Death; termination of vital existence; passing away of the physical state. Dying comes along with a pool of emotions that writers have many times tried to explain. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman were two pioneer poets from the Romantic Era, that introduced new, freer styles of writing to modern poetry at the time. Both Whitman and Dickinson have similar ideas in their writing, but each has a unique touch of expression in their works. Both poets have portrayed death in their poetry as a relief, a salvation, or escape to a better place- another life. They have formulated death as a positive yet ambiguous state. In Dickinson’s “Narrow Fellow in the Grass” and Whitman’s “Wound-Dresser”, there exists a link in both poets ideas of death through each individuals style of writing.
Both poets, through their distinct voice and word-choice, arrive at the same conclusion of death being a good and positive thing. Whitman’s “Wound-Dresser” tells the story of an old man remembering his war-tales of watching soldiers die. These dying soldiers resemble Jesus, they were dying for a cause; for their country; for a “world of gain and appearance and mirth” (line 21). This resemblance brings the religious connotation into the poem. He compares the soldiers (Jesus) to nature, “like a swift-running river they fade” (line 18); which gives the impression that to him, God is nature. Whitman also incorporates phrases such as, “I am faithful” (line 56) to reinforce this religious connotation. After all, death is in many ways related to religion, every religion has a theory on death. He states: “-poor boy! I never knew you/ Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save/ You” (lines 37-39). Here, Whitman is introducing his acceptance for death. He is not afraid to die for this Boy. Whitman also describes death in a very delicate manner, which allows the reader to feel that death is in a way, good. For instance, he describes the soldiers as noisy in war, but when they die, there is silence. Silence resembles death, yet it’s not a negative way of expressing it. As the poet encounters with more memories of suffering, he calls to death: “Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!/ In mercy come quickly” (lines 44-45). He believes death will alleviate the pains and that it is good. Another delicate way of describing death, and an excellent choice of words, is when he says he recalls “the experience (as) sweet and sad” (line 63) These young soldiers have so much life ahead of them and they are dying, this makes it ‘sad’. Yet since they are suffering so much, it’s ‘sweet’ that they die. In this particular poem, Whitman portrays an attitude of positive welcoming of death.
The positive outlook that Whitman portrays towards death in his poem the “Wound-Dresser”, is similarly shown in Emily Dickinson’s “Narrow Fellow in the Grass”. She tells a simple story with impressive word choices that allow for deep interpretation and symbolism. Her poem narrates the story of a dead man laying on the ground that looks as if “the Grass divides as with a comb-” (line 5). “He (meaning the dead man) likes Boggy Acre/ A Floor too cool for Corn-” (lines 9-10). Notice as she uses the word ‘likes’ as if the dead man still lived or had feelings towards the place where he died. It seems as if she was contradicting her Puritan decent by in a way believing in an afterlife. The dead man chose a ‘boggy acre’. Boggy is a rich, mineral-filled soil that is close to a body of water. Water represent purification, but it’s also one of the four elements of life; earth, water, fire and air, therefore it also represents Life. Yet the ‘floor is too cool for corn’. Corn grows in hot, dry places. This coolness (winter) is the representation of death. What Dickinson could be trying to say through these simple sentences, is that the man is living after death. This representation of an after-life also gives the impression that, similar to Whitman, she welcomes death. “I feel for them (dead people) a transport/ Of cordiality” (lines 19-20). She’s talking about a transport of dying as if going to another life. Yet, it’s a transport of cordiality which puts death in a gentle manner, further noting her positive outlook on it.
Whitman and Dickinson both describe death as a positive event in a person’s life, yet both poets arrive at same conclusions of death through different procedures. They have their unique styles of portraying similar views. Whitman’s poem the “Wound-Dresser” is very lengthy and descriptive. He uses adjective-filled sentences to describe emotions towards particular situations, enabling the reader to feel through his shoes. His work is more like a story in a poetic form. Unlike Whitman, Dickinson is very concise and ambiguous in her explanations. She is very preoccupied with detail, but allows the reader to interpret her symbolic word-choice via imagination. Her tone to the poem is very innocent-like and simple, yet with much meaning if read between the lines. Whitman’s tone on the other hand, is more straightforward, dramatic and impacting. He describes in more gross detail.
Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman each differ in the manner in which they write; they each have unique styles. Though they differ in the tone and voice, they arrive at similar conclusions of death in their poems “Wound-Dresser” (by Whitman) and “Narrow Fellow in the Grass” (by Dickinson). Whitman explains the healing effect that death brings to suffering people as sweet and sad. Whilst Dickinson shows signs of death being a path to an afterlife. Both poets portray death as being good.
Bibliography:The Norton Anthology of American Literatutre. shorter fifth edition. norton publishing. london, new york. 1999