Throughout the history of literature, each individual writer has their own unique style that is distinguishes them from the rest. A writer’s style is the kind of writing, the tools of language, and the manner in which their work is organized. It is shaped through the particular events they have and the mistakes the have made along the way that have helped them to grow as individuals. Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson each have a distinctive style that has grown, developed, and changed as a result of their different experiences. The contrast in style between “Success” and “Song of Myself” reflect the differences in their personal experiences: Dickinson’s style, which consisted of extensive use of dashes and unconventional capitalism, and effective metaphors emphasizes the magnitude of emotion which resulted from tragic events late in her life; whereas, Whitman’s free verse, bold diction, and detailed imagery reflected the transcendental ideals resulted from his strong drive and belief in individualism.
For two people living in the same period of time, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were polar opposites. Emily Dickinson was born into a privileged society. She never had to fend for herself and was sent to private schooling. She was a very reclusive persona nd put herself into a self-imposed “social seclusion.” She lived with heer parents for her whole life and took care of her mother. She wrote up to 1,800 poems in her lifetime but never published during her lifetime. She observed people and had many intimate relationships with people through her letters, whom she rarely, if ever, met. Walt Whitman on the other hand was born into a poor family who could not afford to send him to school. At eleven years old he entered the work force at the newspaper, The Patriot.
He was a very charming person who moved around often and had a large string of jobs at newspapers. In his free time he wrote his most famous book, “leaves of Grass.” He never married and headed south during the war to help with the effort. He received recognition from Emerson, Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott. Although they both were born into large families and remained single their whole lives, their paths were very different. Dickinson was born into riches while Whitman had to fight for his place in the world. Whitman made his works public and received recognition for them while he was alive while Dickinson chose to keep hers hidden and actually intended to burn them. Dickinson was very private while Whitman was very public. Dickinson was absorbed in death and gloom, while Whitman’s life was generally happy and jubilant. It makes sense that these two would write about different things and in different styles, because their lives were very unalike.
Each writer’s personal style was noticeably affected by events that occurred throughout their life. Dickinson’s early work was very conventional and sentimental; she was young and had not had as many tragic events that would eventually grow to shape her writing style, her use of dashes and capitalism showed how the distressing events troubled her by showing how distracted and cluttered her mind was becoming. She showed this in her poem Success when she said “As he defeated-dying- On whose forbidden ear. . .” Dickinson puts dashes in the place of the word “and” to emphasize the importance of the words and how they are closely linked. Dickinson thought that death was closely linked to her and she seemed to think that death was following her. Dickinson had many people who were close to her die in her life and she escaped the misery she felt for her friends and family through her poems.
Whitman is the first person recognized as a free verse writer, his transcendentalist ideas which grew from his work as a volunteer nurse in the army that shaped the belief that all men, no matter how insignificant, are equal and deserve to be recognized as heroes. Whitman has a very casual style of writing; he shows this in an excerpt from Song of Myself when he says “Have you heard that it was good to gain the day? I also say it is good to fall….battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.” This asks the reader questions and then gives Whitman’s opinion very directly; he even talks to the reader directly when he says “you” which shows how relaxed he really is. He recognized that the victors of a battle are just as important as the conquered and emphasizes this through his calm, relaxed style which did not have much format and never rhymed, which showed how it doesn’t matter what the end result is. Both of these writer’s lives and styles were changed through death, while Dickinson’s was the death of people close to her Whitman’s was through people who he was trying to save on battlefields. Death may have effected both but the way that they were effected was greatly different, Whitman embraced death and emphasized how even the dead have great importance and Dickinson had become deeply distraught by it.
If one looks to analyze the poems of “success” and “song of myself” one can discover why the author’s choose to write in their respective styles based on their personal experiences. Dickinson’s poem reflects a skeptical view of success; argues that once success is achieved, it is ultimately a disappointment. Growth is gained through the suffering one goes through in order to achieve success. This pessimistic view is probably the result of the tragic experiences late in her than caused her to harden emotionally such as the death of loved ones. “The distant strains of triumph, Burst agonized and clear!” This means that she feels that triumph and success is so far away that it can never be reached showing her pessimism once again. Her diction is also demonstrates a negative manner through particular word choices that key the readers in to the tone of her poems. Words such as “forbidden” or “agonized” are examples of this type of diction. The main message behind her poem is that growth is not gained through success.
William Robert Sherwood says the lesson of the poem is that “God may wish to test our faith and fortitude through making us suffer, but we can use suffering to augment our most specifically human resource, the consciousness” (Lit Finder). What Dickinson is trying to emphasize is that one grows and learns through the hard work that is put forth when trying to reach success. One should, Dickinson claims, appreciate the growth and knowledge achieved through hard work because is they bank on appreciating success alone, they will end up disappointed. Whitman’s view of success is different from Dickinson’s. Whitman says that success is achieved when someone gives something toward a certain cause. An example of this could be a soldier volunteering to serve his country in the army. Success is also something that is not equal as far as public opinion is concerned but is equal in theory. According to Whitman, success should be equally appreciated, from the famous faces to the unsung heroes. He even goes as far as to say that success is greater for those people who give toward a worthy cause and don’t receive overwhelming celebrity status because of it.
This type of success shows that the person is giving toward a cause out of pure generosity and is not motivated by alternate motives such as search for popularity or fame. “Less unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known” (line 13 Song of Myself). This means true heroes are the ones that died and are not remembered as heroes. This can be considered transcendental because he is praising the individual rather than just conforming to the popular opinion of society. The transcendental style is reflected throughout the poem. He has very long sentences that are Thoreau-like is the sense that one idea leads to another and so on.
This style characteristic of Whitman shows why some people classify his work as transcendental. This transcendental style is most likely derived from the fact that he never really fit in with the norm of society and he was always looked at by people as being “odd.” This “odd” character trait which seemed to be a folly to the average Joe made Whitman one of the greatest writers in the history of American literature. One thing that the two poems have in common is that both writers stray away form the norms of society. Dickinson argues that success is not as great as society builds it up to be and Whitman goes against hailing the “heroes” as society tends to do and remembers even the unknown, unimportant people who are usually forgotten by society. The critical analysis behind these two poems is a direct reflection of who they are as individuals.
Surely, Dickinson and Whitman, by the way they use the language reveal something of their spirit, their habits, their capacities, and their bias. Given, that all of these are different, these differences are due to completely different lives. The contrast in style in “Success” and “Son of Myself,” reflect the differences in their personal experiences. Dickinson lived a simple and glum life while Whitman lived a very active and random life. Therefore, it is no surprise when Dickinson writes using dashes and unconventional capitalism, and effective metaphors. Whitman uses free verse, bold diction, and detailed imagery. The differences in style that are shown in the two poems present directly evidence that their lifestyles were different. The reader can pick up on what the author was feeling while writing the poem by the structure, diction, and the topic. These are different for both authors. In conclusion, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman’s “selves” are shown to be polar opposites through the style, structure, diction, and mood of their poems.