The Romantic Period
The Romantic Period
The romantic period was an era characterized by Romanticism, a movement that took over Western Europe and went as far as Russia towards the end of the 18th and the early year of the 19th century. Literary experts and scholars believe that the romantic period began with the publication of the works of William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge in 1798 (Curran, 2017). During this year, the two poets published the “Lyrical Ballads,” a volume that contained their best works. Other scholars suggest an earlier date for the beginning of the romantic period, with some quoting as early as 1785 (Horrell, 2014. Romanticism reached America at around the first quarter of the 19th century. The literature during this period used channels that were not entirely original but dissimilar to the standard literary practice of the preceding century. These new practices did not emphasis or put much importance on reason like it was in the 18th century, and in its place came imagination, emotion, and individual awareness. As a movement, Romanticism was inspired by what was referred to as the “rage for roots” among other areas it drew its energy. An increasing sense inspired the literature during the romantic period, and the creative potential characteristic of the inflexible formalism of enlightenment philosophy and art had was considered drained. People were also becoming increasingly weary of “the rule of the few.” The news of the resounding success of the American revolution against imperialism and that of the French against the “rule of the few” and other popular wars of independence that followed in other parts of the world, including Spain, Greece, and Poland, was a huge motivation.
Various themes and concepts defined the direction of Romanticism, most notably the cry for democracy. “liberty, equality, and brotherhood” was the motto of the French revolution and exhaustively summarizes the political obsession of the romantic period (Jackson, 2016). Many people during the era were becoming increasingly convinced that real power originates from the consent of the governed. Towards the latter part of the romantic period, nationalism became a vital force in creativity. During this time, poets and musicians alike used nationalism to define identity similar to the political state. The early years of the Romantic period were characterized by war. The American Revolution had just come to an end, and the French Revolution was at its peak and continued up to 1799 and was followed by the Napoleonic wars less than two decades after. These served as the foundation of Romanticism. Then came the industrial revolution, an era that exploited workers and used child laborers. Romantic poets of the time spoke on the issue with the likes of William Blake and Elizabeth Barret-Browning, terming the abuse of children in this manner the curse of their times. The industrial revolution brought in progress and with it optimism. As a result, many people moved to urban areas causing overpopulation, dirtying the city, and increasing illnesses. Romantic poets created imaginative literature that allowed people to escape their reality. This paper discusses the romantic period and analyzes prominent works during this period.
William Blake wrote one of the most popular works of the Romantic Era and majored on the theme of poverty and the exploitation of children in labor. The poem tells the story of children that lived a life of misery and had no choices beyond sweeping chimneys at a young age to earn a living. Poets like William Blake created content that offered relief to a population that was miserable battling poverty, illnesses, and societal prejudices. Blake tells a story in the poem in the first person detailing how he ended up sweeping chimney after his mother’s demise. In the poem, he also narrates the story of Tom, a fellow chimney sweeper who gets hurt after his head is shaved. He goes into a slumber after the narrator consoles him and has a dream that all sweepers had died and were visited by an Angel that sets them free. In this poem, William Blake uses escapism by journeying the reader into the countryside (a standard style used by poets of that era) “And he opened the coffins & set them all free; Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run, And wash in a river and shine in the Sun” (Blake & Piech, 1969) William Blake embraced the notion that most people at the time wanted an escape.
The literature of the Romantic period modeled its heroes in a way that made them apt to challenge the societal norms and morals contrary to traditional heroes that championed these norms. A good example is Nietzsche’s and his notion of the ubermensch (overman). In this notion, Nietzsche’s expressed a fascination with an individual’s potential to self-create and self-motivate, similar to other poets of this era. Although Nietzsche briefly mentions ubermensch in the prologue of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, it remains one of his signature concepts. It can be construed that Nietzsche had some perception in his mind of how a man should be. Ubermensch, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, as described by the main character (Zarathustra), is the person prepared to risk it all for the sake of the enrichment of humanity. Nietzsche contrasts the overman with the last man whose desire is his well-being and comfort. Zarathustra describes a man that has a positive attitude and realizes the limitations he has or faces in life, an attitude that allows him to live a life he would be comfortable living again despite encountering moments of pain and suffering.
George Gordon Byron, known as Lord Byron, was a poet that drew inspiration from Napoleon Bonaparte. It might also be safe to say that Lord Byron had an obsession with Napoleon, something that might have inspired him for his role in the Greek Revolution. In his poem, Defeat of Napoleon, Lord Byron talked about perhaps the most infamous paradigm of individualism in the 19th century. Byron admires Napoleon’s daring individualism that saw him rise to the rank of the most powerful man in France who also triumphed in Europe, although for a short but very influential period. Napoleon had no regard for existing styles, tastes, and created laws that had little regard for public opinion. Byron admired Napoleon, although, at some point, he detested his excessive autocratic rule. In Defeat Of Napoleon, he speaks of him as “There sunk the greatest, nor the worst of men, Whose spirit antithetically mixt, One moment of the mightiest, and again…”
Shelley Percy Bysshe is one of the greatest poet, critic, and influential figures of the romantic movement. Like poets of his era, P. B. Shelly lead a life that did not conform to the moral code and can be considered by various means radical. His attitude towards love, marriage, and revolution made him a dangerous immoralist to a traditional group. Shelly is regarded as a Romantic poet based on his use of emotion in his works. The Romantics proposed emotion against logic because they believed emotion was natural, and man was created with the ability to feel while the same cannot be said about logic. Shelly’s poems had extreme emotion in their subjects. The Romantics also referred back to nature as the source of inspiration and emotion. The wonders of nature made the subject of most of Shelly’s poems. A good illustration is Shelley’s Ode “To a Skylark.” Traditionally, odes praised the achievement of men or their creation, but “To a Skylark” praises a bird. The ode praises the bird for pouring its emotions without prior preparations. The person looking at the bird does not analyze it. Alternatively, they appreciate its “shrill delight” and “harmonious madness.”
Mary Wollstonecraft is seldom considered during the discussion of the influencers of the romantic age. She is remembered in other senses but not so well in the literary sense, leave alone her contribution to the romantic period. Wollstonecraft led an unconventional life and had terrible love experiences. Her romantic nature did, however, extend beyond his, and her appreciation of nature came even before the romantic period identified itself with naturalism. She found solace and inspiration from nature. She spoke of the rugged grandeur of the Norwegian cliffs, or the grass that lushes her countryside. The countryside had a special effect on her because it allowed her the sentience originating from bucolic settings. “I did, as it were, homage to their venerable shadows. Not nymphs, but philosophers, seemed to inhabit them-ever musing; I could scarcely conceive that they were without some consciousness of existence” (Wollstonecraft, 2016).
William Wordsworth is credited with launching Romanticism in English literature after he published Lyrical Ballads alongside Coleridge. He is one of the three prominent poets in a group of poets living in the Lake District and nicknamed the Lake Poets. His first contribution to Romanticism began with his attempt to make poetry available to the common man by using everyday language, “I wandered lonely as a cloud”( Wordsworth, 2005). Lyrical Ballads was the power that began the romantic movement in England. Nature was the dominant theme in most, if not all, of Wordsworth’s writing. His focus was on emotion, flowers, and trees, and when he ventured into romance, he worked to bring man and woman back to nature with a focus on the individual.
In general, the writers and poets of the romantic era precluded traditional beliefs. They worshiped nature in the place of a superior being. Romanticism was opposed to the governing systems across Europe that entailed giving power to a few people without asking the governed. They also assumed that goodness was in-built, and people were born that way until society corrupted them. The Romantic period was a time when people were increasing becoming liberal and calling for their improved rights and privileges. Most poets and authors talked about relief from the problems that populations were encountering. The politics of this era was leaned more towards human nature, maintaining the assumption that people are inherently good, and their transgression result from want and poor education. Romanticism was a movement that advocated for the freedom of the heart and mind through the creation of opportunity.
Blake, W., & Piech, P. P. (1969). The chimney sweeper. Bushey, Eng: Taurus Press.
Curran, S. (2017). Romantic Poetry: The I Altered. In Romantic Writings (pp. 279-293). Routledge.
Horrell, W. C. (2014). William Wordsworth and the Theology of Poverty. The Wordsworth Circle, 45(4), 356.
Jackson, J. D. J. (2016). Poetry of the romantic period. Routledge.
Wollstonecraft, M. (2016). Letter IX. In Delphi Complete Works of Mary Wollstonecraft (Illustrated). East Sussex, UK: Delphi Classics.
Wordsworth, W. (2005). Daffodils. Hastings W.-Nw. J. Envt’l L. & Pol’y, 12, 33.