Auld Lang Syne

Monday, July 4, 2011

Romantic Era and Emotion

Some scholars of the Romantic Period (British Romantics) argue that this era of poetry began with Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Therein are contained Wordsworth's Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisitng the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798 and Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Others believe the period started with Burns' poems or Blake's Songs of Innocence or even Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women. (GREAT reading by the way) These scholars also would include the following authors as part of the First Generation of Romantics: Charles Lamb, Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.
However we might settle the argument, these authors were one and all worthy examples of Romanticism. This is perhaps my favorite class of poets and writers along with the Second Generation of Romantics, which includes Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Mary Shelley (Frankenstein, 1818). Nearly everyone who studies the period agrees on one thing:  it ended with the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837. 
According to Wm Hazlitt, in Spirit of the Age, the period (The Wordsworth School) had its origins squarely in the French Revolution, a time of promise, a renewal of the human world — and consequently of letters. Indeed revolution served as a hallmark for the period. Rather than embracing politics however (which some writers did), the Romantics used Nature as their backdrop, embracing the ways Nature provided self-fulfillment and emotional satisfaction. This was indeed a new stance. It was a time for these poets when the powerful overflow of emotion provided by observing nature could be distilled and passed on to others after that emotion had cooled significantly enough to touch. The focus of the writing of the period was not on reason and intellect, but on the radical idea of the self and individual freedom and expression. Gone was the religious striving for perfection and in its place was the glorification of the imperfect. Head was replaced by heart. It was fine indeed to be a flawed human being, as nature was perfect. It was a worthy partnership indeed. It is of note here that one difference between the 1st and 2nd generation Romantics was that the 2nd generation writers believed the 1st generation was not revolutionary enough, did not go far enough in making it personal and natural. Still though there was a solid focus on being alive in the poems, being willing to show nature as a model for humanity. This is perhaps best exemplified in Lyrical Ballads. W & C liberated the poetic aesthetic from its previous stodginess in a revolutionary manner, declaring that poetry ought to show genuine human experience through personal emotion and imagination. They were certain that this true emotion was found in Nature. Herein we see the concept of the Sublime strengthened. After all, was it not in wild nature that the Sublime felt immediately and with a tug at the wildness within the human heart? Searching for the Sublime, the Romantics wrote about the supernatural, the marvelous, the exotic, and in the lives of simple rural people and the details of the everyday world. All of this was to reflect the breathtaking beauty of being alive, fully human. Of my favorite pieces in the period is Wordsworth's Prelude to the Lyrical Ballads, his great autobiographical poem. It serves me well when I lose heart about my writing. I love to read it and get myself refocused. Another great poem of the period is Frost at Midnight, wherein C compares his sleeplessness with the calmness of his baby's sleeping, nature's steadiness with his own restlessness. If you recall my earlier post about leaping, you will see the influence of this poem. I love how C leaps from nature to himself and his baby, making solid the relationship between outside influences and the emotion he felt. No matter the religious overtures in the poem, it is a poem of nature and mankind (humankind for those of you whose gender references are offended by "man"). I am unabashedly in favor of the Romantics' stance on the connections between Nature and humanNature. Maybe it is, in part, my Abenaki lineage and intrinsic tribal thinking that has me squarely here in this period. Not sure. But be that as it may, I tend to think of myself in a yet reviving Romantic trend. My writing is more often than not a pairing of nature and human nature. I do not see myself as detached from nature, do see nature as a Great Teacher. I know (for myself) that lessons are to be learned, comfort is to be had, and humanity is to be saved by keeping in sync with Nature. We are of earth, we are of water, we are of air. No one will convince me opposite. My own writing is a testament to that thought school. My writing keeps company with the principles of Romanticism: that emotion, expressed by observing Nature, can be experienced, cooled to the touch, and expressed in such a manner as to share the experience of it with readers. I do mean share the emotion of the experience of emotion induced by Nature. It is not a copy of a copy here... it is the thing itself, revived on the page. When I write, I want to put the thing on the page for you, to embody the experience and the feeling of the experience. It is my goal, always. I can only strive to accomplish that. Sometimes I do.

If you have a few minutes to do so, I suggest reading some of the wonderful poems of the period. Start with Frost at Midnight or Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, or the Lyrical Ballads themselves. You can't go wrong there.

No comments:

Post a Comment