Whitman & Dickinson, Self & Nation

Faith Barret, Inclusion and Exclusion: Fictions of Self and Nation in Whitman and Dickinson, The Emily Dickinson Joural, Vol. V, No. 2

  • In Leaves of Grass, Whitman establishes a lyric self by way of metaphors that include the whole nation…In Dickinson’s poems, by contrast, the inventing of the self entails metaphors for the exclusion of the world.” (240)
  • The ‘lyric self’ in Whitman and Dickinson are “inseparable from the invention of the poet’s public persona: the lyric self overlaps with the poet’s public dimensions.” (241)
  • “Futhermore, the destabilizing of metaphors for the self in these poets’ works seem integrally related to the crisis of national identity that occurred with the Civil War.” (241)
  • “Dickinson’s work, then, betrays a profound uneasiness with locating truth in the witnessing and representation of another individual’s suffering.” (242)
  • “If  Dickinson’s poems explore the impossibility of bridging the gap between the speaker and other’s sufferings, the Whitman’s poems insist that this leap is possible…he is able not only to witness suffering but also to become the sufferer.” (244)
  • “Many of Dickinson’s poems from the war years, however, could be read as measuring the distance between the speaker’s suffering and the nation’s suffering.”
  • Whitman obsessively added details to Leaves of Grass, hoping to include every possible detail and voice in the final version. Dickinson refused to publish her poetry “positing a self isolated from the world” (245). Her poems illuminate the “instability of all metaphoric constructs for the self” (245).