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Anti-Transcendentalist Texts: Tragedy at the Hands of Separation

Faulkner, Poe, and Hawthorne are the fathers of anti-transcendentalism. Donne, on the other hand, belongs to the metaphysical poets. Anti-Transcendentalism, also known as Dark Romanticism, was a literary movement that emerged in the nineteenth century. They mainly shed light on the dark and gloomy side of human nature. Dark romantics believed that the darkest parts of human nature are revealed only in death. On the other hand, transcendentalists thought that we relate to nature. They believed that nature produces the macabre and that humans are the most destructive force of nature. Metaphysical poets agreed with romantics on several matters, such as imagination, values, and principles. Separation is a recurrent theme in anti-transcendentalist texts, as it is linked to themes of isolation, alienation, and darkness. The setting is greatly influenced and is portrayed as gloomy, obscure, and dim. It enforces the theme of separation and further alienates the characters from their reality. In Pope’s poem “Eloisa to Abelard" we can notice the themes of separation and opposition. Eloisa, the main protagonist is subject to two types of separation. She is living in a constant conflict between the physical and the spiritual world. The separation emerged due to her choice of secretly marrying him. When she did that, her parents disowned her and castrated her lover. She separated from Abelard as well, her lover, now she dedicated her life to God and enters the monastery as a nun. She is also separated from the setting she was surrounded with and becomes alienated from her environment. Eloisa faces separation as a choice. She is either separated from the physical love or she must separate from her spiritual state with God. Her religious vows represent her separation from bodily pleasures and passion. The separation from death is also a rebirth in Christ. She fights her sinful and lustful desires and keeps suppressing them and separating them from her consciousness. Even when she is in the monastery, she is separated from her surroundings, and she never feels like she belongs there. She sees herself differently from other nuns and still perceives herself as someone sinful, guilty of her lover’s castration and tragic end.

Abelard and his pupil Heloise by Edmund Leighton, 1882

In A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, the speaker normalizes separation and portrays it as an innocent process. The metaphor "let us melt", compared the lovers to the fact that love is fading away, peacefully, and at the same time "make no noise". The compass metaphor suggests that even though they are separated, like the two "legs" of a compass, they will always be connected. The beloved is compared to the steady foot, ready to be reunited with her lover. “Thy firmness makes my circle just, And makes me end, where I began.” The speaker is talking to his wife and is discussing how distance does not affect them. He states in the second quatrain that if he and his beloved should part ways, there should be no reason for mourning. He discusses separation through the examples of an earthquake and how the earth breaks apart. The speaker is explaining how earthly occurrences do not affect his relationship with his beloved. He commented that earthly lovers cannot accept separation, but their love is different and unique. He mainly states that people base their love on physical attraction. However, they are not affected by this, and their love transcends the physical into the metaphysical and the spiritual. Their souls are one, and they remain united. The most important conceit that Donne includes is that of the compass. Even if lovers retain their souls, they are divided like the two hands of the compass, linked at the top. When the compass draws a circle, one point remains stationary in the center but leans downwards with the other remaining firmly in one place. The fixed point guarantees that one partner will complete its circuit. So, the beloved will ensure his partner’s return. Hence, mourning is inappropriate.

Miss Emily: A Product of Betrayal by Marcia Haman

The community in the town of Emily Grierson is united, however, she has always been separated from them both physically and mentally. Emily lives in her world and her bubble. She lives in her family’s home with a single servant. She has always been known as mysterious and ominous and has always been secluded from her childhood. This was due to her strict overprotective father, who never let suitors anywhere near her. Emily has always lived by her own rules, for she doesn’t accept anyone to change her beliefs. She never agreed to pay taxes. She is separated from everyone in the town, not only physically but emotionally too. In “A Rose for Emily”, separation plays an immense role in the sequence of events. Emily was the victim of separation twice throughout her life. Firstly, when her father separated her from the world because he believed no one deserved her and that she should stay in isolation. Then later in her life, she was also separated from the man she fell in love with. Emily is deeply affected by it. The way she felt towards him, and the depth of her affection left her scarred and wounded.  She decides to take his life with her own hands and ends up killing Homer by poisoning him. Her jealousy and anger kept staggering her and bottling up until their separation led her to commit a vicious crime.

Separation (1896) by Edvard Munch

On a final note, the theme of separation and alienation has been pertinent since the beginning of time in Literature and is still recurring throughout numerous literary works. As humans, we all become victims of separation at a certain point in our lives. Our alienation sometimes plays a big role throughout our lifetime. However, sometimes alienation and separation can lead us to positive and better places as we learn to communicate with our inner selves, and we can discover ourselves. On the other hand, separation slowly leads its victims into chaos and darkness, and all stories end tragically.


Donne, J. (1998). A valediction: Forbidding mourning. The Classic Hundred Poems: All-time Favorites, 39.

Bauer, M. (1995). Paronomasia celata in Donne's “A Valediction: forbidding mourning”. English Literary Renaissance, 25(1), 97-111.

Altobbai, A. A. (2020). John Donne’s A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning: A Deconstructive Reading. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 11(3), 57-60.

Pope, A. (1751). Eloisa to Abelard.

Hotz, M. E. (2001). Precious to Grace: Necessary Desolation in Pope's Eloisa to Abelard. Renascence, 53(3), 207-226.

Faulkner, W., Carradine, J., & Huston, A. (1958). A rose for Emily (pp. 170-179).

Paderborn, De: Verlag F. Schöningh.

Moazzem, M. S. (2019). Exploring the Aspects of Dark Romanticism in 19th Century American Literature (Doctoral dissertation, Brac University).

Allen, D. W. (1984). Horror and Perverse Delight: Faulkner's" A Rose for Emily". Modern Fiction Studies, 30(4), 685-696.


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Gaelle Abou Nasr

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