Comparison of “Second Inaugural Address” by President Lincoln & “Success is Counted Sweetest” by Emily Dickinson

Second Inaugural Address by President Lincoln and “Success is Counted Sweetest” by Emily Dickinson are two pieces of writing that were written approximately at the same time and on the same occasion. However, their comparison will reveal that they are dramatically different. It is true that the authors did not mean to refer to each other’s work. Nevertheless, both texts were created in the same historical context and, therefore, are comparable to a certain extent. It may be logical to carefully examine both pieces of writing and explain why they belong to different literary categories based on a certain set of aspects. For the purposes of this paper, argument, appeal, arrangement, and artistic devices will be considered as the major factors that will be used in the course of comparison.

If one considers the argument that each of the text makes, one will have to point out the following: both feature a clear argument, but the inaugural address explicitly mentions it while the poem makes it quite subtle. Indeed, when President Lincoln was addressing the people, he knew that a considerable part of the population was listening to him closely. Given the fact that mass communication was not invented at the time and it was impossible to address the entire nation. That is why President Lincoln knew that he was addressing the biggest number of people possible, so he did not waste his words. Being a president of a country that has been torn by a civil war, he wanted to sound reassuring and optimistic.

As for Emily Dickinson, she may have never thought about her potential audience; that is why she was not concerned with making her argument explicit. Objectively speaking, fewer people would have read the poem in question if compared to those who heard the inauguration speech. That is why the poet did not feel that she was obliged to make any specific statement about the war that could be easily repeated by the audience. This resulted in the situation when she made the argument somewhat vague and pessimistic. Those who are not familiar with the historical context would have never guessed that the poet was referring to the Civil War in her lines.

The concept of appeal is another point that should be examined when comparing the two pieces of writing. One should keep in mind that President Lincoln was a public figure who attracted a considerable amount of attention bother from his supporters and his enemies. That is why he tried to appeal to both groups. On the one hand, he congratulated his fellow citizens with success in the war and reassured them that victory is unavoidable. On the other hand, he reached to the other side and tried to make sure that his opponents who were going to be defeated would not be fixed on their failure: the President offered future that could unite both parts of the country.

If one considers the groups of people that Emily Dickinson tried to appeal, one will not be able to identify any specific group. One should keep in mind that at the time she did not expect that her poems will be read widely. That is why she felt free to express her thoughts on any matter that she would like. Unlike the President whose words will be recorded and will have a direct impact on the history, the poet is primarily interesting for his or her audience. This resulted in the situation when Dickinson did not try to pursue any specific goal, but rather expressed her genuine feelings which other people might have found disturbing.

Another significant point of difference that should be discussed focuses on the arrangement. Even a quick glance at the two texts will reveal that they feature different length. While the poem is several lines long, the speech is about one or two pages long. That is why it would be logical to expect that the speech would have formal elements such as introduction, body parts, and conclusion while the poem would be a stream of consciousness on the paper. Indeed, President Lincoln first talks about this first term, setting the historical context for what he is about to say. Then he reflects on the recent development of the war and speculates about the future. Finally, he makes a closing statement when he reassures the audience about the positive aspects of the future.

It is virtually impossible to identify similar parts in the poem by Dickinson. Obviously, one might suggest that the first two lines introduce the topic. The rest of the poem conveys the message and the last two lines make a concluding statement. However, all lines are perceived in unity. That is why would not be fair to suggest that they have been arranged in a specific manner that would make the message more effective. It is important to point out that Dickinson wanted to convey her feelings and the latter may not follow any specific logical structure. As a result, it is rather difficult to outline the message of the poem: it would be perceived as a single unit.

Finally, the biggest difference between the two texts also lies in the number and nature of artistic devices that were used by the authors. Given the fact that inauguration was a formal occasion, it is logical that the President had not used a lot of artistic devices. To be exact, the amount of figurative language in the speech is so small that it does not influence the message at all. Obviously, the President quotes the Bible and refers to God a lot, but that was a norm for public speaking at the time. Therefore, one might conclude that Lincoln refrained from artistic devices in order to help the audience focus on the message that he was sending.

Contrary to that, Emily Dickinson, being a poet, made a great use of artistic devices. For example, she starts her poem with a striking contrast: “nectar” is contrasted with “sorest need”. Moreover, nectar serves as a symbol of success rather than something that people normally consume. In addition to that, she uses a lot of epithets that make the text more expressive.  Speaking of word choice, it is clear that she was using words that would have the biggest impact on the audience and reach their hearts. All this leads to the understanding that unlike the President he deliberately avoided using artistic devices to keep the message clear, Dickinson relied on the artistic devices to convey her message.

Having examined all the points that were mentioned in the paragraphs above, one is able to come to the following conclusion: the two texts are dramatically different in argument, appeal, arrangement, and artistic devices. That is why it is clear that they belong to different literary categories. President Lincoln was making a formal speech that would reach the biggest number of people possible, bother supporters and those who were against him. So, he used formal language that would not distract from the main message. Contrary to that, Dickinson wrote a poem that would convey her true feelings about the war and did not bother to appeal to any specific audience, knowing that being genuine is more important for her.

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: November 26, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: November 26, 2021] (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
Available at:

[Accessed: November 26, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: November 26, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: November 26, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: November 26, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: November 26, 2021]
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