Romanticism – Its characteristics and period of the age

-Lalrinchhana

What is Romanticism:

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defined Romanticism as “a style and movement in art, music an literature in the late 18th and early 19th century, in which strong feelings, imagination and return to nature were more important than reason, order and intellectual ideas.” (1111). A return to nature and to belief in the goodness of humanit, the creation of patriotic feelings, and to arouse emotional feelings over intellects have been the aims of Romanticism.

The age of Wordsworth is the age of the revolution in literature with the emergence of the romantic era. This era of romanticism is accompanied the feeling of naturalism. It is believed that the English Romantic Movement began in 1798, with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads William Wordsworth and P.B. Shelley. It revolted against the classical ideas of poetic diction, reason and intellect and favours  emotion, imagination and inspiration. The Romantic movement was not a sudden outburst but a result of a long and gradual growth and development. The poets of Romantic period like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats etc. – were not even the first romantics of England.

‘Return to Nature’ played a very prominent part in the revival of romanticism. The romantic poets feel that the country life was a menace and it takes away the poetic inspirations. The gowth of material culture was a curse for the romantic poets. They always prefer the rustic life over the cities. They feel that the rustic language of the country side were profounded for writing poetry. Rustic languages are precise, pure and can express the emotional feelings of the poets.

Characteristics:

The characteristics of romanticism can be listed as:

 Sensibility: When a critic talks of a poet’s sensibility, it refers to a characteristic way of responding, in perception, thought, to feeling and to experience.

 Primitivism: It is the preference of something which is ‘natural’ (in the sense that it exists prior to or independent of human culture and reasoning) to what is ‘artificial’(what human beings achieve thought, activities, laws and conventions and the complex arrangements of civilized society).

Mysticism: Mysticism is the belief the one can achieve complete truth and the knowledge of God or gods prayer, thought and development of the spirit.

Individualism: The quality of being different from others and having the idea of doing things in one’s way. Such were the cases in the works of Wordsworth and his contemporaries.

Melancholy: A deep feeling of sadness that lasts for a long time and often cannot be expressed. Such characteristic can be seen in the works of the Mizo poets in the 1920s. They were deeply sorrowed the worldly torture and due to their economic background as a whole.

Spiritual/ Supernatural elements: Romanticism involves the connection of human mind with the human spirit, rather than the physical things and having a spiritual experience. Supernatural elements deal with some things that cannot be explained the laws of science. Its involves God or magic, something that is superior than the human capabilities.

Nature as a teacher: Nature teaches us through direct observation, through scientific research, through mystical experience, through spiritual experience. Nature teaches us about the irony in the performance of human duties.

Phengphe nunnem leh zaidam,
Vahkhuai, tho leh hmiripa’n;
Par zu dawn za thlir changing,
Hringnun hi ka ṭahpui ṭhin.

 It tells us to look inwards an realize our faulty thoughts. Nature brings forth the ‘sound of silence’ and gives peaceful thoughts and a sound mind.

Romantic literature is subjective: It is an expression of the inner urges of the soul of the artist. The poet does not care for the rules and regulations, but expresses his emotions freely. Inspirations and institution are rather prefered over the observance of  rules. The poet writes according to his own emotions. It has been criticized as irregular and wild as the poet is free to write on any theme, and in any form he likes.

Escapism: The materialistic life was too much for them and they wanted to avoid this life as far as they could. They sought to escape from the hard realistics of life. Thus, most of the romantic poetry proved to be the poetry of escape from the sorrows and sufferings of mundane life.

The spiritual revival of 1919 in Mizoram brings forth the morality of escapism in the minds of the poets of the time. They wanted to escape from the worldly sins and fly off to heave. Poets like Patea, Damhauhva, R.L. Kamlala and their contemporaries were the pioneers of escapism in Mizo poetry.

Freedom: Freedom is the birth-right of Romanticism. The first thing in the poetry of romantic age was to break away from rules and regulation. The romantic movement was marked strong reaction and protest against the bondage of  rules, which in science and theology, as well as in literature which could succumb the free human spirit.

Imagination: The romantics laid great emphasis on imagination. For them imagination was a divine faculty. They tried to convey their perception of the mystery and things to others. They seem to see and feel more things under heaven and earth than the world dreams of, and it is this feeling which he expresses in a romantic poetry. Romantic poetry therefore, is mysterious to that of any other poets.

Romanticism also involves the love for nature, sympathetic interest in the past, romanticism criticism; and a reaction against whatever characterized neoclassicism. To William Wordsworth, poetry should be “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, recollected in tranquility” in order to truly express these feelings, the Productivity of a poet must come from the imagination of an artist, with as little interference as possible from “artificial” rules. The concept of the artist, who was able to produce his own original work through this process of ‘creation from nothingness,’ is key to Romanticism.

Period of the age:

It was Thomas Carlyle who used the terms, ‘romanticism,’ ‘romantic,’ and ‘romanticist’ with reference to the Germans. The French Revolution, with its slogan for equality, liberty and fraternity; the Writings of Roussseau, the French philosopher, who pleaded for individuality and autonomy; William Godwin on political justice and social reforms, and Mary Wollstonecraft who pleaded for the vindication of the rights of women, bear within them the morale of Romanticism. William Blake was believed to be the first to introduce the romanticism in English poetry. His poems are full of unearthly visions, common simplicity in language and baffling obscurity. To him, nature is the daughter of God.

The Middle Ages were essentially romantic, full of colour, magic and mystery, love and adventure. They stirred the imagination of the romantics who turned back to these ages for theme and inspiration. Hence, a very important phase of the romantic movement was the medieval revival. Not only were the ancient masters studied, but old English metres and poetic forms were revived.

The “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” has been called the manifesto of the English Romantic movement. William Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge  emphasized the aims and objective of the new poetry. Coleridge pointed out that he would treat of objects and incidents supernatural, but in such a way as to make them look real and convincing; William Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to deal with subject taken from ordinary and common place life, but also so as to cast over them the magic power of his imagination. The former would make the unfamiliar, look familiar, and the latter would make the familiar, look unfamiliar. In this way they opened up a new chapter in the history of English Romanticism.

The ultimate value of Wordsworth’s Preface lies in the major shift it helped to effect in the emphasis from relationship between poem and the reader to that between poet and poem. As Wordsworth himself announced most compellingly, the question ‘What is poetry?’ is the same as the question, ‘What is a poet?’

Throughout his life, Coleridge was interested in the study of artistic creation. The creative act is the result of man’s union- the Coleridgian term would be ‘reconcilation’ with nature. Such is the case from his ‘Dejection: An Ode.’

Lady! We receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does nature live:
Ah! From the soul itself must issue forth
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud
Enveloping the earth.

Works Cited:

    1. Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning india Private Limited, Delhi. 2013.
    2. Hornby, AS. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Oxford University Press, New York. 2000.
    3. Jayapalan, N. History of English Literature. Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, Delhi. 2001.
    4. Long, William J. English Literature: Its History and Significance. Kalyani Publishers, New Delhi. 2002.
  1. Nagarajan, MS. English Literary Criticism and Theory. Orient Blackswan Private Limited. Sri Bhagavathi Offset works, Chennai. 2017.
  2. Sastri, P.S. William Wordsworth: Preface to The Lyrical Ballads. Lakhsmi Narain Agarwal Educational Publishers, Agra. 1997.

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