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Romanticism was a powerful movement in art and literature, which emerged as rebellion to dry and straight-forward realism. As representatives of Romantic Movement in American literature, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson embody its ideals in their poetry. As will be seen through further analyzed poems, such aspects as worship of nature, human individuality and fantasy are present in the texts.
The idealization of nature is one of the elements that the Romantics believed to be crucial when creating their works because they thought of it as the spiritual bridge between the earthly and the divine, between Man and God. Besides, because creativity was highly worshiped by them, nature exemplified the utterly perfect creation, which was created by God as an artist. It would not be surpassed by any human, yet it was a model for artists to follow. Walt Whitman's poetry reveals his belief in the power of nature, which can empower people too:
O powerful, western, fallen star!
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear'd! O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul! ( Whitman)
The example demonstrates the poet's obsession with nature, which borders on enchantment. The specific feature of Whitman's representation of nature is association with darker rather than with light spirits. Dark romanticism was especially attractive because it emphasized the irrational part of human personality, which they believed was the source of power and creativity. The theme of nature is also closely related with the themes of loneliness and mortality in Whitma's poetry, which are also typical of Romantic Movement:
Solitary, the thrush,
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.
Song of the bleeding throat!
Death's outlet song of life--(for well, dear brother, I know
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would'st surely die (Whitman).
Thus, this poem suggests that while a person is mortal, nature and art are eternal, and through them one can achieve immortality. At the same time, the lines imply that a genius can be fatal and burn one's heart art because the gift requires courage and total devotion. When staying in the realm of nature, a person is able to restore harmony and to join the source of divine wisdom. It is also a chance to escape from social life, which is false compared to natural one. A person of Romanticism is rather individualistic than willing to be part of crowd. In fact, individuality is appreciated more than morality. It is better to be outstanding though imperfect than mediocre and good.
When discussing Romantic poetry and Whitman in particular, it should be noted that introspection is an emphasis that it has. The major purpose of art is self-cognition, penetration into the mystery of human soul. The authors focus on inner aspects such as feelings, emotions, fears, desires. Thus, the reality that they create is highly subjective as opposed to rational factual reality, which seems to be less important. In the same way, Emily Dickinson's poetry is utterly confessional, which is one of Romantic perspectives. To express one's own nature as it is and to expose one own wounds is not uncommon for the poet. Depression and dissatisfaction is as typical for Romanticism as worship of nature, so the mood of such poetry can be contrastive. As an example of Dickinson's approach to Romanticism, the following excerpt can be analyzed: "Heaven" has different signs to me.
Sometimes, I think that Noon
Is but a symbol of the Place
And when again, at Dawn,
A mighty look runs round the World
And settles in the Hills
An Awe if it should be like that
Upon the Ignorance steals ( Dickinson)
This extract reveals the poet's devotion to Romantic values mentioned above, such as nature and exploring the mysteries of the universe. Her poems are also deeply symbolic and sometimes even allegoric, because they have a direct and implied meaning. Through categories of universal concepts, Dickinson addresses the issues of human life placing them in the context of eternity. She is well aware of mortality and contemplates on the finite nature of human life. Faith is the compass that a person has under the circumstances of total insecurity. The world is irrational on the one hand, but on the other hand this irrationality is the result of God's special order, which just cannot be comprehended by human limited point of view.
Thus, Dickinson and Whitman's poetry reflects the trends of American Romanticism, which is revealed at the level of content and style. In terms of content, such aspects as worship of nature, individualism, emotionality and introspection can be traced. Stylistically, symbolism and allegory are used abundantly because the focus is rather on the inner world of imagination than on the external reality of facts and events. All people are creators with potential received from God through nature as his most perfect creation.