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Robert Frost and Walt Whitman - A Comparative Essay

This is an essay I wrote while studying literature at university.

“Frost is of the tradition of ... Whitman, and independent of it”. Discuss, with reference to at least three poems by each writer.


“Frost is of the tradition of ... Whitman, and independent of it”. There are many similarities and differences which can be identified in the ‘traditions’ of the poetry of Walt Whitman and Robert Frost. Both can be considered poets of the people who constructed their verse with the intention of making it accessible to a vast audience. Both Whitman and Frost also examined various aspects of nature in their poetry. The primary difference in the traditions of the two poets is their essential view of the world. Whitman was a celebratory poet who praised himself, America and all of life. In contrast, Frost believed that life was a tragedy and adopted a philosophical standpoint in his poetry. His pessimistic outlook obviously conflicts with Whitman’s optimistic attitude. Thus we may state that while “Frost is of the tradition of ... Whitman” he is also “independent of it”.


“Since the nineteenth century, American poetry has developed in two main streams; the first began with the free, pulsating, incantory verse of Walt Whitman, while the second started with the experiment and innovation of Pound and Eliot. Frost owes a little to both traditions, though he has, on the whole, tended to work from and continue an earlier tradition and thus ... create a tradition of his own”(1) . Robert Frost is one of the most well known American literary figures in history. Since his appearance on the literary scene at the beginning of the century critics have attempted to label Frost in several different ways. He has been called a regional poet, a provincial poet and a naturalist poet. Critics have also identified similarities between Frost and other authors in order to assist them in this labeling process. Walt Whitman is one poet who Frost has been compared with. Although both are different kinds of poets, there are many identifiable similarities in their ‘traditions’. One critic wrote that, “with accounting for differences in temperament and personality, (Frost) does resemble Whitman in his sense of brotherhood and his faith in American character and purpose”(2) . Both Frost and Whitman wrote for the people and for all of America and dealt with aspects of nature including human nature and the environment of the natural world. Both poets also dealt with relationships of some description, including the relationships between man and nature and man and his fellow men. The primary difference between the two poets is their general view of the world. Whitman was a celebratory poet who praised America, himself and all of life, including the role of death in the cycle of life. In contrast, Frost was a pessimistic poet who adopted a philosophical attitude while he searched for answers to the questions of life. He saw life as a tragedy and this is reflected in his poetry. Thus we may say that “Frost is of the tradition of ... Whitman, and independent of it”.

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