Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson are considered the founders of modern American poetry who breached the standards set forth by society and wrote anomalous poems that formed a new mold. While the two differed in the presentation of their poetry, they would often write about many of the same topics: one of which is death. Their approach to death is one that the nineteenth century culture considered uncleanly; however both poets broke the barriers and developed modern poetry. Whitman and Dickinson’s approaches on the topic of death, however, are at sometimes comparable, while at others, antithetical.
Both Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson describe not being intimidated by death. Whitman depicts his characters, quite possibly himself, in “Song of Myself 33.” as “knuckled tight” and “[giving] not back an inch” when faced with death “chasing [the steam-ship] up and down the storm” (“Song of Myself 33.” l. 3-4). By illustrating characters who are willing to face death head-on, Whitman alludes to his beliefs about immortality. His belief in Transcendentalism lends to his ability to disregard mortality and therefore not be scared of death.
Additionally, Whitman describes his own impending death by stating, “Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged/ Missing me one place search another/ I stop somewhere waiting for you” (“Song of Myself 52.” l. 14-16). He knows that he soon will have left the Earth, but he is not harboring fear toward that moment, and he wishes that others would not be scared in their moment as well. Taking comfort in knowing that his loved ones will be able to find him because he will be “somewhere waiting for [them],” Whitman no longer fears the thought of his passing (“Song of Myself 52.” l. 16). Because he is not scared of what society will say about his writing, Whitman is not fearful of writing what is considered “unmentionable.” He breaks the molds and expresses the unspoken aspects of one’s life forcing talk of the subject.
Emily Dickinson also describes death in details were considered taboo and possibly blasphemous during her time. The passing of loved ones was not a topic to be spoken of; rather it was a fact of life but almost never illustrated. In her poem “Because I could not stop for Death,” Dickinson pronounces that death is accommodating. Death is normally thought to be on its own schedule, but Dickinson’s depiction allows her to feel more at ease with the matter by the way in which “[Death] kindly stopped for me” death is willing to wait until she is ready to leave...