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Romanticism burgeoned as a reaction against the rationalization of nature and emphasis on scientific thought and cultural life that characterized the Age of Enlightenment. Some characteristics of Romanticism are the following:
- A validation of stong emotion and imagination as authentic sources of aesthetic experience. New emphasis placed upon horror, terror, and, espcially awe.
- There is no division between the artist and his/her art. The dream or inner experience of the individual as the articulation of self is emphasized.
- A love and emphasis of nature as a place free from society's judment and restrictions. Nature is a concept of divinity.
- Suspicion of established religion. God is perceived as part of the universe rather than separate from it.
- Romanticism provides an escape from modern realities
- Poetry is the highest form of literature.
Wordsworth displays love of nature is two of his poems, "The World is Too Much with Us," and "To the Cuckoo." In the first poem, Wordsworth is concerned with the conformity of people and especially their interest in materialism:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune....
In his poem "To the Cuckoo," Wordsworth underscores the Romantic concept of nature as divinity as he delights in the "blessed Bird" and welcomes "the darling of the Spring" that recalls to him memories of his childhood:
And I can listen to thee yet;
Can lie upon the plain
And listen, till I do beget
That golden time again.
Clearly, in both poems Wordsworth finds solace in nature that the industrial and materialistic world does not provide. His personal experience with nature refreshes his soul and even delights him.
[There is a great deal of debate among literary critics to sum up what the characteristics of Romantic writing are. Some sources say there are ten; others report five or seven. Several characteristics are the supernatural, return to nature, idealization of women and children, personification, individuality, and an interest in the past (especially medieval), among others. For a more thorough list, see the enotes.com link below.]
In terms of William Wordsworth's poems, I have provided two poems. The first is "Daffodils," also known as "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
In this poem, nature is the central theme. First, Wordsworth is writing about flowers; secondly, references to nature abound. See the first stanza. I have bolded references to nature. There is one for each line, except the third, which is introducing a "crowd"—of daffodils, in the next line. Another characteristic of Romantic writing is seen with the personification of daffodils in the last line of that first stanza, as he describes them:
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
The personification continues on through the poem. The aspect of the respect for nature is most strongly found toward the poem's end, when the speaker find immeasurable joy just remembering the field of flowers. His tone is especially lighthearted.
The second poem is Wordsworth's (NOT Shelley's) "To a Skylark." This is also a poem dedicated to another element of nature—a bird. Wordsworth writes of the bird that flies from the sky back to the ground. He finds that the nightingale, so praised by writers and poets for its song, cannot compare to the skylark. Wordsworth admires the bird for flying out in the light to share his song with those below.
Type of the wise who soar, but never roam;
True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home!
Wordsworth seems most to enjoy the fact that the bird is faithful, personified in the poet's reference to "soaring" but never "roaming," always returning from "Heaven" to "Home" (earth), ever faithful. (A link for this poem is provided.)
- sympathy with animal life (Cowper); sentimental melancholy (Gray); emotional psychology The characteristics of Romantic poetry from the 1800's are that it emphasizes feeling, intuition and imagination to a point of irrationalization.
- Charles Baudelaire quoted that "Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling."
- Others feel that it emphasizes individualism, freedom from rules, spontaneity, solitary life rather then life in society, and the love of beauty and nature.
- Victor Hugo's phrase "liberalism in literature," meaning especially the freeing of the artist and writer from restrains and rules and suggesting that phase of individualism marked by the encouragement of revolutionary political ideas
- "Perhaps more useful to the student than definitions will be a list of romantic characteristics, though romanticism was not a clearly conceived system. Among the aspects of the romantic movement in England may be listed: sensibility; primitivism; love of nature; sympathetic interest in the past, especially the medieval; mysticism; individualism; romanticism criticism; and a reaction against whatever characterized neoclassicism. Among the specific characteristics embraced by these general attitudes are: the abandonment of the heroic couplet in favor of blank verse, the sonnet, the Spenserian stanza, and many experimental verse forms; the dropping of the conventional poetic diction in favor of fresher language and bolder figures; the idealization of rural life (Goldsmith); enthusiasm for the wild, irregular, or grotesque in nature and art; unrestrained imagination; enthusiasm for the uncivilized or "natural"; interest in human rights (Burns, Byronin fiction (Richardson); collection and imitation of popular ballads (Percy, Scott); interest in ancient Celtic and Scandinavian mythology and literature ; renewed interest in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton.
- Typical literary forms include the lyric, especially the love lyric, the reflective lyric, the nature lyric, and the lyric of morbid melancholy...;the sentimental novel; the metrical romance; the sentimental comedy; the ballad; the problem novel; the historical novel; the Gothic romance; the sonnet; and the critical essay....
- An interesting schematic explanation calls romanticism the predominance of imagination over reason and formal rules (classicism) and over the sense of fact or the actual (realism),
Love of Nature
Love of the Common Man
Strange and Far-away Places
The following are courtesy of my AP Senior English teacher, Andrelle E. McKinsey, more than a decado ago (and I still use them when I teach seniors for a nice reference)...
Characteristics of the Romantic Age & Romantic Literature
1. Individuality/Democracy/Personal Freedom
2. Spiritual/Supernatural Elements
3. Nature as a Teacher
4. Interest in Past History/Ancient Greek and Roman Elements
5. Celebration of the Simple Life
6. Interest in the Rustic/Pastoral Life
7. Interest in Folk Traditions
8. Use of Common Language
9. Use of Common Subjects
10. One Sided/Opinionated
11. Idealized Women
12. Frequent Use of Personification
13. Examination of the Poet's Inner Feelings
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