Romanticism and ModernismEssay

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¶ … Emily and Dickinson and Walt Whitman are diverse poets and their work can be seen as offering equal contributions to the Romantic era because they exemplify the ideas the Romantics were reaching toward. Emerson wrote, "The poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty" (Emerson). Dickinson and Whitman were both writing at a time when literature was transitioning from Romanticism to Realism and this bridge allows room for both types of poetry. Whitman's poetry reinforces Romantic beliefs with its balance between romantic and transcendental notions. Dickinson's poetry is also considered transcendental because it seems to reach beyond this world. Her topics explore what happens beyond our earthly experience. In her poem, "Behind Me Dips Eternity," we see her detached point-of-view following the soul from beginning to end. Dickinson was obsessed with death and it emerges in many of her poems as she contemplates its reality. In "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," we see Dickinson approach death from a fearless perspective. The poet and the person of death are two cordial characters. The poet writes, "I had put away / My labor, and my leisure too, / For his civility" (Dickinson Because I could not stop for Death 6-8). Here we see the poet looking at death from the perspective that nothing can stop it so there is little reason to try.

Whitman was more devoted to exploring nature in his poetry and nature was incredibly important to the Romantics. Emerson wrote, "But the quality of the imagination is to flow, and not to freeze. The poet did not stop at the color, or the form, but read their meaning; neither may he rest in this meaning, but he makes the same objects exponents of his new thought" (Emerson).

Exploring nature was a magnificent way for the poet to discover himself, as he reveals in "Song to Myself." He writes:

I celebrate myself

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass. (Whitman 1-5).

This scene allows us to understand how important the self is. It is impossible to separate it from anything else and realizing it, along with everything else, brings enlightenment. The last segment of the poem delves into the concept of man being connected to every living thing earth as well. This causes him to be at peace with death and he is at peace with his death. He believes he will return to the earth by saying:

I depart as air -- I shake my white locks at the runaway sun;

I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;

If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles. (1334-7)

Here we see the poet's perspective that we are all one. While it may seem as if Dickinson and Whitman have very little in common, they did share the same interest in things otherworldly and this aspect of their work makes them appealing to the Romantics. Nature was a refuge for many Romantics and as we have seen, this refuge can be approached and described in many different ways.

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" can be viewed as a Modernist works because of what the poet is exploring: the inner workings of the human mind. This poem covers much but its underlying issue involves the bleak world in which the narrator lives. Modernism was looking to toss away the beliefs of the old and replace them with newer impressions of the way things really are. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" wishes to examine the soulless world in which we live. Alien nation is one theme the poem examines, which points to the bleak social conditions of the day. The narrator walks us through a series of events in which he is completely able to avoid everything. He leaves behind a life for which he cares nothing. It is, however, a life for which he feels remorse because he chooses to get involved with no one. Indecision is another theme in this poem. In fact, it rattles the narrator until the very end. The poet includes a quote from Dante's Inferno to emphasize this point. Hell is deliberate in the poem because it represents what is in store for all. The poet goes on to reveal how the narrator's life on earth has been much like a hell. It is, however, self-induced with the narrator's inability to have healthy relationships with anyone.

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" only serves to illustrate the deep neuroses of the narrator. We see this best through his inner dialogue as he frets over every single decision he must make. He worries needlessly about thing no one will consider and wastes a good amount of time thinking about things no one will even care about whatsoever. He worries about his tie, his coat, his bald spot, and other things that are of little consequence. At a party, he looks over the guests, noting many things about them and he even considers talking to the women there but he cannot bring himself to do it because he cannot think of a reason that would make it worthwhile. Everything is futile in this world and the poem goes on to make us think that even thinking is a bore and a waste of time. Speaking to a guest -- especially one of the ladies -- would not have been worth the trouble for the narrator to have "bitten off the matter with a smile / To have squeezed the universe into a ball / To roll it toward some overwhelming question" (Eliot 91-3). He must also consider the fact that he may simply get rejected. This man is filled with dread and fear for no good reason. He is a ball of nerves and he is a product of his society. This attitude reflects the Modernist way of thinking about and relating to the world. It is stressful and paralyzing and most of it is simply dreadful. This is the truth of life the Modernists wanted to face rather than cover up with flowery poesy. The narrator in this poem is frozen with fear over the most minute things; he is fearful of speaking to anyone and he knows it. He is well aware of what he is doing with his life and has no immediate desire to change it. He does not care because he is happy in his comfort zone.

The Modernism movement began in the nineteenth century and was born from a "rise in pessimism and stoicism" (Abrams 1728). Writers were writing from their personal experiences and attempting to include the scope of the human experience within that framework. Hardy's works reveals this pessimistic view. Modernism also wanted to disassociate from Victorian literature. Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and DH Lawrence contributed to this movement. Time became an important issue as many writers interpreted time as a continuous flow along with the readers' consciousness. Time was recognized as a something continual, flowing into the writer's consciousness. All of these ideas lended themselves to the emerging ideas related to nature, individuality, and experimentation. Joyce and Woolf explore these ideas and techniques in two of the greatest pieces of literature from the modern era. These notions were prominent in the minds of antebellum writers as they struggled with issues of self, time, war, and peace. Individuality arose from the ashes of the Civil War and from this, many writers returned to an appreciation of natural history. Many different mindsets were emerging from different experiences, which explains how someone like James Joyce could infuse different realities of writing in his writing. Joyce was pulling from his own Irish experience but he was also relating those experiences to universal themes. In his story, "The Dead," we see how this system works.

Another write that explored with personal experiences is Virginia Woolf. In her essay, "A Room of One's Own," we see how she introduces a new way of thinking about art in general. This essay reflects a modern modernist style and setting. Woolf begins by asking the reader a question, which causes them to feel as though they have entered into a conversation already taking place. This stream of consciousness was very popular and Woolf enhances the essay by working into it her experience of being a woman. She uses her imagination in the essay to help further her point about women in general. Ezra Pound's poem, "A Virginal," explores conflicting emotions in a sonnet form, which challenges how poems look and how they feel. Pound uses metaphor, imagery, and symbolism, allowing us to see the internal battle that love creates when we want to experience the depths of love but yet we yearn to remain innocent. Upon close inspection,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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