Whitman and Dickinson

by PammyMcB

To understand the difference between Whitman’s and Dickinson’s views of nature, the reader must first understand how Whitman and Dickinson view themselves and their individual connection to God. According to Susan Belasco Smith, Whitman “fuses the self to the world” (113). He sees interconnectedness between God, humankind, and nature. Whitman believed we are all a part of God, everything exists in God, and God exists in everything.

In “Song of Myself” Whitman wrote, “I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked” (line 19). Not only was Whitman trying to shock the prudish people of his time, but also he was trying to have them understand the body is beautiful and sacred. When Whitman uses I, myself, or me; it must be understood that he does not mean the individual. Instead, he is saying I, myself, or me, who is one with God, all of humankind, and nature.

Unlike Whitman, when Dickinson uses the words I, myself, or me; she is speaking of the lonely, isolated individual. She felt hopeless and powerless in the world. When describing Dickinson’s view of self, Smith states, “the self is ultimately lonely, separate from nature and God, and constantly involved in conflict” (113). Due to her sense of powerlessness, Dickinson’s poetry is often filled with death, pain, and despair. In poem number two-hundred-fifty-eight, Dickinson writes, “Heavenly Hurt, it gives us – / We can find no scar, / But internal difference, / Where the Meanings, are –“ (lines 5-8).

Dickinson speaks of a spiritual pain in which one cannot ever escape. Although Whitman and Dickinson had such radically different views on the connection between God, humankind, and nature, it is important for the reader to remember both poets believed in a transcendent God, and they both saw the beauty in nature. It seems, however, their differences lie in the role of humans in the world. 

Smith, Susan Belasco. “Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson: Poetry of the Central Consciousness by Agnieszka Salska.” South Central Review. Vol. 4.4: Winter 1987: 112-115.