It should be noted that the two poems When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman and 324 by Emily Dickinson have both similarities and differences. They reveal the worldview of writers’ and dwell upon their perceptions of nature. From Whitman’s writing, the reader can understand the author’s appreciation of personal experience with nature rather than an application of a scientific approach towards cognizing it. In the same way, Dickinson tried to express her perception that it essential to have personal experience with nature but, in contrast to the first writer, she alludes to God to make her statement that it is possible to make contact with God by interacting and observing the environment rather than through regular visits to church.
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Nature and Science
In his poem, Whitman describes a speaker who is reluctant to listen to an astronomer’s lecture and chooses to quit finding comfort and inspiration when gazing at the stars (Whitman 380). The core of the poem is in the contradistinction between a scientific, settled approach towards nature and an intuitive and sensual one. The author tried to emphasize that the natural world provokes the desire to cognize it while an analytical attitude to it does not contribute to the spiritual experience of a person.
Nature and Religion
Dickinson also reflects on the experience with the natural world. The poet refers to the topic of religion and the actual importance of the manmade building to worship God – the essence that is of sublime and immaterial character. This idea is evident from the following stanza (Dickinson 254):
“Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—
I keep it, staying at Home—
With a Bobolink for a Chorister—
And an Orchard, for a Dome–”
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Therefore, it can be assumed that she expresses her idea that being in nature is more Godly and genuine than attending a formal ceremony as a routine occupation.
Language of Two Authors
The poetic devices utilized by Whitman fetch out the statement he wanted to highlight. Every line of the first quatrain starts with “when” (Whitman 380):
“When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,”.
With the help of this device, he wanted to stress out the boredom and the analytical approach of science while the second stanza is more elegant and descriptive to express the joy of nature contemplation (Whitman 380). In contrast, Dickinson makes vivid use of metaphors to bring her perceptions to the forefront. The metaphor of birds and nature stresses out the contradistinction between the God-created environment and the beliefs proposed by Church, which have to be supported by regular visits to the building made by people rather than to nature created by God (Dickinson 254).
In addition, the two authors use different stylistic tools. Whitman’s diction is rather simple, and it is free verse while Dickinson’s manner is more metaphoric. Her speech is more abrupt, and the use of punctuation is distinctive and unconventional. The first writing is more regularly structured to ensure the reader can comprehend the message straight away, and Dickinson wanted the reader to analyze the metaphors first to be able to understand the religious allusion.
Thus, it can be concluded that both authors wanted to express their naturalistic and spiritual perceptions of the world; nevertheless, the means they resorted to and the approaches used were different. Whitman rejected the analytical approach towards nature, and Dickinson turned down the necessity of religious domains while nature and the man are organic whole and it is not necessary to attend special and often formal ceremonies to be able to perceive nature. Moreover, the first poem makes use of meter and structure to emphasize its core message while the second one highlights the author’s statement through imagery.
Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Harvard University Press, 1998.
Whitman, Walt. The Poems of Walt Whitman. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1902.