Which poem, novel, film, piece of music, painting, sculpture, or historical figure could be chosen as a example that represents Romanticism?
Certainly, there is a myriad of works that represent the salient and more subtle aspects of Romanticism; therefore, it seems that the choice should be made on the basis of two questions:
- What is the type and length of this assignment? If one is giving a three-minute speech, for instance, then a poem will fit the assignment. However, if a research or lengthy paper is the assignment, then a longer work may better serve the task.
- What is the personal preference of the student? It is always better with an assignment such as this if the student has a personal interest in the selected work because there, then, is a connection of spirit with the work, a connection always desired by the Romanticists.
These points notwithstanding, suggestions can still be given.
1. If the requirement of the assignment is not a lengthy discussion, then the poetry of such great Romantics as William Wordsworth. Percy Bysshe Shelley, or John Keats can be examined. For instance, Wordsworth's "The World is Too Much with Us" is a poem that has appropriate meaning to modern societies as it decries materialism as the poet writes,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Both Shelley and Keats have the Romantic spirits that connect with Nature. In "To a Skylark," Shelley demonstrates what man can learn from nature.
Teach us, sprite or bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Prase of love or wine
That painted forth a flood of rapture so divine.
Moreover, John Keats is not only able to learn from Nature, but this poet is able to do what Melville wrote of--to slip behind the mask that separates the mortal world from the immortal. For, in his poem "Ode to a Nightingale," Keats captures the beauty and wonder of this immortal world in his contemplation of the natural and the supernatural together. In Stanza VII, Keats writes,
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!...
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperoro and clown...
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in fairylands forlorn.
2. If the assignment is more lengthy, then perhaps the choice in the literary area should be a novel or longer short story, rather than a poem. Of course, if the student has musical acumen, a work of Ludwig von Beethoven, who acted as a transition from Classical to Romanticism, would be appropriate. But, if the student wishes to examine a novel, then, one which has been read is, of course, best to use. American novelists such as the Dark Romantics are particularly interesting: Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne are excellent examples. English novelists such as Mary Shelley would suit the assignment. Her novel Frankenstein is replete with passages that exemplify the characteristics of Romanticism. For instance, when Victor Frankenstein travels with his friend Henry Clerval to Switzerland, he is spiritually healed by the beauty of the lakes and mountains.