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Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, Essay Example

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Essay

The Isolated Individual in Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson

One of the most perpetual themes in twentieth-century literature has been the isolated individual. Perhaps most vividlyexpressed is the lone typist in Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night”. The repeated I points up the speaker’s loneliness as well as his extreme egoism. Far more comprehensible, but no less mysterious, is “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”.Inthis poem, the speaker’s isolation grows as the carriage ride progresses. Dickinson triumphs over death by accepting it, calmly, civilly, befits a gentlewoman receiving the attentions of a gentleman. Both poems represent two starkly different tones approaching the same topic.

In “Acquainted with the Night”, Frost has given a surround sound with a vengeance. The repetition of the first-person pronoun I at the beginning of seven lines asserts a solitary position, and the lack of communication between many of the lines reinforces that sense of loneliness. In addition to lexical repetition, Frost relies on the repeated use of the present perfect tense, which identifies an action either as onethat is finished at the time of speaking or writing; through that ambiguous grammatical form, he hints that the spirit that moved the speaker to transgress might not have subsided and, consequently, that his reincorporation into society is tenuous at best.

In “Because I could not stop for Death”, the tone is tenderly ironic, the atmospheric tinged with sorrow for life and concern for the smallness of the human soul that must face inexorable death, solitary except for its immortality. The poem is simple, almost commonplace, yet the mystery that pervades it is inexhaustible. There is, within this mystery, a sense of reconciliation. The dignity of abstract ideas is here combined and contrasted with the pathos of simple human suffering to achieve the balance of intellect and senses which is fundamental to the apprehension of life in poetic terms.

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