The Romantic Period of Art Changed Literature

The beginning of the nineteenth century was a time of sensational literary change in American history. Romanticism rooted in the emphasis on emotion and individualism along with embracing nature. Romanticism focused deeply on expressing yourself along with emotional thinking, as well as taking advantage of cultural values to support itself. This artistic era heavily gave rise to naturalism, self-purification, and emotional curiosity. This allowed individuals to find their place throughout society and not simply go along with the flow of things.

Romanticism included an abundance of literary elements, but one of its more remarkable features was poetry that was brought into view by romantic authors. Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson are often regarded as two of the most influential romantics of the time with two different approaches to the genre. While Walt Whitman’s poems are usually untroubled and lighthearted with a bright tone, Emily Dickinson, on the other hand, has a very depressing and pessimistic writing style in addition to using complex metaphors to express her doubts about people’s lives and death.

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Although the two famous authors had many similar poems derived from corresponding themes of nature, death, and immortality, they had very distinct poetic forms in which each author expressed their feelings and thoughts towards a certain theme along with a different approach. One of the features that can be differentiated easily between the two kinds of poetries would be the format of writing. Whitman uses total free verse in his poems with no set line or length of the stanza, while Dickinson would compose her poems with complex metaphors and regular rhymes.

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A very clear representation of this type of writing can be seen in any part of the poem “Song of Myself.” Even though this poem consists of an on-going rhythm to explore the possibilities for communion between individuals, there is no obvious rhyme pattern that is followed throughout the poem.

“I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.” (“Song of Myself” lines 4-5) Although this form of writing might make the poem less enticing to its readers, it gives the poet a much bigger window to explain their thoughts more clearly, with larger freedom for the usage of more words. However, Dickinson on the contrary, uses different rhyme patterns in her poems along with an average of 5-6 words per line to engage the readers, and to support the flow of her poems, making it easier to comprehend. This can be seen in the following excerpt from the poem “Because I could not stop for Death.” “Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me, The riders were but just ourselves and immortality…” In this excerpt, we see that death and ourselves both hold the short “e” sound toward the end of each word, making a sort of approximate or slant rhyme, but more noticeable is the exact rhyme of “me” and “immortality,” this excerpt shows how Dickinson used approximate rhymes which became a common characteristic of her poetry along with her unconventional punctuation.

Another section of poetic form that can be differentiated between the writing of the two poets is the tone that is carried in the poem. Whitman composed his poems with enthusiasm, which made his poems inspiring to read, along with providing a sense of optimism and happiness for the readers. Emily Dickinson, however, tends to be the complete opposite of this kind of writing. She uses her poems to express her deepest conflicts, which can range from being energetic (Dickinson- “Heart! We will forget him!” Lines 1-4) to gloomy and depressing. This difference in their ideologies can be seen in poems where the two authors view death with opposing viewpoints. Whitman views death more optimistically since we are all going to die eventually.

He personified death as a “nurturing presence that can relieve those in suffering.”In his poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”, Whitman says, “Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee, laved in the flood of thy Bliss, O’Death.” The ocean in the quote is used to symbolize how death is a soothing, calm relief for many souls that long for peace. On the contrary, in the poem “712” by Emily Dickinson, she represents death as a man by a woman’s side. In the poem, the reader sees how the woman is Dickinson herself. She says, “Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.” She proceeds to reference passing places such as “the Fields of Gazing Grain” to represent herself going through life, adventuring through all these places with death right beside her. Whitman took advantage of his metaphor to create a much more cheerful depiction of the purpose of death, while Dickinson also used extensive metaphors to convey her idea of death.

Another way that Dickinson’s poetic form compares and contrasts with Whitman is that since both poets were highly known for their work in the Romantic era, they prominently noted the importance of individualism in society along with the important connection between nature and god. However, Whitman focuses more on the attributes of human life while Dickinson focuses more on reality and emotions. “I am the mash’d fireman with breast bone-broken” (Whitman- “Song of Myself 33” Line 26). This is an example of the imagery that Whitman is trying to portray a very specific moment in a man’s life. Whitman tries to use reality in the people and their surroundings to convey his message. This is different from Dickinson, as she tries to convey her messages mainly through metaphors and excessive usage of symbolism to give more depth to the meaning of her words. (Dickinson- “The soul selects her own society” lines 1-4) This excerpt from the poem doesn’t provide any definite or tangible evidence and leaves it up to the reader to understand what the poem is trying to say to them.

Over the years, poetry has evolved so much, and poets have developed their writing styles to make themselves stand out. The romantic era was crucial for the development of more new creative themes that gave a new direction to older styles of art. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman were known poets of the era as they brought bigger aspects of this era to light in front of the world. These include universal themes and individualism. This got even more popularized due to enlightenment. Even though the two poets took different approaches to portray the themes, they landed on the same target, which was to be a great influence on their country. Whitman used free verse to express himself more clearly about the common man, while Emily Dickinson wrote deep poems about sensitive human emotions using rhyming patterns to connect with the readers to express her deepest feelings. Whitman perceived everything very optimistically while Emily Dickinson chose dark romanticism as her main topic of writing.

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The Romantic Period of Art Changed Literature. (2021, Dec 14). Retrieved from

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