Student Question

What are the romantic elements and themes in Mikha'l Na'ima's "Autumn Leaves"?

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To answer your question, I will discuss two collaborative elements of Romanticism in “Autumn Leaves” by Mikha’il Na’ima: beauty in simplicity and the Sublime.

As a literary movement, Romantic poets sought a shift from the emphases on reason and intellectualism in the Age of Enlightenment to literature rooted in emotional expression. Accordingly, Romantic poetry adopted various refreshing perspectives in investigating how nature functions as a supremely nourishing source of spiritual wellness, self-awareness, and transcendental introspection in relation to the human condition.

While Na’ima was born in the 1889—whereas scholars generally consider the Romantic Movement as spanning from the late 1700s to the mid 1800s—he emphatically uses a meditative yet animated tone in portraying the beauty in simplicity. In this poem, he observes this magical dance of colorful autumn leaves scattering across the ground before losing their colors with the arrival of winter; he henceforth uses apostrophe as a literary device to directly address the leaves, exclaiming to them: “O symbol of bewildered thought! / And image of the rebel soul!” (7-8) Accordingly, Na’ima reflects upon his emotional response to this beauty, encouraging the reader to “embrace one another and embrace/the shades of what has passed” (11-12). In these lines, he also illuminates the transience of beauty and his attendant feelings of nostalgia and melancholy mixed with excitement and gratitude.

Na’ima’s poem likewise navigates 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke’s conception of the Sublime: representing a bridge between this theme of beauty in simplicity and the supernatural, elusively dense mysteries existing beyond the mind’s grasp. In doing so, he explores the intermingling forces of fate, faded beauty, and life’s transience in “Autumn Leaves,” expressing that “time is full of wonders” and repeating the line “Go back to the bosom of the earth” to caution the reader against undermining the overwhelming power that nature has on the individual. By incorporating these prominent Romantic themes in his work, Na’ima demonstrates a keen awareness of the relationship between introspective emotions and the dangerous, yet ethereally beautiful, natural world.

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