Realism and Romanticism in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson

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Sam Nelson
Fr. Fitzgibbons
English 190
Realism and Romanticism in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson is generally known as a romantic era poetess, yet she frequently integrated a surprising realism into her romantically styled poetry. Often choosing topics related to realism for her poetry, she enigmatically shrouded her lines in romantic language. Her rich imagination, focus on nature, and use of symbolism thus created a romantic mood in poems otherwise grounded in realism. Her poems "303" and "465" are both excellent examples of Emily Dickenson's intertwined use of realism and romanticism.

A focus on nature presents itself as a crucial component of romanticism. In her poetry, Emily Dickinson takes simple, obvious aspects of the world around her and conveys them as very complex, using romantic language to disguise the inherent realism. To Emily Dickinson, "the general symbol of Nature is death (Larrabee 115)", which she speaks about in poem "465". "465" gives us a lament about being on a deathbed, while a fly buzzes about, and the persona slowly slips away into death. The realism in this poem comes from its truthful handling of death, but Dickenson enlarges this eternal theme by overlaying it with a romantic-style point of view. The poem states:

I heard a Fly buzz-when I died-
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air-
Between the Heaves of Storm- ("465", lines 1-4)
This passage speaks of the material and realistic aspects of death – but adds the colorful "romantic" image of the fly buzzing about while the persona slowly dies in bed, and further intensifies the effect with the dual stillness after the persona's death. The persona and the buzz of the fly are both silent. Note that the fly is not represented by a material image, but rather with its associated symbol: a buzzing sound. An additional romantic twist is in Dickinson's choice of words to describe the stillness. In an analogy to nature, the...
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