Comparing Walt Whitman and Ralph Emerson
Length: 1022 words (2.9 double-spaced pages)
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Walt Whitman is Jay Leno and Ralph Emerson is Ed Hall. Walt takes the instructions announced by Emerson and runs gallantly with them making beautiful and insightful poetry. Walt Whitman and Ralph Emerson spoke out in an age where society was not ready for such dramatic writers. Whitman uses several of Emerson's topics and styles to be that good poet. Whitman elaborates on the characteristics of a poet, freedom, children, and animals.
In order to understand any comparison of the two author's one must first read and comprehend that Emerson's writing are clearly an instruction manual that Whitman adopts in order to become an outstanding poet. Emerson believes we must,
"look in vain for the poet whom I describe. We do not, with sufficient plainness, or sufficient profoundness, address ourselves to life, nor dare we chaunt our own times and social circumstances. If we filled the day with bravery, we should not shrink from celebrating it. Time and nature yield us many gifts, but not yet the timely man, the new religion, the reconciler, whom all things await" (Emerson 1653). Emerson is stating how everything can be a poem and a poet can reflect on valuable resources like nature to draw on and write. Whitman clearly uses this guide in order to write his poetry. He agrees that nature is a valuable tool.
In addition, Whitman elaborates that any person and any nature is in itself poet and poem. He thinks America is full of poets. Whitman reflects saying, "I celebrate myself, and what I assume you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loafe and invite my soul . . . houses and rooms full of perfumes . . . the shelves are crowed with perfumes" (Whitman 2743). Whitman expresses himself and how he wants others to take notice and realize poetry is all around.
People want freedom, and this characteristic is a focus in both poet's works. In Emerson freedom is referred to as, "the ancient British bards had for the title of their order, 'Those who are free throughout the world.' They are free, and they make free"(Emerson 1657).
Emerson is reflecting how Americans wanted to be free from the British rule. They wrote books and expressed themselves because they wanted others to see their freedom. Whitman also reflects that, " I am a free companion . . . I bivouac by invading watchfires. I turn to the bridegroom out of bed and stay with the bride myself" (Whitman 2773). Here Whitman is referring to how he is free to take a bride and do whatever he wants. Whitman is referring to a freedom like the Brits who took America and raped the society. Whitman left the bridegroom behind just like America left Britain behind using it as a tool to obtain freedom. Freedom is something every poet should feel in order to obtain the best sense of writing from one's soul.
Another similarity in both works is the references of children who are innocence, trusting, and curious. Emerson thinks that "we seemed to be touched by a wand which makes us dance and run about happily like children" (Emerson 1656). Walt furthers this point by saying, A child said, 'What is the grass?' Fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? . . . I do not know what it is any more than he. I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven" (Whitman 2746). Walt looked upon children with amazement and love. Walt uses Emerson's point that children need nature and he teaches children about nature. Emerson believes we, "fill the hands and nurseries of our children with all manner of dolls, drums, and horses, withdrawing their eyes from the plain face and sufficing objects of nature, the sun, and the moon. The animals, the water, and stones, which should be their toys" (Emerson 1656). Walt, as well as Emerson, realizes children need to be curious and trust the answers of older adults who have more experience.
Moreover, animals are mentioned in Emerson and Walt's passages. "And instantly the mind inquires, whether these fishes under the bride, yonder oxen in the pasture, those dogs in the yard, are immutably fishes, oxen, and dogs, or only so appear to me, and perchance to themselves appear upright men; and whether I appears a man to all eyes" (Emerson 1659). Emerson mentions everything even the dogs and fish. He believes everything is important. Whitman also uses several references to animals, "where the bull advances to do his masculine work, and the stud to the mare, and the cock is treading the hen" (Whitman 2771) The animals work together just like a poet should work together with nature and his surroundings in order to be the best poet. He too realizes that animals are important and that poetry can be written about them. Whitman just expands on Emerson's small references to animals and gives pages of descriptions of animals. Whit thinks that animals are better than humans because they are not like people and do not have the problems and characteristics of humans.
Whitman is a man who truly reshaped literature. He learned from Emerson and drew from Emerson's experiences. Walt realizes that everything is poetry. Perhaps Emerson's plan was to become a Martha Stuart as he gives instructions on how to bake the perfect cake. Unless someone bakes it and uses all the right ingredients then the recipe goes all-wrong. Just like when a poet does not touch in on all the surroundings to draw on composing a poem, the poem is all-wrong. Whitman is more of a free mind and wants others to like him. Emerson on the other hand does not care and only provides the framework while Whitman provides evidence. The two poets are truly an inspiration to all, because Walt Whitman is Jay Leno and Ralph Emerson is Ed Hall!
Emerson, Ralph.The Poet.The Heath ANhtology of American Literature.3rd ed.Ed, Paul Lauter.Boston, NewYork: Hougton Miffin, 1998.
Whitman, Walt.Song of Myself.The Heath ANhtology of American Literature.3rd ed.Ed, Paul Lauter.Boston, NewYork: Hougton Miffin, 1998.