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Romantic Movement in American Literature: Emily Dickinson

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Early American Romanticism of 1820-30s (J.W. Irving, F. Cooper, and U.K. Bryant) was represented by the literature of the nation that defeated dictatorship of England and created its own culture with optimism. In the 1830-40s, creativity of Transcendentalists (R.W. Emerson, G. Toro) and works of E. A. Poe marked the beginning of philosophical understanding and formation of the first results of the national literature. In the 1850s, the national consciousness has shifted, namely the knowledge of the world of the American romanticists was turning to the human nature complexity and philosophical understanding of life. The enthusiasm in the evaluation of events of national history was replaced by irony in recreating of the imperfections of the people and the world (N. Gorton) and awareness of the tragedy of the human predicament (G. Melville). Turning away from the problems of non-spiritual reality, poets of the “Boston School” (G.W. Longfellow, O.W. Holmes, D.G. Witter, and D.R. Lowell) opposed to the drama of contemporary literature with its balanced-optimistic view of the world (Hoffman 82-94).

New England and the South were the last strongholds of Romanticism. Romantic tradition has always been particularly rich and powerful here. Its long-term preservation was possible because of the fact that after the Civil War, the two regions have lost their dominant role in the political and intellectual life of the country. The restructuring of American society and appearance of capitalism faced the resistance in America's oldest forms of civilization - the strong influence of Puritanism (in New England) and European culture (in the South). Therefore, commitment of poets in these regions to Romanticism can be explained by the fact that there still remained problems, which met the romantic vision.

Romantic ideas were based on the spiritual and aesthetic beginning in the nature and value of the mind and soul of an individual. Romantics underscored the importance of art expression for the people and society.

Personality development has become a central theme of literature, and self-knowledge was the basic literary method. If according to the theory of Romanticism, a personality and nature comprised one unit, the self-knowledge of selfish pastime becomes a method of studying the universe. If a person attains oneness with humanity, the moral duty of an individual is the removal of social inequalities and relieve from human suffering. The idea of “identity” that sounded selfish to the earlier generations got a new definition. There was a new compound with positive semantics: “self”, “self-expression”, “self-sufficiency”.

In the 1860s, the trend is brewing close to the European Realism, but the development of Romanticism continues. The methodology of late Romanticism recently received much attention, both from the foreign and domestic literary critics.
Creativity of Emily Dickinson in 1850s-80s concludes aesthetic principles and values of romantic art, embodied in a novel form that was unusual for that era.

Dickinson, like the most Romantics, can be characterized by her particular relevance to the spiritual heritage of the past. It was “a deeply personal, lyrical penetration” into the product, the perception of artists of the past as “spiritual companions' sense of their” co-presence and ownership “of her fate”. Dickinson quoted lines of her favorite works considering them as spiritual instructions given to the close ones. Her life in difficult times recalls the fate of European poets and writers.

Emily Dickinson was in a sense a link between her era and the literary features of the twentieth century. This radical individualist was born and spent her life in Amherst, a small village in the state of Massachusetts. She never got married and led an unconventional life that was outwardly uneventful, but full of inner intensity. She deeply loved nature and found a true inspiration in the birds, animals, plants and seasons in this rural corner of New England. Dickinson spent her last years absolutely alone because of the extreme emotional sensitivity. Probably, she just wanted to leave more time for creativity (Walsh 29).

Dickinson's poems are unique because of their contemporary spirit. Their lines are short; there are usually no names, and there are often unusual punctuation and capitalization. Many of her poems contain the motive of death and immortality. The same themes run through her letters to friends.

Her short poems are generally focused on the nature of Dickinson's native places or on some inconspicuous everyday occurrences. However, there is always a background in all her poems; namely, a philosophical meditation on the soul, the universe, the beauty, and every little detail of everyday use, transmitted with the most possible precision and accuracy. It should also be mentioned that engaging in the endless arguments of faith and doubt is one of the main themes of Dickinson's poetry (Dickinson 238):
A sepal, petal, and a thorn
I had a guinea golden
I never lost as much but twice
Papa above!
Some things that fly there be
The Daisy follows soft the Sun
What Inn is this

Dickinson expressed ethical and spiritual conflicts in her poems, which is one of the characteristics of post-war America. However, this by no means reduces the content of her works. Specifically Puritan in its origins, Dickinson’s poetry is full of large scale contradictions. Namely, she describes ecstatic (with the seeming moderation of tone and laconic lines) struggles of the spirit. There is also a discourse about the ability or helpless of a person to reach the integrity of the faith, ethics and actions and those of countless obstacles that one has to overcome on the path to spiritual harmony. Dickinson especially appreciated Emerson as one of the literary mentors. The poetess did not only share the basic principles of his interpretation of nature, but even adopted some features of poetry of the head of Transcendentalists. Namely, Dickinson often uses predilection for symbolism, expressing the invisible philosophical meaning of the landscape, freestyle rhyme, and syntactic violations as a way to underline the key lines. However, the system of Dickinson’s poetic thinking does not show the kinship with Emerson. She has much in common with Blake and Keats, as well as with “metaphysical” English poets, almost forgotten in her time.

The main peculiarity of Dickinson’s poetry is a particular thing that grows into the universe; this is something that appears from the deep personal experiences. She describes the majestic image of a person born in the struggle with the dramatic circumstances and own weakness and creates a special art space (Farr 86-91).

Dickinson’s poems, which total number is 1775, continue to attract the attention of critics, who are very ambivalent about her works. Some emphasize the mystical side of her poetry, while others underline her special love for nature. Many critics notice strangeness of Dickinson’s poems and her attraction to exoticism. Blackmur, one of the modern critics, said that Dickinson sometimes “like a cat appeared unknown from where, which suddenly began to speak in English” (Blackmur 33). Clean, bright, and embossed poetry of Emily Dickinson is one of the most fascinating and challenging pages in American literature.

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