What are the differences between English Romanticism, American Romanticism, and Arabic Romanticism? Consider the poets Wordsworth, Mikha'il Na'ima, and Khalil Gibran.

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Before we answer this question, we probably need to examine the overlap among the categories you're referring to and to ask whether those categories are applicable to the poets you've named.

Mikha'il Na'ima (or Naimy) and Khalil Gibran are twentieth-century figures who wrote in both Arabic and English. Both lived...

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Before we answer this question, we probably need to examine the overlap among the categories you're referring to and to ask whether those categories are applicable to the poets you've named.

Mikha'il Na'ima (or Naimy) and Khalil Gibran are twentieth-century figures who wrote in both Arabic and English. Both lived much of their lives in the US and were thus American, though born in the Middle East. The term Romanticism is usually is not applied to writers who lived as recently as they did, though the qualities we do associate with that movement are found in their work. What, however, are (as your question asks) the differences between their form of Romanticism and that of Wordsworth and the other nineteenth-century poets, both British and American? Are Na'ima and Gibran "Romantic" poets, and if not, are there other periods of literary history to which we can relate their work?

At the risk of oversimplifying, we can judge Wordsworth as more low-key (as casual as this description might seem) than both the Romantics of his own time and the Arab-American writers we are discussing. His poetry expresses his own intensely personal feelings but does so quietly, without the flamboyance of the younger generation (Byron, Shelley, and Keats) or even that of his actual contemporary Coleridge.

Of American poets of the general period, Poe (though the Romantic movement in England had already expired by this time) stands out as the most significant. His poetry is even more immersed in fantasy and dreamlike emotion than that of the English poets of his time and earlier. He also seems especially to write poetry that comes across as a kind of music in which the sound of the words is somehow even more important their meaning.

Now we fast-forward to the twentieth century. Of the unfortunately limited number of Mikha'il Na'ima's poems I've read, "Autumn Leaves" is one we can look at in this context. Two things strike me about it. Among the English Romantics Shelley is the one, in his "Ode to the West Wind," to whom I would liken Na'ima. But there is an even more mystical and, in some sense, pessimistic or fatalistic tone in Na'ima's work, not only in "Autumn Leaves" but in "My Brother." The poet asks,

How many roses before you have blossomed
And how many have faded?

Na'ima is reminiscent of Omar Khayyam, though perhaps their Middle Eastern background is the main thing that brings this comparison to mind.

Khalil Gibran is best-known probably for his prose poem The Prophet. But the style and content of this work are similar, in my view, to two virtual opposites in the literary canon: the King James Bible and Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Gibran writes with an intensity that merges the personal experience of his Prophet Almustafa with a kind of cyclic concept of life that seems to embrace all religions and, paradoxically, the absence of religion.

Among the English Romantics, Blake is perhaps the one closest to Gibran. As in Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Gibran, in The Prophet, gives us a philosophy both faith-based and secular. Also like Blake, he focuses upon opposites as his central ideas. Yet Gibran's mode often partakes of a quiet understatement—which may contradict my earlier point that Wordsworth is uniquely low-key among those we're looking at. But Gibran shows that emotional intensity can be expressed in paradoxical ways—ones that enhance his overall message.

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