in her poem. Therefore one can see that the poet is at times ambivalent about the story. Her familiarity with the area is evident that makes her tone take on a benevolent shade. Therefore, one can see that there is a consistent allusion to the areas around the surroundings of her home. Emily Dickinson makes the train come alive by comparing it to a horse. As a woman, her attitude is softer. She does not consider the train to be strong in the loud way that Whitman does. Instead, she admires it and makes comparisons that a horse would typically have. That attitude is accepting of the similarities between the train and a horse. She marvels at how the 'horse' neighs, feeds and moves among the pile of hills in her area.

How Whitman and Dickinson use Stylistic Devices to Create Tone

Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson use imagery, allusion, and symbolism to create their tone. For instance, Whitman establishes the image of a strong conqueror of the adversities in the society. On the other hand, one can see that there is a consistent image of a horse to the horse. Therefore, this constant imagery makes it possible for the audience to look at their points more vividly. The first section of this paper identified the characters of the actors, if one were to continue that course of thinking, then the level of imagery would be in style with the authors. That is how one can see Whitman's imagery border on hyperbole due to its vividness. Conversely, one can see Dickinson follow a more moderate script. True to her laid-back: and possibly even timid: character, one can see that her use of imagery maintains a close sense of familiarity. She only uses examples in her knowledge instead of giving larger-than-life examples the way Whitman does. These are two different attitudes at play; that make comparing the two attitudes a fair exercise in literary taxonomy.


By comparing the Whitman and Dickinson's poetry, one can see that poetry is all about perspective. It personalizes aspects that would otherwise be lost in time. Whitman uses a grandiose approach that is typical to the hopeful outlook that young men in that time watch. On the other hand, Dickinson is more composed in her approach. That composure comes from living in an urban setting and a sheltered livelihood with access to all of the amenities. The rollover effect affects their tones and eventual attitudes towards the audience in the poetry.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. "I Like To See It Lap The Miles." Poetry Foundation, 2018, Accessed 19 June 2018.

Whitman, Walt. "To A Locomotive In Winter." To A Locomotive In Winter, 2018, Accessed 19 June 2018.

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