What are the identifiable aspects of the Romantic literary movement in Emily Dickinson's poem #712 (also known as "Because I could not stop for Death—")?Emily Dickinson and the Romantic Movement.
There are several literary characteristics of the Romantic Movement, generally thought to begin in 1798 with the publication of Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge, and ending anywhere between 1832-1837.
Of the characters (and different sources identify different characteristics), we generally see:
- Supernatural (anything beyond the natural world)
- Return to or an Appreciation of Nature
- Idealization of Women and Children (Human Rights)
- Melancholy (Emotion)
- Freedom (Independence)
- The Past (especially the medieval period—chivalry)
Not only of the Romantic writers included all of these elements, but if you look at Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, you will find many of these same characteristics.
In Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death," also known as poem #712, the first obvious Romantic characteristics are Imagination and the Supernatural. Death is personified as a character who comes to collect the speaker upon her death. The actual presence of the character of Death would be supernatural, and the idea of Death coming for her—driving a coach—would be the result of Dickinson's active imagination. Immortality is also present—another use of her imagination and a reference to the supernatural. There are also references to Nature:
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –...
...which bring to mind the speaker's sense of cold because of the "Dews," but also because of her death—as her body would grow colder.
There does not seem to be any Melancholy on the part of the speaker. In fact, she seems rather stoic. And an Idealization of Women and Children is also missing, unless the speaker idealizes the pleasantness of being young as she watches the children playing in the school yard.
The Past may be alluded to as the speaker passes the School, reminding her—perhaps—of her own childhood, as the youngsters are playing at "Recess," (playing, we might surmise, "Ring" Around the Rosie).
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We might find "Freedom" in the poem as well. The speaker has put away the concerns of the world, with nothing to worry about...
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too...
While the Romantic era was presumably "over" before 1840, its effects were seen in literature through the Victorian era and well into the 20th Century. As Dickinson was writing in the middle of the 19th Century, her work seems to reflect aspects of Romanticism.
Adventures in English Literature, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers: Orlando, 1985.