Loneliness in Poetry
Being lonely and alone are completely different things and feelings. To be lonely could mean being with family, friends, in a crowd, and even with a loved one, and you still feel lonely. To be alone means that no one is around you for a long period of time. Loneliness and madness are one of the most damaging feelings humans are able to feel. In American Romantic and Transcendental Literature, madness and loneliness are the main themes that are prevalent and reoccur in Edgar Allan Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman’s works.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s work, “The Raven,” madness and loneliness and prominent themes. The speaker of the poem sounds like they have had a hard life, as he/she talks about wild dreams, how his soul burns, and the darkness around him and inferring how lonely he is. “Deep into that darkness,” “Then into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning” (Poe 736). The character ends up talking to a bird, more specifically a raven, which is very abnormal and seems very lonely.
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The loneliness continues as this person not only is talking to the raven, but is having a conversation, as the raven is responding back. This is also portraying some madness as he is talking to a bird. “Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore! Quoth the raven, “Nevermore”” (Poe 736). The characters mental instability, madness and loneliness affects the narration in the poem because it almost made me feel crazy, I read it. These themes are also noticeable in Henry David Thoreau’s piece, “Walden.”
In Thoreau’s story, “Walden,” he uses the themes loneliness and madness differently. He ends up personally separating himself from society to live on his own and become self-reliant. He lived alone in a cabin, which he built himself, and grew his own vegetables. “Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not afraid and the like” (Thoreau 920).
Although Thoreau became lonely and did in fact conducted this experiment on his own and was trying to make a point to others. “Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead” (Thoreau 960). Even though it seems mad to go live in the woods and act like we are in the stone ages again, he made a valid point that loneliness can lead to being self-sufficient. Nathaniel Hawthorne happens to use madness and loneliness as well in his piece “Young Goodman Brown.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “Young Goodman Brown,” which includes a main character named, Young Goodman Brown, who deals with the struggles of faith. Faith is not only complete trust or confidence in something or someone, but Faith is Brown’s wife. Faith in this situation obviously is standing for Christian faith and beliefs. Brown came across many mad/evil people and situations try to take him away from his wife/religion creating loneliness in his life. He tried to resist this madness as much as possible but horrible situations kept occurring.
Brown would walk away from Faith and then eventually come back to her, but it was never the same. “Faith! Shouted Goodman brown, in a voice of agony and desperation; and the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying- ‘Faith! Faith!’ as if bewildered wretches were seeking her, all through the wilderness” (Hawthorne 673). This left Brown feeling mad and extremely lonely as he flipped his life upside down all because of a man who pushed him to leave. Emily Dickinson happens to use madness and loneliness in her poem, “The Loneliness One dare not sound.”
Emily Dickinson is a poet of a Dark Romanticism genre, who suffered through many difficult memories in childhood. Dickinson wrote almost 2,000 poems with less than a dozen which were published. “The Loneliness One dare not sound” was one of them. The loneliness that is being discussed in this poem is the type that threatens to take over someone. The first stanza goes into detail about how horrifying loneliness is and that no one should dare to admit it to themselves. Hence the title of the poem, “The Loneliness one dare not sound,” and the repetition throughout the poem.
In the second stanza, loneliness and madness are combined as it is stating a person would rather die than have say they are lonely. It is maddening to know that someone would rather kill themselves instead of admitting they are lonely. The last stanza is very interesting as the speaker is very lonely, but she fears that knowing it would be too complicated. This could cause her to completely seal herself off from the world as she is scared of the truth. “I fear me this—is Loneliness—The Maker of the soul its Caverns and its Corridors illuminate—or seal—” (Dickinson 13-16). Similar to Emily, Walt Whitman is another author that uses madness and loneliness in their poems.
Walt Whitman wrote a poem “To a Stranger,” which explains how he uses his poem as a quiet address to a stranger passing by him on the streets. In the first stanza the reader talks about how he has been waiting for someone for a very long time to come into their life, “You do not know how longingly I look upon you, you must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking… (Whitman 1-2). He uses interesting word choice in these few lines, “seeking” as if he has been searching for forever and has been lonely. Continuing throughout the poem, the reader goes into detail how he has been with this person before, “I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only” (Whitman 7-9).
Either he is going through complete madness in his mind for thinking these things or he has actually been with this person before. “I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone” (Whitman 12-13). This is an extremely lonely thing to state as the speaker either won’t or can’t speak to this person but merely only think about them when they are sitting alone or late at night. Whitman adds in specific words to make this poem innocent but add this maddening and lonely theme to it.
In closing, American Romantic and Transcendental Literature had two main themes based off the stories from Edgar Allan Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman. Each piece clearly presented the themes madness and loneliness during times of being alone, missing someone, leaving someone, death, and wanting a partner. Madness and loneliness are prevalent and reoccurring themes which had a major influence on each story and character during the American Romantic and Transcendental Literature times.