I believe that Gelpi's account of Dickinson's and Whitman's work to be valid, the two are very different poets, but one does have select the 'contradictory fragments' to pose the tensions in Whitman's work.

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Lit 103  Assessment 2                Stephen Wilson

‘The drama of consciousness [in Dickinson] moved to no resolving design. Consequently, where the critic can take a major Whitman poem as symptomatic of the whole work, he must select contradictory fragments from here and there to pose the tensions which are the coherence of Dickinson’s work.’  Discuss Albert Gelpi’s account of the crucial difference between the work of Whitman and Dickinson, and say if you find it valid.  (You may, if you wish, concentrate more on one poet than the other.)

Both Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson are regarded as great American poets of the Nineteenth Century, yet they could not be so different.  They are both unique poets in the sense that the sense that their writing styles varied immensely from any other style before them.  The assessment of the poets by Albert Gelpi is one that is usually assumed with the comparison between Whitman and Dickinson.  Whitman’s poems in comparison to Dickinson’s were huge and only by selecting certain fragments from poems could the tensions be found.  Whereas Dickinson’s short, abrupt poems tensions make the poems what they are.

Gelpi states that the ‘consciousness moved to no resolving design’ in Dickinson’s work.  This is an undisputed fact.  Dickinson invented her own form for her poetry, which was quite unlike any before her, Dickinson constructed her own poetic meter, which broke free from standard form.  The syntax of her poems were also very unconventional, she would place dashes in the middle of her poems to produce breaks, this was usually used as a replacement for a full stop and had the effect of making her reader learn where to take the break in the poem to ‘collect sense before moving onto the next stanza’.  Also Dickinson’s poems were also very short with thirty-five lines being the longest of her poems, whilst the average length being fifteen lines.  Whitman in comparison, is completely different.  His epic poem ‘Song of Myself’ is thirteen-hundred and forty-five lines in length.  This is not the only difference, Whitman used a very prosaic language in his poems, and due to their form, his poems were more like prose than poetry.  This is because Whitman, like Dickinson, invented his own form which is now know as free verse.  The major thing that unites these vastly different poets is that they both not too popular with publishers; Whitman kept getting trouble over the erotic nature of some of his poems, and Dickinson only had a handful of poems published (and in an altered form) in her lifetime.

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The reader becomes very aware of the ‘drama of consciousness’ when reading Dickinson’s, I have selected her poem ‘No. 754’ to highlight the tensions of Dickinson’s work which Gelpi states gives her it’s coherence:

                        My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -

                        In Corners - till a Day

                        The Owner passed - identified -

                        And carried Me away -[...]

                        To foe of His - I’m deadly foe -

                        None stir the second time -

                        On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -

                        Or an emphatic Thumb -

                        Though I than He - may longer live

                        He ...

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