To cope with the political and industrial movements of the 18th century, artists, poets, musicians and philosophers developed a new way of thinking called Romanticism. It enabled them to create an imaginative journey with a much larger scope of expression and self-discovery. Before Romanticism, ideals were largely based upon intellect and reason, emphasizing personal restraint, decorum, and discipline. There was a set code of behaviour and morals within society to which people were expected to conform to. Humans were viewed as social beings with respect shown to those in hierarchical authority. There was the expectation of language to attain technical precision, with emphasis on form rather than content. Urbanized areas were valued more highly than country life, where nature was measured, controlled and cultivated. Art was intended to instruct rather than delight the audience. With the arrival of Romanticism, however, society saw great change.
Ideals began to be ruled by emotions, spontaneity, imagination and inspiration. There came an emphasis on individuality, free expression, originality and innovation. Isolation and solitude were preferred over social interaction, with humans being viewed as the products of nature. There was the desire to rebel against politics and to eliminate limits and restraints. Literature was less bound by rigid codes, with the use of passionate and evocative language. The imagination was considered a pathway to spiritual truth and enlightenment. Pantheism saw nature as a powerful, untamed force to be worshipped, and its rugged beauty was seen as sublime, a source of inspiration and exhilaration. The city once valued so highly was now seen as a hub of corruption and art used as a means of free expression rather than imitation.
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Romanticism was a movement in the fine arts and literature that became popular in the late 1700s and continued through most of the 1800s. It was a revolt against the classicism belief system that was previously known. Romantic writers rejected what they considered excessive rationalism and lifeless literary forms of previous periods and emphasized emotions and the imagination and over logical order. This can be seen in the following four texts; Kubla Khan, Frost at Midnight, On the Sea, and the Untitled painting. Each text deals with the conventions of Romanticism, and how they are presented differs according to the techniques used. The poem Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a prime example of a Romantic text. It is the epitome of an imaginative journey, showing the potential for human beings to recreate an experience using their imagination. From the very beginning, Coleridge presents the conventions of Romanticism in the poem. For example, he states ‘a pleasure dome decree’, a biblical allusion to the Garden of Eden.
This secluded notion of perfection immediately links the persona to the notion of God and the influence he has upon creating the character’s world of imagination. Biblical allusions are also used through the use of ‘sacred,’ ‘miracle,’ ‘holy,’ and ‘milk of Paradise.’ Here, the persona identifies that poetic inspiration is a gift from the Gods. Just as milk is a source of calcium for humans, it is shown that God is the source of poetic inspiration that enables Coleridge to create a world of ‘Paradise.’ Pantheism is a common convention of Romantic texts. It deals with the interrelationships between God, Nature and Man. Coleridge uses this device to express the influences both God and Nature have upon his creative process. Coleridge invites the reader into a sensuous world, in which the river ‘Alph’ symbolizes a stream of consciousness for Coleridge. It represents reality and is also a metaphor for human experience as the river leads to responder into the world of imagination.
Romanticism was largely a revolt against the restrictions and boundaries placed upon society during the 18th century. Therefore, the repetition of ‘cabins measureless to man’ is ironic and is also a paradox. The concept of measurement is a human construct. Here, Coleridge explains how imagination cannot be measured or controlled and is simply beyond our natural train of societal perspective. The line, ‘ancestral voices prophesying war!’ illustrates the nature of humans. Human nature has a history of war and violence. The ‘ancestral voices’ demonstrate how past experiences tell us that there will always be a threat to a perfect world because it is human nature to try and destroy things and relates to the rebellion against the natural grain of society that was evident before time Romantics. Rhythm and rhyme are used throughout the poem to create the effect of a ballad. This is a common feature of Romanticism.
The poem is also rich in visual imagery and sensory description. The use of ‘gardens bright,’ ‘incense-bearing tree,’ and ‘music loud and long’ are key examples of this. They illustrate the true beauty of nature through the eyes of Coleridge and help the reader transform themselves into a whole new realm of imagination that is ‘fertile,’ ‘bright,’ and ‘blossoming.’ Coleridge introduces the reader to an idyllic world. In part one, the poet is depicted as an architect describing his surroundings; ‘five miles of fertile ground,’ forests ancient as the hills”. In part two, the poet is transformed into a philosopher with a newfound awareness of his surroundings. He discusses the power and the limitations of human imagination and the creative process. This self-transition represents how our imagination shifts our view of the world, a common characteristic of Romanticism.
Also demonstrated in the poem is yet another common convention of Romanticism, the supernatural or exotic. Coleridge challenges the reader’s imagination by creating two worlds. Beneath the idyllic ‘Paradise’ that appears calm and ordered lies the realities that are beyond man’s control. This idea further emphasizes a previous point made about ‘ancestral voices,’ in that we are introduced to the realities of human nature that are ultimately destructive and violent. Coleridge ponders the idea of a world that is both ideal and sublime and mysterious and unpredictable. Thus, the poem is a celebration of the creative process. It appeals to both emotions and the imagination as it captures the power and quality of a dream brought upon by facilitating creativity.
The poem Frost at Midnight, also by Coleridge, deals with similar Romantic conventions. It outlines an imaginative journey inspired by frost. Outside, the frost is changing the world, ‘the Frost performs its secret ministry.’ Here the frost is personified and is given a divine purpose that is ‘secret’ and thus mysterious to man. Immediately we are introduced to a common characteristic of Romanticism, the supernatural or exotic, which is also seen in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Here the paradoxical nature of nature itself is presented. Nature is depicted as so ultimately divine, and yet, through personifying the frost itself, we are introduced to it possessing human tendencies. Similarly to Kubla Khan, the realities about the nature of human life are presented. The frost is used as an extended metaphor for the persona’s imaginative journey and how thoughts are so tangible. Another convention that is also introduced towards the beginning of the poem is that of individualism.
The character says how he is in ‘solitude/suits abstruser musings,’ demonstrating how his isolation enables him space to reflect on an imaginative journey that he later experiences. Solitude allows the character to escape a world in which his imaginative process is hindered. . Romantics believed solitude was the way to write and reflect. The world looks normal at the beginning of the poem as Coleridge describes his natural surroundings, ‘owlet’s cry,’ ‘inmates/all at rest,’ ‘blue flame/low-burnt fire.’ However, shortly after this, we see things begin to transform and are made beautiful by the frost, ‘beneath the crags of the ancient mountain.’ This illustrates the powerful influence of nature on the character and is also amazing because frost is invisible yet seemingly has such eminent effect. Frost seemingly appears out of nowhere which links to how imagination comes to humans out of ‘nowhere’ and transforms them. This powerful influence is further emphasized when the persona describes nature as a ‘companionable form’.
This shows how the character feels comforted by nature as it allows him to expand his view of the world. Imagination allows him to become aware of the volume of the outside world. The simile used in the line ‘inaudible as dreams!’ elucidates that our own imaginative journey has the ability to heighten our senses from daily distractions. The use of exclamation marks also suggests heightened emotions, which is another convention of Romanticism. The character spends time reflecting on his son, and through this, the concept of pantheism is demonstrated. He makes a vow to his son that God will be his ‘Great universal Teacher.’ This links to the notion of pantheism in that the character suggests that God will mould his child’s spirit using nature. He desires for his child to learn from both God and Nature, again incorporating the idea of pantheism, which is similar to both Kubla Khan and Frost at Midnight.
The use of contrast between city and country is also a common convention of Romantic pieces. The line ‘in the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim’ reflects how he saw no nature in the city apart from the ‘sky and stars.’ The power of imagination will be a thing of permanence in the persona’s life. This is shown through the use of ‘eternal language’ to depict the importance of pantheism in their lives and how it comes to them so that they can understand. In some ways, Coleridge is pointing out that imagination has a language of its own. On the Sea is a poem by John Keats. It deals heavily with how nature itself reflects human nature. In the octet, Keats addresses the sea’s temperament as ‘desolate shores/might swell.’ Here he describes the unpredictable nature of the sea in an exalted manner, and through this, Keats suggests that the volatile nature of our own lives is as immense as the ocean. It can be supposed that the sea is used as a metaphor for human life, as Keats personifies it in the tenth line of the poem; ‘wideness of the Sea’.
He uses an oxymoron, ‘gentle temper,’ to illustrate the contrasting depictions of the ocean. Again this relates to the contrasting nature of human life in that life can be both violent and peaceful at times. Through these devices, Keats heightens the power of Nature and thus uses the convention of pantheism, also evident in the two previous poems, to show how we can relate ourselves to nature. In the sestet, the composer calls those to spend time observing the sea, ‘eyeballs/feast them/wideness of the Sea.’ He is telling humans to turn to nature when they are ‘tired,’ ‘dinned with uproar rude,’ ‘or fed too much’ because it will make you happy and thus feel rejuvenated by its effects. He declares that a closer relationship with nature, which deals with the interrelationship seen in the concept of pantheism, will benefit the wellbeing of humans, which is further emphasized by the cycle of the moon, ‘Hecate’.
A new moon symbolizes new beginnings and how nature will rejuvenate us; a full moon symbolizes nature’s nurturing and protecting abilities. A dark moon symbolizes the darkness inside us all that we refuse the acknowledge and thus relates to the destructive realities of human nature. These three stages of the moon cycle further emphasize how Keats uses nature to depict the dimensions of human life. The line ‘eternal whisperings’ uses aural imagery. It demonstrates an immediate implication of Romanticism, the supernatural or exotic, as demonstrated in the last two poems, particularly Frost at Midnight as it too uses the word ‘eternal.’ Both poems are insinuating that the power of imagination is a thing of permanence and integral importance in the persona’s life. Again we are made to see the interrelationships between Man and Nature. Keats encourages us to engage with nature, as we can learn more about ourselves through its company.
He is expanding our thoughts beyond the realm of the ordinary cycle of life to a world where ‘sea nymphs quired!’. By referencing a mythological creature, Keats encourages the audience to use their imagination, an integral component of Romantic texts. The painting, Untitled by Vibert is a visual representation of the features of Romanticism. It represents the beauty of nature, and in many ways, it overcomes the viewer. Though perhaps enlightenment does not spring from viewing the painting itself, the realization of what it would be like to actually see the depicted scene is astonishing. The Romantics thought that this beauty, brought upon by nature, was goodness unlike any other and very powerful by itself in creating a feeling of euphoria. The use of the colour red represents a passion for nature, and how it is common throughout the entire painting is symbolic of the intense influence nature has over man.
The use of wings is a biblical allusion to the angel Gabriel. The figure is also naked, symbolizing the beauty of the essence of humanity, that we are all born free and exposed to the elements. She is also reaching out to the man holding flowers, suggesting a connection between the three elements of God, Nature and Man; pantheism. It is now evident that pantheism is a common convention of Romantic texts. The figures pictured in the clouds further emphasize the notion that humans are integrated into the natural world, and thus nature itself is given human-like characteristics. Just as each of the texts has now illustrated, the realities of human nature are a common motif in Romanticism. The royal garments pictured laying around on the ground symbolize seeming discern for their importance. Thus, on a larger scale, the revolt against society’s restrictions and its figures of authority during the time of the paintings creation and the increasing political power of the people during this era.
Through this, we are introduced to attitudes possessed by those in favour of the Romantic Movement. The buildings pictured in the distance are distant from the main figures. They appear to be dark and harmful, with darker hues and rough brush strokes used. Through this, a contrast between city life and the wonders of solitude in remoteness are depicted. The idea of something seemingly ‘magical’ occurring away from civilization portrays how being in solitude with nature brings about an imaginative journey of beauty and spontaneity directly related to the Romantic conventions of both the direction away from city life and individualism. There is some element in the painting that really emanates a sense of wonder and mystery, goodness that has left the religious man in death and heartened the body of an angel over a desolate world. Again we are introduced to a world of exotic nature through the use of mysterious themes.
Romanticism is applied to each of the texts Kubla Khan, Frost at Midnight, On the Sea and Untitled. They are each successful examples of Romanticism, clearly distinguishable in their proficiency to meet the conventions and ideas expressed by the Romantic outlook. Each text deals with pantheism, the nature of man, individualism, the supernatural or exotic and the power of imagination. These are perhaps the more prominent and common aspects of Romanticism. However, the conventions of a ballad, an idyllic world, heightened emotions, and a rebellion against authority are also dispersed throughout the poems. Each text deals with looking for new ways for human beings to live their lives. In particular, strengthening humanity’s place in the universe through our relationship with God and Nature. Romanticism was a quest for new experiences through an imaginative journey. Overall, each of the texts innately deals with the main concept of Romanticism, that with imagination, anything is possible.