The spirit of Romanticism: A glimpse

Often romanticism is considered as an artistic and intellectual movement originated in Europe in the late 18th century and characterized by a heightened interest in nature, emphasis on the individual's expression of emotion and imagination, escapism from worldly life to imaginary world, departure from the attitudes and forms of classicism, and rebellion against established social rules and conventions. When we think of the Romantic Period, the first few names come to our mind are Wordsworth and Coleridge, and of the other English Romantic poets. Of course, that is because the Romantic Period originated in Germany and then moved to England, although Romanticism visited the domains of United States, Latin America and other parts of the world as well. However sub continental romanticism was first emerged by Bankim in later half of 19th century and then by Tagore.

The birth of romanticism required a long time of course. The seeds of it had first been sown through the Renaissance Movement. "Renaissance was the transitional movement in Europe between medieval and modern times beginning in the 14th century in Italy, lasting into the 17th century, and marked by a humanistic revival of classical influence expressed in a flowering of the arts and literature and by the beginnings of modern science." In broader sense, it was humanistic revival or rebirth of classical art, architecture, literature and learning. After Renaissance there spread an Enlightenment Movement known as the Age of Reason; the Enlightenment is a direct result of the Scientific Revolution. The Romantic Movement which took root in the middle of the 18th Century was a backlash to the Age of Reason. Romantics embraced feelings and desires, and rejected the ideas of cold logic and reasoning. They rejected material things and sought spiritual awakening through their art, believing that the purpose of life was to discover individual's unique potential.

The publication of Preface to Lyrical Ballads in 1798, by English poets William Wordsworth was the manifesto of literary romanticism in England. Here, the poet emphasized on the importance of feeling and imagination in poetry writing and annihilated conventional literary forms and subjects. English Romantic Poetry was one of the major branches of the Romantic Movement. The first generation of romantic poets was primarily Coleridge, Blake, Scott and Wordsworth. The second generation was at its culmination with poets such as Shelley, Byron and Keats. The movement showed a re-kindling of the Gothic, Medieval art, and the idea that nature is the ultimate ground for morality learning.

British Romantics believed in something which existed beyond the physical world. The spiritual world, according to Romantics, had unleashed its power and inspiration to overthrow tyranny in government and in literature. Unlike the American Romantics who wrote of ghosts, demonic cats, and rope-gnawing rats, British Romantic treatment of the supernatural excluded horror and the macabre, and focused on supernatural energy and beauty.

William Blake'spoetry dwelt upon his divine vision and rebelled against traditional poetic forms and techniques. He created his own mythological world with man as the central figure. His more famous poems include "The Lamb", "The Tyger", "The Chimney Sweeper",and"The Clod and the Pebble". What makes Blake's poems especially attractive for teaching is that he often wrote two poems with the same title- one poem negative and another positive under the umbrella title of Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

The most famous of the British Romantics, Wordsworth is considered a poet of nature. He revolutionized poetic subjects, focusing on ordinary people in rustic settings. He, in addition, wrote about and considered the poet as superior to all other writers. His most famous poems include"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"and"Tintern Abbey". "William Wordsworthis greatly influenced by the divine force as well as the enchanting beauty of nature"2.When in nature; the poet intervened with the great universal mind. He made frequent use of personification of nature, ascribing human traits to daffodils, fields, streams, and lakes; nature, in essence, became emotionally expressive. Most striking trait of Wordsworth is his belief in 'Pantheism', the existence of God in every object of nature. He perfectly mentioned that in "Tintern Abbey"-

Caption: William Wordsworth

"The sounding cataract haunted me like a passion
The tall rock, the mountain, the deep gloomy woods, their colours and their forms
Were then to me an appetite, a feeling, a love"
"The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse, the guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul, and all of my moral being"
Coleridge is mostly known as a supernatural poet who depicts nature from unusual and ghostly points of view. Coleridge's most famous poems, "TheRime of the Ancient Mariner", "Kubla Kahn", and "Christabel"have distinct supernatural elements. He has different views about nature unlike Wordsworth. Coleridge used to believe that nature has nothing to heal human minds. As we respond to it we get pleasure. He mentioned in 'Dejection: An Ode'
"Oh, lady we receive but what we give
 In our life alone does nature live?
 Ours is her wedding garments, ours is her shrouds"
Shelley was a radical non-conformist. He campaigned for social justice, even marrying the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, an English leader in the women's rights movement. His wife later wrote Frankenstein. His most famous poems include "Ode to Skylark",and"Ode to the West Wind". In "Ode to West Wind", he upheld revolution, escapism and finally optimism in "Ode to Skylark"
"Destroy my dead thoughts over the universe
 To quicken a new birth" (Ode to the West Wind)
"Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
 Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!" (Ode to the West Wind)
"Oh! Lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
 I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed! (Ode to the West Wind)
"If Winter comes can spring be far behind" (Ode to the West Wind)
John Keats is perhaps the most popular later romantic poet, who accomplished great poems during his short life. His "Ode to A Nightingale", "Ode on A Grecian Urn", and "Ode to Melancholy"make place in all anthologies of the English speaking world. He is mostly known as a poet of beauty and escapism. "Escapism is, in a very bittersweet way, a large part of my life. I have realized that I will always have a large escapist streak, and what matters most to me is fuelling that escapism with spending time in the real world". In "Ode to Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn", he expresses excessive beauty and escapist views through the following lines:
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever" (Ode on A  GrecianUrn)
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty" (Ode on A GrecianUrn)
"Away! Away! For I will fly to thee,
 Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
 But on the viewless wings of Poesy" (Ode to A Nightingale)

Caption: S.T. Coleridge
American Romanticism

American Romanticism is one of the earliest forms adopted by American authors. It was the canvas for the first wave of great American writers. Romanticism stressed nature and individuality along with the powers of the imagination. It has a broad range of movements including transcendentalism which became popular by the writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne who were the prominent figures of American Romantic Movement. In the novel, The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne uttered the following romantic lines:
"It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow." Chapter I
"But on one side of the portal and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rosebush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance …" Chapter 1

Caption: Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay

Subcontinent Romanticism

Through the publication of Durgeshnondini first Bangla romance and the first ever novel in Bengali in 1865 by Bankim, Bengal Romantic Movement started. Later on, KaziNazrul Islam very firmly established it which he began with "bhorholodorkholo, khukumoniutho re" (open the door, it's dawn/ And wake up little girl), it would almost invariably also include "Jol Pore PataNore"(Leaf moves as water dips down) the first popular romantic quote in Bengali Literature. In general, the term "Romanticism" applied to music, especially sad songs, has a great influence in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Romantic songs are so appealing that even in the modern time they reign in the heart of millions of people. I can remember Tagore's songs which were written in the 19th and 20th century but still they are very popular. His song - "Gram charaoirangamatirpoth ,aamarmonvulai re"(That red-soiled path going beyond the village/distracts my mind) is the best example of romanticism. In the poem- 'Kolpona', Tagore is much more romantic than those of English Romantics. His romantic verses are-

"Ache shudhupakha, ache mohanovoongon
Ushadishaharanibirtimir aka.
Ore bihongo, ore bihongo more,
Akhoni, ondho, bondhokoronapakha"
There only the wings, only the big yard left
And the dawn wondering in lone purposelessness
Oh bird, therefore, oh blind bird
Don't go away right now.
AllamaIqbal of Pakistan is also a romantic poet in the subcontinent. He is almost like Wordsworth who finds the existence of God in nature.
In the poem 'Himalaya', he mentioned-
Aehamala koi bazigahhaitubhi, jise
dast e qudrat ne banayahaiaanasirkeliye
O Himalah! Are you like a theatre stage
Which nature's hand has made for its elements?

Caption: Rabindranath Tagore


The significance of romanticism is deep and the flavor of it is scattered in every nook and corner of the world. Romanticism is certainly a world-wide term and brings a radical change especially in literature, the influence of which is also a lot in our pragmatic life. It does not need any specific time and place, because romanticism is always universal. Donne rightly said in 'Sun Rising' :
"Love, all alike no season knows nor clime,
Hours, days, months which are the rags of time"

However, another important aspect of romanticism is music of the Romantic Era which is still very popular in millions of minds. Though the term 'romanticism exists in a disjunction between the concept of romanticism in music and in the other arts, it has a very demanding appeal in music especially in melody. Literary and visual art theorists tend to consider romanticism in terms of the alienation of the artist from the value of art for art's sake; such concepts also gradually creep into musicology. Another feature of romanticism is escapism. In our real monotonous life everyone seeks for a free moment in the lap of nature. For the time being, people would like to escape from the hustle and bustle of our complicated everyday life. It may seem paradoxical that it was just at the moment when the industrial revolution was destroying large tracts of woods and fields and creating an unprecedented artificial environment in Europe that this taste arose; but in fact it could probably have arisen in no other time. It is precisely people in urban environments aware of the stark contrast between their daily lives and the existence of the inhabitants of the wild who romanticize nature. They are attracted to it precisely because they are no longer unselfconsciously part of it.

The term 'romanticism' is a universal concept which cannot be defined only within the framework of 18th and 19th century literature. Characterization and specific definition of Romanticism has been the subject of debate in the fields of both intellectual and literary history throughout the twentieth century, without any great measure of consensus emerging. An earlier definition comes from Charles Baudelaire: "Romanticism is precisely situated neither in the choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in the way of feeling."

The writer is an independent researcher

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