From Grandeur to Arrogance
Walt Whitman's poem, "To a Locomotive in Winter" and Emily Dickinson's "I Like to See It Lap The Miles" are two different poems about the same subject, the steam engine. Where Whitman uses solely free verse, Dickinson’s poem more closely follows standard writing practices, with very structured line breaks. Another key difference in these works is the speech they use; Whitman uses "old English" laden with thee and thy, whereas Dickinson uses fairly modern terminology. Whitman describes the elegant and powerful grandeur of the locomotive from the shining brass and steel to the twinkling of the wheels. Dickinson describes the arrogance and nuisance of it as she imagines it staring down upon the impoverished towns is passes through and by. The descriptive words used by Whitman makes for striking visual and audio imagery with him describing not only how the train looks armored and cylindrical garnished in “golden brass and silvery steel” (Whitman line 4), but he also describes the smoke billowing from the train as being “tinged with delicate purple” (Whitman line 8) and the “dense murky clouds out-belching from thy smoke-stack” (Whitman line 9). Whitman even makes use of the silence of the trains’ lamps swinging in the night and even the landscape sings praises to the mighty locomotive, “Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills return’d” (Whitman line 23). Dickinson mainly focuses on the audio imagery of the locomotive struggling violently up hill “Complaining all the while” (Dickinson line 10), but she does note how it seems to look down upon the towns it passes and steps “Around a Pile of Mountains” Dickinson line 5). Technique is another major disparity in these pieces; Whitman uses free verse to show the free spirited train, the poem does not adhere to any normal or accepted pattern and the locomotive follows suit, it goes its own way and no soul can impede it. Dickinson, conversely, uses very prompt line breaks and...
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