How do romantics emphasize individuality?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Taking their mantra from the French Revolution, Romantics strongly believed in personal freedom, democratic ideals, and the importance of the rights of each individual.  They were in conflict with the conformity of society and felt as Thoreau wrote that each man must "march to the beat of a different drummer."  He and the Romantics celebrated also the simple life. 

Envisioning the Industrial Revolution as an element that destroyed the freedom and rights of the individual, William Blake wrote of the "dark Satanic mills" that subjugated people to little more than drones.  Along with other Romantics, Blake felt that Nature was the individual's refuge and teacher, and man must fight to build a world fit for habitation.

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire! Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire!

I will not cease from mental fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

This love and adoration of nature extends to other poets such as Wordsworth who writes in his poem "Tintern Abbey":

and this prayer I make, 
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead 
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts.

Much like the English Romanticists, the American poets Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman celebrated the value of nature as well as that of the individual soul. In his Song of Myself, Whitman clearly exalts the single being: "I loaf and invite my soul." In his Leaves of Grass, he writes again of himself,

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul...

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man...

Clearly, the subjective and the imagination are very important to the Romantics and, thus, poetry was held as the highest form of art for them with its emphasis upon emotion. Emily Dickinson, for instance,used precise language and unique poetic forms to both reveal and conceal her private thoughts and feelings.

I taste a liquor never brewed--....

Inebriate of Air--am I--

And Debauchee of Dew--

Reeling--thro endless summer days--

From inns of Molten Blue--

Another aspect of the Romantics that expresses their individuality is the revolt against science and technology that Romantics feared would dehumanize and control human feelings.  This, of course, is a motif in Mary Shelley's famous work, Frankenstein. In opposition to the advancements of science, the Romantics exalted the mystic and supernatural.  When Victor Frankenstein visits the resplendent countryside of Switzerland and views the lakes and the Alps with its majestic Mount Blanc, his mind and soul find respite from his conflicts; for the momentary, he is at peace.

Revolting against science and the conformity of society, the Romantics, who believed in individual freedom, exalted the mystic and supernatural, the importance of Nature, the celebration of the simple life, the examination of personal feelings, the importance of the imagination and the emphasis upon emotion and intuition.

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