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Romantic Poetry

It is important to distinguish between Romance/Romantic and Romanticism.


Romance:  A story told in a long poem in a Romance language such as French, Italian or Spanish dealing with chivalry, love and adventure. 

Romantic:  A glorified way of seeing life; unrealistic.  Also a romantic story can be a love story, while to feel romantic is to seek affection and intimacy.

Romanticism: The movement in thinking that values the individual, nature, common language and imagination.

The Romantic Movement was a reaction against the Age of Reason and the Metaphysical period.  It affected many areas of human thought, influenced by the Philosophers and spreading to other genres in the arts such as painting, music, novels, drama and poetry as well as politics especially the rise of Nationalism.  Romantic Art flourished following the French Revolution, when all things seemed possible and life was on a trajectory of unlimited improvement heading towards perfectibility and the ultimate triumph of good.  It believed that Nature was good and therefore the ideal of goodness was a natural state achievable by man. 

As in most areas of thinking, Hegel's dialectic emerges where each dominant ideology (the thesis) is challenged by a reaction (The antithesis) resulting in a conflict resolved by a compromise (the synthesis) which eventually achieves domination to become the new thesis.  Then the whole process begins again with a conflict of opposites.

Matthew Arnold was one of the first poet/critics in the mid Victorian era to question whether Romantic poetry dealt with the real complexity of ideas and life; 

“English poetry of the 1stquarter of the century, with plenty of energy, plenty of creative force, - did not know enough”.

Among many things, it was the Industrial Revolution and later the ferocity and wanton destruction of WWI that rocked the sensibilities of the Romantics forcing them to reevaluate their fanciful assumptions, creating doubt and disillusionment on a massive scale.

Thinkers (Philosophers)

  1. Rousseau    - Challenged the absolute faith in reason and proclaimed “conscience” – not rationalism – the true guide of man.
  2. Hume          - emphasised mankind’s sentiments and affections.
  3. Kant            - exalted idealism and external values.
  4. Burke          - Rejected simple mathematical laws of Newtonian Science as an oversimplification of society.  Human relationships too intricate and complex.
  5. Hegel          - Loyalty to nation; the only freedom.– Influenced nationalism

Romanticism rejected:

Romanticism praised:

The Romantics looked at the world around them to visualise truth. They used a holistic approach; the mind, especially imagination and inspiration, all their five senses, and a transcendence that pierced the external appearance and revealed the core or essence of things.  Imagination is intimately connected with a special insight, perception or intuition. 

Reason and logic only allow us to see the outside of matter.

For the Elective “Romanticism” here are a few possible INQUIRY FOCUS QUESTIONS:

1. 18th – 19th Century Romanticism is all about LOVE – True or False ? ( which is a starter)

2. If the Romantic Movement is so definitely accepted as a radical phase in European history, particularly effecting styles in art, music, literature and architecture, why is it so difficult to define any essential elements of "romanticism"?

3. Members of the so-called Romantic school of poets and writers held contradictory views and were individualistic more than anything else, so how could they be described as creating Romantic works?

4. Romanticism was said to be a backlash against the Enlightenment and Neo- Classicism

– so was it merely experimentation with new forms and fashions ?

5. Were there any clear, consistent or revolutionary messages coming from the creative minds of early 19th century Romanticism ?

6. Isaiah Berlin said that Romanticism was the “transformation of human consciousness” –

Do you believe that? Transformed from what to what?

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