Romantic Poets


by Claudia Mitchell

“On the Discrimination of Romanticisms”, Arthur Lovejoy

The main point of this essay was to emphasize the importance of differentiating between the various periods and movements which are termed “Romantic”.  The author explains how the lack of a nominal distinction between the different “Romantic” movements has rendered entire scholastic discussions, essays, and periods of divergence in thought difficult to understand or even identify.  There are many different movements which are termed “Romantic”, none of which are exactly the same in terms of their ideologies, and many of them actually contradict one another in fundamental ways.  The contradictions, the subtler differences, and the relations between these movements are worth exploring, but while they are all referred to as if they were the same movement, this is near impossible.  One of the major differences between Romanticisms, for example, is about the importance of art vs. nature.  While Schlegel’s German Romanticism valued art above nature, Joseph Warton’s early British Romanticism valued nature above art.  Many divergences like this one could be explored more extensively if the various Romanticisms were better differentiated from one another.

I think that this essay could be viewed as a larger argument for the specification of terminology in scholarly discussion, but of course it is relevant to British Romanticism as well.  I think that one of the most important things to gather from this essay would be that when reading generally about Romanticism, it is essential to identify which Romanticism is actually being discussed.  I also think that Lovejoy brings up an important point in his comparisons of the three major Romanticisms when he questions the relation between them.  It is really remarkable that so many important, distinct movements happened to be termed the same name, and I think it would be interesting to continue thinking about and extrapolating upon Lovejoy’ s comparisons to see if there is a common thread between them at all.

“The Structure of Romantic Nature Imagery”, W. K. Wimsatt

When Coleridge, Shelley, Wordsworth, Blake, and Byron began to write their Romantic poetry, a shift in poetic sensibility, largely toward the metaphysical, was already occurring.  The Romantics built on the works of the metaphysicals, however, perhaps most importantly by using a new poetic imagination.  The Romantics used imagination to read larger meanings into scenes of nature and produce rich metaphors using these images.  Another innovation was a closer combination of intellect and emotion.  Intelligent thought, emotion, and nature imagery were all combined in Romantic poetry, and the inclusion of each intensified the others.  The Romantics used imagination to turn scenes of nature into vehicles of meaning, using sensory presentation to imply larger intellectual ideas with both wit and emotional sensitivity.

I think that imagination was one of the most important ideas of the Romantic period.  It was the Romantic imagination that caused the poets of this movement to see meaning in nature imagery, to extrapolate a simple natural scene into a creative metaphor.  The Romantic poets used the power of imagination to draw complex ideas out of imagery, using a scene or object from nature to help form a seemingly organic metaphor for a truth.  In William Blake’s “The Sick Rose”, for example, the common natural image of a worm creeping into a rose is used as a metaphor for a sexual act.  The main strength of imaginative Romantic metaphors is in their focus on the physical object of the metaphor rather than the idea that the object represents.  By focusing on the image, the metaphor expresses the idea with more subtlety, and also allows more room for depth in its expression.  The descriptive imagery can be extrapolated to describe the larger idea that is being implied, and the resulting metaphor is extremely rich.

“The Correspondent Breeze: A Romantic Metaphor”, M. H. Abrams

Imagery involving wind was not a new innovation with Romanticism; it is a common symbol used throughout literature.  Because of the traits of wind- it is invisible, only its effects can be seen, it is very similar to human breath, it can be powerful- it naturally lends itself to certain metaphors, and has been used as an archetype since before recorded history.  As Abrams points out, it was even referred to in the Old Testament of the Bible as life-renewing, and comparable to breath.  Often in literature it is used as a symbol of inspiration, the breath of life, or a soul or spirit.  In Romantic poetry, however, it is used to a remarkable extent, and in similar ways across the genre.  Unique to Romanticism, for example, is the distinct wildness of the wind, and the amazing consistency with which poets specifically call to it.  One important use of the wind as metaphor which lends itself perfectly to Romanticism is its role as both a counterpart to human breath and the source of it.  This unity is remarked upon by the Romantic poets, and plays very well into the Romantic idea of a human oneness with nature.  The wind as nature’s breath and man’s breath, a source of literal respiration and of metaphorical inspiration, are all very well-suited to the metaphors of the Romantic imagination.

I think that one of the most important contributions of this essay is that it calls readers not to dismiss any image or metaphor in Romantic poetry as a traditional use of archetypal imagery.  As it points out very well in its conclusion, even common imagery is not always used in the same way.  When looking into a specific Romantic poem, one could easily gloss over the use of wind imagery as a common symbol used throughout literature, but by looking at its use across the genre, we are able to see that there is a unique pattern with which it is used in Romanticism.  I think that it would be interesting to analyze how other archetypal images are incorporated uniquely into Romanticism, and that the use of the wind in particular is indicative of the Romantic idea of a oneness between humanity and nature, and of the spirituality of nature.

A Feminist Introduction to Romanticism (1), Elizabeth Fay

Many female writers were active during the British Romantic era, but only recently have they begun to be considered a part of the Romantic movement.  They were in fact very prolific and popular writers, and several were highly respected by the male Romantics as well.  These female Romantic writers included Jane Austen, Felicia Hemens, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Ann Yearsley, Mary Shelley, and Charlotte Smith, among others.  Traditionally there are two recognized categories of British Romantic thought: dark irony and sincerity.  However, these are the male school of thought, and the female Romantics were slightly different.  Forming a sort of middle ground, they presented a corrective to the traditional male narrative.  A major example of this is Jane Austen’s work, which, as Fay points out, playfully satirized dark irony, extreme sincerity, and an overblown, all-consuming love for nature.  Austen’s work was admiring and respectful of nature, but she also expressed the importance of social relationships.  The perspective of finding joy in the home, relationships, and everyday life was brought to romanticism by the female romantics.  Related to this was the idea of “gynetopia”, an exertion of a female pressure on one’s view of the universe.  Gynetopia is comparable to the more male “sublime”, but there is a distinction between them.  While the male sublime is an outward experience which evokes awe- like viewing a majestic landscape- gynetopia can be a sort of sublime experience caused by deep introspection.

I was most interested by the relation between woman and nature which was explored in this chapter.  In Romantic poetry, and in earlier literature as well, nature is generally thought of as a female presence.  Male poets refer to the “female” nature, achieve transcendence and the sublime by observing this female presence, and traditionally call on female muses and goddesses for artistic inspiration, and yet some male Romantic poets, such as Lord Byron, did not believe that females themselves could reach this transcendence.  I agree that “gynetopia” can be seen as a sort of reaction to this idea, and I think that considering the female perspective on female nature could be an interesting lens through which to view the female Romantics’ works.  I especially like the idea of using the exclusively female experience of childbirth and the creation of life as a point of reflection and of reaching transcendence.  The idea of conception is deeply connected to the human ability of imagination; both are examples of creation within oneself, and both can be considered God-like actions.  As we go on to read the works of female poets I would like to keep these ideas in mind, and connect the ideas of childbirth, imagination, and gynetopia with the idea of the female presence of nature.

“On the Poetry of Eastern Nations” by William Jones

In this essay, Jones describes the beauty and serenity of the Middle East, and considers how such a lovely, temperate place, with some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world, must (and does) produce wonderful poets.  He mainly discusses Arabia, India, and Persia.  The main points that Jones cites in explanation of the fruitful poetry of the Middle East are the extreme beauty and diversity of the natural landscape, the “simple” and “serene” nomadic life of the people, the vast number of different tribal dialects which form a rich, extensive language, and the “tenderness”, “effeminacy” and “docility” of the people in this part of the world.  Jones is drawing attention to the Middle East and its value to Western culture, and in doing so is updating the Western view of the East as a largely homogenous, inferior place.  He is also challenging the idea of the Greeks and Romans as culturally ideal.

This essay highly idealizes and romanticizes the Middle East.  There are certainly elements of respect and deep admiration for the Middle East and its people in Jones’ essay, but he also degrades them in a way that skirts the idea of the “noble savage” touched on by other writers at the time.  He over-generalizes in his descriptions of the people, and almost infantilizes them by describing them widely as “effeminate” and “docile”.  However, his assertion of the value of Middle Eastern culture to Western society was a very important move towards a more global understanding of art and culture.  His essay is also a reflection of the Romantic ideas of independence of spirit, and the importance of contemplation, introspection, and imagination.  For example, he cites “contemplation of the most delightful objects” as a source of inspiration for Middle Eastern poets, and he praises the imaginativeness and fancifulness of Middle Eastern poetic imagery.  There is also an important undertone of imperialism in this essay.  Jones thinks that England and the Western world in general could benefit from the appropriation of Middle Eastern culture, literature, language, and schools of thought into traditional Western learning, and he is solely concerned with how this addition would benefit the West.  To Jones, the body of knowledge in the East is much like the land, in that it is rich, beautiful, and respectable in a way, but also that it is something that Europe can and should take for itself.

“The Third Anniversary Discourse on the Hindus” by William Jones

This essay is mostly a dissertation on the value of the study of Asian countries, with a focus on India.  Jones comments on the uniqueness of the people of this region, and both the differences and parallels between the elements of Eastern and Western cultures.  He is putting the intelligence and sophistication of these nations in a new light, and is questioning the assumed inferiority of the people.  Perhaps the most important point he brings up is the idea of the relationship between the Eastern and Western languages.  He is theorizing that modern European languages are likely related to Sanskrit and other ancient Eastern languages, and could even be derived from them, at least in part.  He is asserting for the first time the idea of a proto-language from which many modern languages are all derived.  This idea has many implications for the relationship between the cultures of the East and West, and further implies that the Eastern nations, especially in ancient times, were far more sophisticated than was previously assumed.

One of the major ideas that Jones is asserting, the idea of the relations between many modern languages of both the East and the West, is a very Romantic one.  He believes in an interconnectedness between many different parts of the world, which in turn implies the Romantic idea of the “oneness” of the human race.  Some of his ideas contradict themselves, however.  For example, he gives respect to ancient Eastern cultures, and clearly believes in connections between the West and the East, and yet he believes that modern Eastern cultures like India are in decline, and are in need of Western aid, not further understanding and study.  He also supports the idea of democracy, and yet also believes in imperialism.  In general, I think that his self-contradictions can be traced back to his belief in modern Western superiority.  He may have a great respect for the art, language, culture, and even people of Eastern nations, but he also believes that in modern times, the Western world is more civilized, sophisticated, and generally more advanced.

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