Whitman and Dickinson:
The American Poets

An Analysis


In this short piece, Whitman aims to celebrate the widespread individuality that permeates American society. Individual people, or "songs" litter the country, each telling it's own unique story, but at the same time harmonizing into one to share the larger story of America. In the grand scheme of life, we all have our own stories, each individual from one another, forming the basis of our identity.


Allegory: Throughout the poem, Whitman refers to the "songs" that each citizen of America sings through their daily life. One can reason that these songs are meant to represent the lives and stories that each American possesses. Throughout our lives, we all experience different things, adding verses to our individual "songs" that differentiate them from one another.

Assonance: In verses such as "Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs", Whitman repeats vowel sounds throughout. This gives the poem a more song-like quality, possibly imitating the "songs" Whitman writes about in this poem.

The best visual representation one could make of this poem would be that of a choir. It features several people singing individually, having their voices come together and harmonize, creating a larger and more powerful song than they could have on their own.


In another of Whitman's shorter works, "Reconciliation" speaks against the idea, commonly held in times of war, that the enemy being fought is made up of savages, less human than you and your comrades fighting the same fight. Whitman asserts that we have a tendency to group others based on previously created ideas of what they "should" be, and thus it is chilling when one realizes that the savages you've fought so hard are no different from you or I.


Personification: "...the hands of the sisters Death and Night". In this statement, Whitman gives human characteristics to the slightly abstract concepts of Death and Night. This statement reflects the way in which war has the ability to "wash" the world. Through the simple act of war,  the population is wiped with death with a meticulousness one would only reserve for the sentient. As if some force were controlling the breadth with which we died.

Tone: Whitman makes us of a dark, regretful tone. The character who narrates the poem shows much remorse for the carnage he is witnessing, that humanity has caused through hatred of one another. It helps the audience absorb the pointlessness of war, how all the carnage could have been avoided, but sadly was not.

The cosmic calender actually provides of good illustration of one of the points Whitman makes in the poem. He asserts that "...war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost." He makes it clear how, despite the magnitude with which we destroy each other in long wars, all the death and destruction will eventually be lost to time. It will be the tiniest blip on the radar of the universe, barely registering in the grand scheme of events.


In this poem, Dickinson seeks to pinpoint the way we perceive our victories and defeats. Using an example of a battered and defeated army, Dickinson posits that one can only truly know success when they have been badly defeated, those who have more desires than they do ownership's.


Rhyme Scheme: Dickinson utilizes an ABCB rhyme scheme through this poem. As one might imagine, this gives it a very distinct rhythm, which I believe helps us connect with the poem more. It gives the poem an air of playfulness or simplicity, contrasting the more serious or somber subject matter.

Paradox: Dickinson makes it quite clear how odd it is that, in order to know and appreciate success, defeat is almost entirely necessary. She shows how the winning army is unable to know their success, yet the defeated know all the well just how greatly they have won.

This picture exemplifies the already vivid picture Dickinson paints with her poem. An army is defeated by another, who is wholly unaware of the victory they have scored. But the defeated truly know both the victory and the defeat.

Comment Stream