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PPHS English 332
American Modernism Project
American Romanticism Project
Aspects of American Romanticism
List of Romanticism Works
A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe
A Rainy Day by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Walk at Sunset by William Cullen Bryant
Alone by Edgar Allan Poe
Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville
Dream-Land by Edgar Allan Poe
Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe
Eleonora by Edgar Allan Poe
Forms of Heroes by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe
Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe
Little Annie's Ramble by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Mr. Higginbotham's Catastrophe by Nathaniel Hawthorne
My Love by James Russell Lowell
My Low and Humble Home by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Paradise of Bachelors and the Tarturus of Maid by Herman Melville
Silence by Edgar Allan Poe
Spirits of the Dead by Edgar Allan Poe
The Ambitious Guest by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe
The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe
The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
The Bridal Ballad by Edgar Allan Poe
The Canterbury Pilgrims by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
The City in the Sea by Edgar Allan Poe
The Coliseum by Edgar Allan Poe
The Darkened Mind by James Russell Lowell
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
The Gold Bug by Edgar Allan Poe
The Happiest Day by Edgar Allan Poe
The Haunted Palace by Edgar Allan Poe
The Lake by Edgar Allan Poe
The Last Leaf by Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Lightning Rod Man by Herman Melville
The Man of the Crowd by Edgar Allan Poe
The Martyr by Herman Melville
The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe
The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe
The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe
The Sleeper by Edgar Allan Poe
The Spectacles by Edgar Allan Poe
The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether by Edgar Allan Poe
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
The Valley of Unrest by Edgar Allan Poe
To the River by Edgar Allan Poe
Ulalume by Edgar Allan Poe
What the Birds Said by John Greenleaf Whittier
William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe
The Lake by Edgar Allan Poe
Compared to the collection dark, psychological, thrillers of Poe’s along with his other works, his poem “The Lake” may be an exception to his notorious reputation. Although it certainly still exhibits qualities of Dark Romanticism, it seems to exemplify some general characteristics of actual Romanticism too. The writing style could also be compared to that of “The Masque of the Red Death”, as well as some of the numerous other poems Poe has written. The theme that the poem focuses on has to do with loneliness, and Poe’s numerous losses through out his life, especially his wife, no doubt played a large part in Poe’s motivation to write this poem. With a look into this background and a comparison to the rest of Poe’s works, the traits of Romanticism and its subgenre Dark Romanticism can be seen clearly in this poem through the use of symbolism, emotions, a descriptive, gloomy writing style, and various other techniques of Poe.
From an outside view, one could infer that Poe had quite a lot of experience with loneliness. His biological mother, foster mother, brother, and wife all passed away to what is assumed tuberculosis (“Poe’s Life”). The one that seemed to affect him the most was the loss of his wife. Following her death, he penned many poems expressing his depression, attempted suicide, and developed quite a problem with drinking (Canada). It’s pretty safe to assume that through all this turmoil, Poe felt alone and isolated. The overwhelming amount of themes of self-destruction and madness that occupy almost all of Poe’s works also point to this. If one looks at the work of Poe called “Alone”, it is extremely straightforward in displaying the depression and sadness of Poe. It contains many emotional lines such as “And all I loved, I loved alone” as well as “And the cloud that took the form of a demon in my view”; here Poe illustrates his struggles to have the optimistic view that everyone else seems to have, mostly because he believes he has been isolated into having a source of sorrow from which he takes his feelings from (Poe, “Alone”). While everyone can see the blue sky, Poe can’t see past his loneliness and depression. This isolated feeling relates to the one that exhibits from “The Lake”, especially where Poe opens up the poem with “In spring of youth it was my lot, to haunt of the wide world a spot... so lovely was the loneliness” (Poe, “The Lake”). While the narrator seems to actually embrace loneliness in this poem, and suffer from it in “Alone”, they are both illustrating it and the isolation from society it brings. In “The Lake”, the narrator describes a particularly gloomy lake in which he or she “haunts” and almost finds pleasure in doing so (Poe, “The Lake”). “Alone” contrasts a little differently, since the narrator seems to feel trapped in the loneliness, shown by the line “The mystery which binds me still” (Poe, “Alone”). Although the two works differ in the context and feelings encompassing the presence of loneliness, they both provide an outlet to reveal that Poe did indeed feel some type of loneliness from within.
Since loneliness is a topic of great tragedy and melancholy, it fits well as a characteristic of Dark Romanticism. Considering it is the main theme of the poem, it is obviously an important piece to discuss and interpret. Opposed to a more common outlook on loneliness as negative and ugly, the narrator in this poem find a sort of pleasure in it. The lake is the object of which the narrator projects all the feelings and aspect of loneliness on. He establishes this mainly through descriptions like “To the terror of the lone lake” (Poe, “The Lake”). This directly attributes the characteristic of loneliness to the lake. Other descriptions like “Of a wild lake, with black rock bound, and the tall pines that towered around” leave a more open interpretation for the reader to imagine, while still hinting at the secluded dark loneliness of the lake (Poe, “The Lake”). First by describing it as a “wild lake; this establishes that the lake is unique and different from typical lakes (Poe, “The Lake”). Next, he uses the phrase “with black rock bound”; the color black almost evokes an image of night, and with night being associated with a lake, this makes the reader imagine a quiet, abandoned lake, such as most lakes would be like this during the dead of the night (Poe, “The Lake”). The third part, “tall pines that towered around” gives off a further image of the lake being secluded and cut off from society, with that trees acting as a wall between the lake and the rest of the world (Poe, “The Lake”). While establishing these emotions of loneliness and seclusion, Poe uses his descriptions in a style of Dark Romanticism, which is the use of lots of imagery, symbolism, and gloominess or darkness (“Dark..”). These descriptions evoke this very definition, especially with the symbolism of the lake as loneliness. The manner in which the narrator actually embraces the loneliness with pleasure actually makes it seem even more morbid, especially in the concluding stanza. The narrator describes the lake in a final emphasis on its gruesomeness with the line “Death was in that poisonous wave” and the last line “Whose solitary soul could make an Eden of that dim lake” (Poe, “The Lake”). This is a final emphasis on the narrator’s almost beloved relationship with loneliness, completing the main symbol of the story, and therefore the main attribute of Dark Romanticism.
In addition to these qualities of the poem, there are some that actually display elements of actual Romanticism. An obvious trait of Romanticism is the use of nature, which Poe certainly uses in this poem (Langley). Besides the obvious use of the lake, Poe also uses references to nature in his descriptions to add emphasis to his imagery and symbolism. Some examples of this are “In spring of youth...” and “the mystic wind went by, murmuring in melody” (Poe, “The Lake”). The first line actually exhibits an additional characteristic of Romanticism since it draws attention to the presence of youthfulness, almost giving the narrator naïve innocence about himself or herself. On the use of nature, Poe uses a common path of Romantic writers by creating the lake, wind, “tall pines”, and other natural elements to express the presence of loneliness and his or her relationship with it (Poe, “The Lake”). With the descriptions noted earlier, these also make the lake appear almost a supernatural realm, another Romanticism trait, and although gloomy and depressing, the narrator still finds beauty in it, making it very demonstrative of Romanticism (Langley).
In comparison to Poe’s other very dark, gruesome work known as “The Masque of the Red Death”, the overall themes of these two works differ, but a link can be tied between the characters and writing style. In both plots, each main character seems to isolate him or herself. Prince Prospero alienates himself in order to avoid the “Red Death” and the sick people of his community (Poe “The Mask...”). In “The Lake”, the narrator alienates himself because it brings him a “tremulous delight” (Poe, “The Lake”). Looking past the motives though, the style of Poe isolating his characters can be seen between these two works.
With the use of nature, sinister descriptions, dark symbolism and imagery, as well as the presence of loneliness that stemmed from Poe’s firsthand experience with it, “The Lake” is a unique poem that exemplifies Romanticism and the subgenre Dark Romanticism in a very successful fashion. Further interpretations and comparisons between Poe’s other famous works like “The Masque of the Red Death” and “Alone” can enlighten these same characteristics. Though the majority of Poe’s other works seem to exhibit a much more twisted, macabre feeling, this makes “The Lake” a more unique work of Poe to stand out for acknowledgement of its interesting take on loneliness and striking descriptions.
Canada, Mark, ed. "Edgar Allan Poe."
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Langley, John. “Romanticism 1800-1860.”
Mr. Langley's Digital Classroom
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Poe, Edgar Allan. “Alone”. Ed. E. L. Didier. 1829. 10 Dec 2010. <
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Lake”.
Tamerlane and Other Poems.
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Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Masque of the Red Death”. 1845. 9 Dec 2010. <
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