Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson in their poetry address diverse issues concerning nature and death. These are two aspects of life that all human beings have to live with and have to come to terms with the fact that they will have an effect on them. In this paper, there will be an attempt to compare the pre-modern to the modern view of nature through an analysis of the poetry of Whitman and Dickinson.
One of the most important aspects concerning the views of these poets is that they promote the idea that death is essentially something that has to be feared. This is especially considering that in the modern world, people more often than not, because of the adoption of science as the mainstay of everyday life, are afraid of dying. In addition, the concept of nature is one that is seen to be hostile to human beings and that there is need to bring about its taming. The taming of nature is considered an essential aspect of being civilized; meaning that being in touch with nature is viewed as regressive. Therefore, the modernist view concerning nature and death are essentially hostile to both because human beings do not often have control over these aspects of life.
The pre-modern and modern poetry’s views concerning nature and death have a considerable number of similarities. When it comes to death, both views look upon it as an extremely personal experience. This is exemplified in the pre-modern era where there was the belief that death brought about a level of relief from the problems of everyday life. Moreover, it was intensely personal because it was closely tied to religious beliefs in such a way that there was the promotion of life after death. Whitman, in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”, seeks to understand death and questions why God allows it to take place (Whitman). The modern perspective is also fairly personal when it comes to death because it is believed to involve the complete end of a life. In the poetry of both eras, nature is viewed as being beyond the control of human beings, with the latter having to live the best way that they can within it.
Despite the similarities between them, there are considerable differences between the themes involving nature and death in the pre-modern and modern eras. Among the most significant of these is that unlike in the modern era, in the pre-modern era, there was an acceptance of death an inevitable, but this was tempered by the belief that there was life after death. Moreover, acts of nature were believed to be the will of God and because of it could not be questioned. In the modern era, nature is viewed as essentially being hostile to human beings, as seen in Dickinson’s “Apparently with no surprise” where she questions the benevolence of God (Dickinson). This is an important perspective especially the case considering that these beliefs have become influenced by science.
In conclusion, the pre-modern and modern views of death and nature are displayed in the works of Dickinson and Whitman. In the analysis above, there has been an attempt to show the similarities and differences between the beliefs concerning death and nature in these two eras. The result is the realization that despite the similarities and differences, the views were extremely personal.
- Dickinson, Emily. “Apparently with No Surprise.” Barnet, Burto, and Cain 827 (1960). Print.
- Whitman, Walt. “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” (1865). Print.