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The contributions of walt whitman and emily dickinson on the 19th century literature

A Close, Intimate Look at Walt Whitman Her writing seems to have come from nowhere and her verse was like nothing else both in her own time and in American literature. Yet despite her apparent physical and cultural isolation, careful study has found the tracings of the wider society threaded through her mysterious and elliptical poems. Questions of faith and salvation predominate, but current events pop up as well, none more than the Civil War.

Later her verse would reflect the battle being joined—she saw the dead and casualties being returned to her town; she may have seen illustrations of the battlefield—and then the awful aftermath. In the first stanza of one poem, she laid bare how the reality of war exposed the hollowness of the rhetoric that was used to instigate and justify it: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848.

Emily Dickinson

Dickinson shows us the aftermath and the regret not only for the loss of life but of what war does to the living. Dickinson and Whitman show us two ways of working through the problem of how to mourn and how to gauge the effect that the war was having on Americans.

Their point of view—Dickinson distant, Whitman near the front in Washington—inflected their writing, as did other factors such as gender: Literary historian Edmund Wilson's influential 1962 book, Patriotic Gore, shows how the war shaped American literature.

He writes, in particular, about how the war, in the need for orders to be terse, concise and clear, had an impact on the writing style that would characterize American modernism.

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Yet the boundaries were not clearly drawn at the time. Dickinson inhabited a world of Victorian sentimentality, but infused its musty conventions with the vigor of her idiosyncratic point of view and elliptical style. Similarly, Whitman, supposedly the preeminent harbinger of modern sensibilities, oscillated between the old and newer cultures.

  1. She baked bread and tended the garden, but she would neither dust nor visit. This dust was once the Man, Gentle, plain, just and resolute—under whose cautious hand, Against the foulest crime in history known in any land or age, Was saved the Union of These States.
  2. Defined by an illuminating aim, it is particular to its holder, yet shared deeply with another.
  3. For Dickinson the change was hardly welcome.
  4. As her school friends married, she sought new companions. Similarly, Whitman, supposedly the preeminent harbinger of modern sensibilities, oscillated between the old and newer cultures.

Famously, he wrote two mourning poems for his hero, Abraham Lincoln and they are very different. This dust was once the Man, Gentle, plain, just and resolute—under whose cautious hand, Against the foulest crime in history known in any land or age, Was saved the Union of These States.

Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and the War That Changed Poetry, Forever

Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery Dickinson and Whitman were two of the most sensitive intelligences in the making of American poetry. That they were conflicted and pulled between the past and the future, only indicates the complexities that were in flux due to the war. Among other writers, from established authors to Americans who turned to poetry as a form of solace in a time of need, older patterns of expression continued to predominate. The over-stuffed furnishings of Victorian literature was a recourse and a comfort to people in great need.

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Later, Mark Twain, among others, would lampoon that culture and kill it dead in the 1884 "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The violence of the war sloughed off all the over wrought, emotionally dramatic Victorian proprieties that evaded the immediate impact of the thing itself.

As Americans recoiled from the reality of war, there was a sense of taking stock that in our literature and poetry would result in a more chastened and realistic language, one better suited to assess and describe the world that the War had created.