Essay: Romanticism

As a result of this study, we have come into the following conclusion:

Prevailing over English literature for mainly 34 years (1798-1832), Romanticism proved itself as one of the most ingenious, extreme and instable of all ages, a time characterized by insurrection, conservatism and reformation in politics, and by the creation of imaginative literature in its characteristically contemporary structure. It came to be a period when principles and ideals were in union, when radicalism and conventions, the old and the new were as essential as the more customarily literary ideas of human and nature, innocence and experience, youth and age.

This supreme trend in English literature was Renaissance, which changed not only English, but the European life as well; by extremely impelling force on Life and Art.

Encompassing the mysterious and fearless of the oppositions of human life, Romanticism destructed the artistic, philosophical, even geographical boundaries of the preceding ages. It altered the way people perceived the world, stressing the virtue of the individual and rejecting to defer to traditions. Romantic compositions echoed the preferences and mores of the period and considered more than ever the individual human experience as well as personal cogitations.

Romanticism influenced not only the arts and humanities, but the society as a whole, permanently shifting the manner in which human sentiments, relations, and institutions were contemplated, understood, and artistically or otherwise reproduced.

However, Romanticism was not a unified movement with a distinctly established outline, and its importance differed widely depending on time, place and individual author.

Inspired by Rousseau’s idealism, Romanticism put an emphasis on the significance of the individual, resisted the rationalism and it opposed the addiction of literature to traditional ancient standards and supported a return to nature.

The classical writers were investigated in a new and different way, and were developed by the genius of Shelley and Keats; the Middle Ages incited the historical novels of Scott and the works of Coleridge, Southey, and many others; modern life were studied and critisized in the compositions of the fiction writers and the satirical writings of Byron.

Through distinguishing traits of their writings, the Romantic writers transformed the whole spirit of poetry in early nineteenth century. They established in literature an icon of wandering exiles among which were pedlars and vagrants of Wordsworth’s poems, Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner’, Mary Shelley’s man-made monster, and the numerous tortured

outcasts in the writings of P. B. Shelley and Byron.

Romanticism brought to literature the idea of the poetry being essentially ‘imitation’ of human nature and its primary function remaining the manifestation of the poet’s emotion. Romantic poetry was, however, a kind of verse distinct from anything before it both in form and subject matter. Its language was influenced by new thoughts of democratisation and simplicity in which artificial poetic diction was substituted by a form of language really spoken by common people.

The prose of the Romantic period also renounced their precursors by concentrating on the critical study of literature, its practice and theory as we find in Wordsworth’s Preface to ‘Lyrical Ballads’, Coleridge’s ‘Biographia Literaria’and Shelley’s ‘Defence of Poetry’.

Romantic literature generated a different ‘creative spirit’ that displays itself in the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Byron and in the prose of De Quincey, Lamb, Scott, and Jane Austen – a brilliant generation of writers, whose nationalistic enthusiasm advocates the Elizabethan days, and whose intellectual and artistic power contributed to the recognition of Romanticism as the ‘second creative age’ of English literature.

As a whole, Romanticism epitomizes a second revival of literature in England, particularly in lyric and narrative poetry which superseds the Augustan improvement of didactic and satiric forms. This indeed was the epoch that saw the advent of those concepts of literature and of literary history, on which contemporary English scholarship has been established.

It is clearly seen that though Romanticism came to an end at the beginning of the XIX century, its impact is still sensed in modern art and literature.

Many notions developed in Romantic epoch, like creative imagination, nature, myth and symbolism, emotions and intuition, autonomy from regulations, spontaneity, plain language, individual experiences, democracy and freedom, as well as an attraction with the past, counting ancient myths and the mysticism of the Medieval age still continues to be the gist of literary writings.

Key character types such as the Byronic hero and the disastrous woman (the femme fatale), futuristic and bizarre settings of science fiction (Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’), the millennial poems of political revolution and disenchantment, and the first strong literary involvements with the women’s rights (Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’) widely met in today’s literature, all are the creations of Romantic age.

Furthermore, Romanticism represented many of disagreements and ideological disputes that are at the core of the contemporary world; political liberty and oppression, individual and collective duties or liabilities, masculine and feminine roles (until lately the established standard of Romanticism was almost entirely male), past, present, and future. It has proven the foundation of the contemporary western worldview, which saw people as free individuals endeavouring fulfillment through democratic actions, rather than as restrained members of a conventional, authoritarian society.

However, the most precious donation of Romanticism is the growth of the genius of two young poets, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose experiments with poetry and poetic diction conduced to the formation of modern-day literature.

Shelley is a supreme and creative lyrical writer in the English literature whose lyrical force is now asserted to be one of the major contributions to literature as have been the dramatic flair of Shakespeare.

In some respects, Shelley is the quintessential Romantic poet, his eccentric and brief life with its outlandish unearthliness, his moods of delight and dreaminess, his elevated mythopoetic imagination, his ecstatic idealism, merging to form a widespread image of Romanticism.

Shelley was also a deep philosopher whose writings ask and reply many elemental inquiries in life. He was the first writer in English literature to portray the ordinary people as the only force capable of shifting the existing order of life.

Shelley led the melody of verse to a degree of perfection unknown in English poetry before him. His rich imagination, his power of rhythmical expression, his harmonious lyricism and his passion for liberty made his poetry unequalled and brought him in a line with most momentous writers of the early nineteenth century.

The complexity of his philosophical idealism, the spiritual and aesthetic quality of his poetry established Shelley as ‘the master-singer of modern race and age’, whereas his principles of gender equality and free love had attracted commentary on the poet as a first advocate of feminism.

Shelley had fervour for improving the world and this enthusiasm shines again and again in his writings, in glows that are now intensely comprehensible and exceptionally pure. His conviction in change, the equality of the genders, the strength of imagination and love are repeatedly communicated in his poems, and they provoked much disputes among his conformist confreres.

From the artistic point of view, the most visible characteristic of his verse is the rapturous yearning for Beauty and its glorious manifestation. No poetry is filled in the same manner as Shelley’s with images magnificent and elegant in form.

More than any other Romantic poet, Shelley brought a stirred moral sanguinity to his compositions which he expected would influence his readers sensuously, morally and spiritually. Shelley’s principal poems, including ‘The Revolt of Islam’, ‘Prometheus Unbound’, ‘Adonais’, and ‘The Triumph of Life’ are the greatest representation of radical idea produced in the Romantic period, whereas his shorter lyrics and odes are among the finest in the English literature.

Similar to Shelley, Keats was for the late nineteenth century the ‘poet’s poet’ overpowering the grapes of language with his aesthetic taste and indulging in a mysterious world of dream, grief and sensation. His poetry is crowded with love, beauty, imagination and sinuosity that are the heart of romanticism.

Keats was a zealous philosopher, as disclosed by his letters; in these he meditated on the essence of poetry and the poet and fought with the problems of anguish and demise. Keats’s letters demonstrated the commencement of a mature and penetrating mind that might, given time, have modified his lavish Romanticism to something like a Shakespearian trait, while his poems were representations of the completely sensuous facet of the Romantic movement.

Keats had an astounding talent of perceiving the true spirit of the classics-an ability alien to numerous great intellectuals, and to the majority of the “classic” poets of the preceding age, – and enabled him to reflect in contemporary English literature the mood of the ancient Greeks. He was the last eminent English writer to whom Greek mythology was an abiding and living source not only of delight but of elevated understanding of the natural world as well.

Whilst Shelley was supporting unachievable reforms, and Byron enunciating his own egotism and the political dissatisfaction of his age, Keats dwelled apart from human race and from all political values, venerating beauty like a zealot, completely content to compose the things that were in his own heart, or to mirror the grandeur of the natural world as he noticed or desired it to be.

Like other great poets of his generation, Keats made the investigation of poetic imagination and creativity the prime pursuit of his verse. Through the imaginary characters of goddesses Psyche and Melancholy, the natural symbol of the nightingale, and the man-made urn, Keats contemplated and verified his queries concerning the conditions that enables creativeness, the various forms the creativeness can take, the connection between nature and art, and the link between eternal art and its mortal creator.

Keats was the great expert of the Romantic ode. The luxuriant sensorial language of his odes, their idealistic interest in truth and beauty, and their strong suffering when faced with death are Romantic concerns-though along with that, they are all exclusively Keats’s.

Keats’s literary activity lasted nearly four years and comprises merely fifty-four poems. However, all through his career Keats displayed notable intellectual and artistic development. From the observation of his compositions, it is clearly seen that if he had lived, and if with broader understanding of men and more profound experiences of life he had reached to Wordsworth’s spiritual insight and Byron’s power of fervour and knowledge, he would have grown into a greater poet than either. He would have produced more and superior narrative poetry, wherein human personages depicted with psychological discernment would have moved before a background of romantic beauty. For Keats had a style- a ‘natural magic’- that makes his compositions higher than anything in contemporary English poetry and drive us back to Milton or Shakespeare for a comparison.

Taking into consideration all the above mentioned, we can assert that both Keats and Shelley were true Romantics with their ardent admiration for the natural world, idealism, emotional and physical passion, and fascination with mystical and supernatural. Their poetry is soaked with intense philosophy on life, nature and human identity which were the topmost concerns of the Romantic age.

Shelley and Keats established Romantic verse as the principal poetic institution of the age. They breathed a second life to the classical poetic forms and adapted them to illustrate the fundamental problems of their time. Being the last masters of the sonnet, they both made it a dazzling medium of personal expressions. Percy Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ and John Keats’s ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’ proves to be the elevated samples of the Romantic sonnet.

Shelley’s and Keats’s poetry divulged the seasonal process in nature by creating the ambiance of aging and transience. John Keats’s ‘To Autumn’ and Percy Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ both express a deep philosophical message regarding either the wastefulness of man’s life or the fertility of nature, whereas poets’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and ‘To a Skylark’ contrasts that spirit of transience with the timelessness of art.

Though, Shelley and Keats were the most contentious literary men of the first decades of nineteenth century, their importance to English language and literature is broadly recognized in our days. Having much similar in imagination, thoughts, productions and fate, they laid the foundations for the contemporary literature, both verse and prose.

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