Before we are able to trace the motives that ushered in Romantic period, it is of paramount importance to point out the preceding period, which is known as Neo-classical era. The Neoclassical period spans 1600-1798 (the accession of Charles II to the publication by Wordsworth and Coleridge of Lyrical Ballad). It is called the neoclassical period because of reverence for the works of classical antiquity. The period is often called Age of reason, and science was used to glorify God and his creation.
Be sure to get familiar with the terms Restoration (of the Stuarts to the monarchy [see Harmon and Halman, page 432]) and the Augustan period (after Emperor Augustus- because of the emphasis on the classics). Earlier in the 17th century the puritans had overthrown King Charles; in 1700 the Act of settlement prohibited a catholic from being king or queen. The great fire of London in 1666, enable Londoners to remake their cities, see http:\\london. allinfo-about. com/features/rebuilding. html. And in 1662 the Royal Society was created to further scientific study. [We will see reason’s role evaluated in Swift’s works.
Also, “A Modest Proposal” parodies the genre of scientific proposal for which the Royal Society was noted. ] This was a period of political and military unrest, British naval supremacy, economic growth, the rise of the middle class, colonial expansion, the rise of literacy, the birth of the novel and periodicals, the invention of marketing, the rise of the Prime Minister, and social reforms. Key names include Mary Wollstonecraft (the rights of women; marriage was still an economic transaction; women were still considered property) and John Wesley (the founder of Methodism).
Key words to describe the period include “facade,” “complacency,” and “decorum. ” Appearances mattered. [Keep this in mind as we study The Rape of the Lock. ] Wit was a key concept as well (Harmon and Holman, pages 538-39), which is related to sprezzatura, the art of concealing art. In this period people also emphasized studying the English language. A key work: Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language. Literature was didactic, self-examination was important (hence diaries and letters), and as Pope says “the proper study of mankind is man” (see Essay on Man, Epistle II, section I, line 2).
Satire was an important genre: satire simply means a literary genre that ridicules/ lampoons the society. Other good terms to know: epistolary novel and heroic couplet. ] We have been able to get a concise grasp of the preceding period that heralded in the Romantic period. This period as we know it, according to Wikipedia see it as a philosophical, literary, artistic and cultural era which began in the mid/late-18th century as a reaction against the prevailing Enlightenment ideals of the day (Romantics favored more natural, emotional and personal artistic themes), also influenced poetry.
I will say that Romantic era is seen as an important literary movement which began in West Europe during 17th century and went on till the second half of 18th century. Its characteristics which reflect in the artistic, literary and intellectual works of that period continue to influence artists even in this century. Let’s gather adequate knowledge on the characteristics of this movement. Romanticism emerged as a reaction against ‘The Age of Enlightenment’, which emphasized on reason and logic.
Pioneers of the Romantic period wanted to break away from the conventions of the Age of Enlightenment and make way for individuality and experimentation. The Romantic Movement is said to have emerged in Germany, although the main source of inspiration came from the events and ideologies of the French Revolution. The Industrial Revolution, which began during the same period, is also said to be responsible for the development of this movement. Goethe was the man during the Romantic Era when it comes with philosophy. He led the sturum and Drang was the foundation of romantic era.
Much of the philosophy was based on turmoil and emotion within the human being. Goethe’s novel Faust is a good demonstration of such turmoil. Another element of Romantic Era was the near worship of nature. Romantic writers and philosophers often compared human existence to that of nature. For example, Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights, she uses dark sky and a twisted, old tree to represent the mood and feeling of character. It is important to pay close attention to the use of nature in all Romantic reading. This era as early stated appeared in conflict with the Enlightenment.
You could go as far as to say that Romanticism reflected a crisis in Enlightenment thought itself, a crisis which shook the comfortable 18th century philosophies out of his intellectual single-mindedness. The Romantics were conscious of their unique destiny. In fact, it was self-consciousness which appears as one of the keys elements of Romanticism itself. The philosophies were too objective — they chose to see human nature as something uniform. The philosophies had also attacked the Church because it blocked human reason. The Romantics attacked the Enlightenment because it blocked the free play of the emotions and creativity.
The philosophies had turned man into a soulless, thinking machine — a robot. In a comment typical of the Romantic thrust, William Hazlitt (1778-1830) asked, “For the better part of my life all I did was think”. And William Godwin (1756-1836), a contemporary of Hazlitt asked, “What shall I do when I have read all the books? ” Christianity had formed a matrix into which medieval man situated himself. The Enlightenment replaced the Christian matrix with the mechanical matrix of Newtonian natural philosophy. For the Romantic, the result was nothing less than the demotion of the individual.
Imagination, sensitivity, feelings, spontaneity and freedom were stifled — choked to death. Man must liberate himself from these intellectual chains. Though Romantic elements had present in art and literature since several centuries, it was the publication of Lyrical Ballad, a collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in 1798 that ushered forth the Romantic period. Literature was the first branch of art to be influenced by the waves of Romanticism, although the concept remains the same in all the art terms.
There were many unique aesthetic that informed the creative sensibilities of the Romantic poets, these could be considered as the supernatural, nationalism, love for nature, exoticism, emotion versus rationality, artist; the creator etc. In terms of the supernatural, The Romantics were interested in the supernatural and included it in their works. Gothic fiction emerged as a branch of Romanticism after Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. This fascination for the mysterious and the unreal also led to the development of Gothic romance, which became popular during this period.
Supernatural elements can also be seen in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan’, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci. The Romantics borrowed heavily from the folklore and the popular local art. During the earlier eras, literature and art were considered to belong to the high-class educated people, and the lower classes were not considered fit to enjoy them. Also, the language used in these works used to be highly lyrical, which was totally different from what was spoken by people.
However, Romantic artists took no shame from being influenced by the folklore that had been created by the masses or the common people, and not by the literary works that were popular only among the higher echelons of the society. Apart from poetry, adopting folk tunes and ballads was one of the very important characteristics of Romantic music. As the Romantics became interested and focused upon developing the folklore, culture, language, customs and traditions of their own country, they developed a sense of Nationalism which reflected in their works.
Also, the language used in Romantic poems was simple and easy to understand by the masses. The Romantics greatly emphasized the importance of nature and the primal feelings of awe, apprehension and horror felt by man on approaching the sublimeness of it. This was mainly because of the industrial revolution, which had shifted life from the peaceful, serene countryside towards the chaotic cities, transforming man’s natural order. Nature was not only appreciated for its visual beauty, but also revered for its ability to help the urban man find his true identity.
Along with Nationalism, the Romantics developed the love of the exotic. Hence, far off and mysterious locations were depicted in many of the artistic works from that period. Though this was not exactly apposite to the Romantic ideal of Nationalism, separate factions were never formed. Exoticism is also one of the most prominent characteristics in art, along with sentimentality and spirituality. Unlike the age of Enlightenment, which focused on rationality and intellect, Romanticism placed human emotions, feelings, instinct and intuition above everything else.
While the poets in the era of rationality adhered to the prevalent rules and regulations while selecting a subject and writing on it, the Romantic writers trusted their emotions and feelings to create poetry. This belief can be confirmed from the definition of poetry by William Wordsworth, where he says that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. The emphasis on emotions also spread to the music created in that period, and can be observed in the compositions made by musicians like Weber, Beethoven, Schumann, etc. Beethoven played an important role in the transition of Western music from the classical to the Romantic age.
As the Romantic period emphasized on human emotions, the position of the artist or the poet also gained supremacy. In the earlier times, the artist was seen as a person who imitated the external world through his art. However, this definition was mooted in the Romantic era and the poet or the painter was seen as a creator of something which reflected his individuality and emotions. The Romantic perception of the artist as the creator is best encapsulated by Caspar David Friedrich, who remarked that “the artist’s feeling is his law”.
It was also the first time that the poems written in the first person were being accepted, as the poetic persona became one with the voice of the poet. Notable six most well known English authors are, in order of birth and with example of their work: * William Blake – The Marriage of Heaven and Hell * William Wordsworth – The Prelude * Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Rime of the Ancient Mariner * George Gordon, Lord Byron – Don Juan “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” * Percy Bysshe Shelley – Prometheus Unbound “Adonais” “Ode to the West Wind” “Ozymandias” * John Keats – Great Odes “Hyperion” “Endymion”
Although chronologically earliest among these writers, William Blake was a relatively late addition to the list, prior to 1970’s, romanticism was known for its big five. Seeing all these six poets of Romantic era, William Wordsworth becomes my case study to show how this history, philosophies and the unique aesthetics reflected in his works. William Wordsworth (7 April 1770- 23 April 1850), themes (a reoccurring philosophy which a writer makes persuasive in his/her work) of his works includes; the power of the human mind, the beneficial influence of nature, the splendor of childhood etc.
He praised the power of the human mind. Using memory and imagination, individuals could overcome difficulty and pain. For instance, the speaker in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tin tern Abbey” (1798) relieves his loneliness with memories of nature, while the leech gatherer in “Resolution and Independence” (1807) perseveres cheerfully in the face of poverty by the exertion of his own will. The transformative powers of the mind are available to all, regardless of an individual’s class or background. This democratic view emphasizes individuality and uniqueness.
Throughout his work, Wordsworth showed strong support for the political, religious, and artistic rights of the individual, including the power of his or her mind. In the 1802 preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth explained the relationship between the mind and poetry. Poetry is “emotion recollected in tranquility”—that is, the mind transforms the raw emotion of experience into poetry capable of giving pleasure. Later poems, such as “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” (1807), imagine nature as the source of the inspiring material that nourishes the active, creative mind.
Throughout Wordsworth’s work, nature provides the ultimate good influence on the human mind. All manifestations of the natural world—from the highest mountain to the simplest flower—elicit noble, elevated thoughts and passionate emotions in the people who observe these manifestations. Wordsworth repeatedly emphasizes the importance of nature to an individual’s intellectual and spiritual development. A good relationship with nature helps individuals connect to both the spiritual and the social worlds. As Wordsworth explains in The Prelude, a love of nature can lead to a love of humankind.
In such poems as “The World Is Too Much with Us” (1807) and “London, 1802” (1807) people become selfish and immoral when they distance themselves from nature by living in cities. Humanity’s innate empathy and nobility of spirit becomes corrupted by artificial social conventions as well as by the squalor of city life. In contrast, people who spend a lot of time in nature, such as laborers and farmers, retain the purity and nobility of their souls. In Wordsworth’s poetry, childhood is a magical, magnificent time of innocence.
Children form an intense bond with nature, so much so that they appear to be a part of the natural world, rather than a part of the human, social world. Their relationship to nature is passionate and extreme: children feel joy at seeing a rainbow but great terror at seeing desolation or decay. In 1799, Wordsworth wrote several poems about a girl named Lucy who died at a young age. These poems, including “She dwelt among the untrodden ways” (1800) and “Strange fits of passion have I known” (1800), praise her beauty and lament her untimely death.
In death, Lucy retains the innocence and splendor of childhood, unlike the children who grow up, lose their connection to nature, and lead unfulfilling lives. The speaker in “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” believes that children delight in nature because they have access to a divine, immortal world. As children age and reach maturity, they lose this connection but gain an ability to feel emotions, both good and bad. Through the power of the human mind, particularly memory, adults can recollect the devoted connection to nature of their youth.
Most of the motifs that run throughout his works include wandering and wanderers, memory, vision and sight. The speakers of Wordsworth’s poems are inveterate wanderers: they roam solitarily, they travel over the moors, and they take private walks through the highlands of Scotland. Active wandering allows the characters to experience and participate in the vastness and beauty of the natural world. Moving from place to place also allows the wanderer to make discoveries about himself.
In “I travelled among unknown men” (1807), the speaker discovers his patriotism only after he has traveled far from England. While wandering, speakers uncover the visionary powers of the mind and understand the influence of nature, as in “I wandered lonely as a cloud” (1807). The speaker of this poem takes comfort in a walk he once took after he has returned to the grit and desolation of city life. Recollecting his wanderings allows him to transcend his present circumstances. Wordsworth’s poetry itself often wanders, roaming from one subject or experience to another, as in The Prelude.
In this long poem, the speaker moves from idea to idea through digressions and distractions that mimic the natural progression of thought within the mind. Memory allows Wordsworth’s speakers to overcome the harshness of the contemporary world. Recollecting their childhoods gives adults a chance to reconnect with the visionary power and intense relationship they had with nature as children. In turn, these memories encourage adults to re-cultivate as close a relationship with nature as possible as an antidote to sadness, loneliness, and despair.
The act of remembering also allows the poet to write: Wordsworth argued in the 1802 preface to Lyrical Ballads that poetry sprang from the calm remembrance of passionate emotional experiences. Poems cannot be composed at the moment when emotion is first experienced. Instead, the initial emotion must be combined with other thoughts and feelings from the poet’s past experiences using memory and imagination. The poem produced by this time-consuming process will allow the poet to convey the essence of his emotional memory to his readers and will permit the readers to remember similar emotional experiences of their own.
Throughout his poems, Wordsworth fixates on vision and sight as the vehicles through which individuals are transformed. As speakers move through the world, they see visions of great natural loveliness, which they capture in their memories. Later, in moments of darkness, the speakers recollect these visions, as in “I wandered lonely as a cloud. ” Here, the speaker daydreams of former jaunts through nature, which “flash upon that inward eye / which is the bliss of solitude” (21–22). The power of sight captured by our mind’s eye enables us to find comfort even in our darkest, loneliest moments.
Elsewhere, Wordsworth describes the connection between seeing and experiencing emotion, as in “My heart leaps up” (1807), in which the speaker feels joy as a result of spying a rainbow across the sky. Detailed images of natural beauty abound in Wordsworth’s poems, including descriptions of daffodils and clouds, which focus on what can be seen, rather than touched, heard, or felt. In Book Fourteenth of The Prelude, climbing to the top of a mountain in Wales allows the speaker to have a prophetic vision of the workings of the mind as it thinks, reasons, and feels. Symbols in his works include light, the leech Gatherer etc.
Light often symbolizes truth and knowledge. In “The Tables Turned” (1798), Wordsworth contrasts the barren light of reason available in books with the “sweet” (11) and “freshening” (6) light of the knowledge nature brings. Sunlight literally helps people see, and sunlight also helps speakers and characters begin to glimpse the wonders of the world. In “Expostulation and Reply” (1798), the presence of light, or knowledge, within an individual prevents dullness and helps the individual to see, or experience. Generally, the light in Wordsworth’s poems represents immortal truths that can’t be entirely grasped by human reason.
In “Ode: Imitations of Immortality,” the speaker remembers looking at a meadow as a child and imagining it gleaming in “celestial light” (4). As the speaker grows and matures, the light of his youth fades into the “light of common day” (78) of adulthood. But the speaker also imagines his remembrances of the past as a kind of light, which illuminate his soul and give him the strength to live. In “Resolution and Independence,” the ancient leech gatherer who spends his days wandering the moors looking for leeches represents the strong-minded poet who perseveres in the face of poverty, obscurity, and solitude.
As the poem begins, a wanderer travels along a moor, feeling elated and taking great pleasure in the sights of nature around him but also remembering that despair is the twin of happiness. Eventually he comes upon an old man looking for leeches, even though the work is dangerous and the leeches have become increasingly hard to find. As the speaker chats with the old man, he realizes the similarities between leech gathering and writing poetry.
Like a leech gather, a poet continues to search his or her mind and the landscape of the natural world for poems, even though such intense emotions can damage one’s psyche, the work pays poorly and poverty is dangerous to one’s health, and inspiration sometimes seems increasingly hard to find. The speaker resolves to think of the leech gatherer whenever his enthusiasm for poetry or belief in himself begins to wane. Conclusively, romantic period was a period of strict reaction against Enlightenment. Nature was highly exalted; emotion took preeminence as long as art was concerned.
This led to the postulation of David Friedrich, who remarked that “the artist’s feeling is his law” and Wordsworth definition of poetry as ‘a spontaneous overflow of emotion’. Goethe was the man during the Romantic Era when it comes with philosophy. He led the sturum and Drang was the foundation of romantic era. Much of the philosophy was based on turmoil and emotion within the human being. Through the study of romantic period, we able to see how this history, philosophy and the unique aesthetic led to the formation of sensibilities of the Romantic poets with William Wordsworth as a typical example.