The Romantic Era
By Beth Marie
Romanticism has provoked many famous definitions, among them “the renascence of wonder” and the “addition of strangeness to beauty.” Such capsule definitions are arresting, but none manages to present more than a single, highly general quality of the period in literature. Explanation of romanticism by the cataloging of attributes contrary to neoclassical practice is equally inconclusive: spontaneity versus formal restraint, imagination versus reason, subjectivity versus objectivity, liberalism versus traditional- ism—all the usual labels are too imprecise, pertaining as much to contemporary litera- ture as to the variegated work of the romantics. But the contrasts do suggest one crucial principle of the elusive complex of attitudes and dogma assembled under the banner of romanticism: It was—and still is—essentially one of two fundamental ways of looking at life, the OTHER way than that leading to an art of the rational, the finite, and the realistic. Tobesure,thisOTHERoutlookhadcertainspecificandpronouncedliterary manifestations during the early decades of the nineteenth century in England, but it has always been a prime trait of the British creative temperament. It is the kind of respon- siveness or sensibility which leads to what in literature and visual art is called the romantic. Obviously, the romantic is inimical to the severely rational; it has warmth where logic has not; it is not restrained by bare fact or scornful of intuition; it has large- ness and sweep and passion; and it is as necessary a part of human experience as is the purely rational.
Specifically, the romantic urges with intensity that mankind is a vast brotherhood; it stands in awe of man’s immense possibilities for both good and evil; it sees the essential goodness as well as the savagery of nature. It praises beauty in all forms; it delights in the comeliness of the body and soul alike; it demands the sensuous and the exquisite. Often it swings between a vibrant unrestrained joy in living and a deep melancholy at the thought of the inevitable decay and death of all beauty and life. It honors the legacy of the past, but it looks to the future with hope and enthusiasm. It resents any force, whether social or ideological, that blocks the progress of its ideals; it resists what it con- siders arbitrary restraint and tyranny; it rebels against the harsh and remorseless logic of facts that fetter its flight. It brings gentleness, color, and intensity to life, and a certain expansiveness—both attractive and dangerous—in the range of human feelings, imagi- nation and expression. It represents, in sum, the articulation of what man ideally would like to be and have; it can be an individual’s escape from unpleasant reality, but it can also serve as his inspiration to worthy achievement.
MY HEART LEAPS UP WHEN I BEHOLD
My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky;
So was it when my life began, So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man,
And I could which my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety.
THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US
The world is too much with us;
Late and soon,
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! The sea that bears her bosom to the moon, The winds that will be howling at all hours, And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers; For this, for everything, we are out of tune,
It moves us not, Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn, Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
- William Wordsworth (1770-1850)s
THE DIVINE IMAGE
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love Is God, our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love Is man, His child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart, Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine, And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime, That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine, Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form, In heathen,Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell There God is dwelling too.
- William Blake (1757-1827)
Air and Angels
Twice or thrice had I loved thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame,
Angels affect us oft, and worshipp’e,
Some lovely glorious nothing I did see.
But since my soul, whose child love is,
Takes limbs of flesh, and else could nothing do More subtle than the parent is,
Love must not be, but take a body too,
And therefore what thou wert, and who,
I bid love ask, and now
That it assume thy body , I allow
And fix itself in thy lip, eye, and brow.
Whilst thus to ballast love, I thought, And so more steadily to have gone, With wares that would sink admiration, I saw, I had love’s pinnace overraught; Every thy hair for love to work upon
Is much too much, some fitter must be sought; For, nor in nothing, nor in things
Extreme, and scattering bright, can love inhere; Then as an Angel, face and wings
Of air, not pure as it, yet pure doth wear, So thy love may be my love’s sphere;
Just a disparity
As is ‘twixt Air and Angels’ purity,
‘Twixt women’s love, and men’s will ever be. -John Donne
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