Immortality: Where Do Whitman & Dickinson Stand?
I am perplexed. Throughout this very short period of time in which we have crammed Whitman and Dickinson into our minds and out our pores, I have concluded that they are very spiritual individuals. However, their spirituality is not of Dickinson’s Holyoke Seminary nor Wordsworth’s nature. As a novice reader of both artists, I have decided that both believe in the sanctity of humanity.
Whitman’s “Salut Au Monde” is a song about humanity to humanity. In this song he writes,
Each of us inevitable,
Each of us limitless-each of with his or her right upon the
Each of us allow’d the eternal purports of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here. (11.33-36)
I believe Whitman is implying that mankind, in of itself, is god-like. Additionally, it appears in this poem and many of the others that mankind is eternal, immortal, if you will. He alludes to a version of immortality as he describes the graves in which our bodies return to grass. He appears to be describing the cycle of life. What do you think? Do you believe that Whitman thinks because of our interconnectedness with one another that we are truly immortal? Do you think that Whitman believes mankind is divine or is he just trying to emphasize our equality? Does his immortality exist as a global consciousness? How is Whitman’s vision of immortality like Dickinson’s?
Dickinson seems to question her belief in immortality. Furthermore, her poems seem to contradict themselves. On the surface, her poem “Going to Heaven,” reads as a contradiction of itself.
“ Going to Heaven!
I don’t know when-
Pray do not ask me how! (F128B, 1-3)
I’m glad I don’t believe it
For it w’d stop my breath- (F128 B19-20)
Within this poem she seems to believe in immortality for others, but, perhaps, not for herself. Does she believe this immortality does not exist for her because she was not able to make the confession of faith required by her religion? If she believes this, does she in fact believe in Christianity? Another poem that seems to address Dickinson’s thoughts on immortality is “ Because I could not stop for death.” Personally, I think this poem expresses a very dreary immortality. I don’t know about you, but the thought of being in a half-submerged tomb does not seem like an ideal eternity, even if millennia do seem like minutes. Do you think Dickinson believes in immortality? How are Whitman and Dickinson’s opinions different on the matter? Are there opinions of immortality directly related to their individual and varying beliefs in the sanctity of mankind? Or, does Dickinson believe immortality is not available for her because she does not believe in her sanctity due to an actual belief in the Christianity which she at times says to have denounced? My fellow muses, let us know your thoughts on the matter.