The Theme of Nature in English Romanticism
This research paper is the outcome of a long-standing desire to gain a clearer comprehension of the concept of nature as it appears in certain English poets of the nineteenth century.
Pre-Romanticism came during the period of crisis of the Enlightenment – the period generally known as the Age of Reason, and Romanticism was the continuation of meditations about the possibilities of the human intellect. The romantic poets gave rise to a new spirituality, writing much about nature and, thus, trying to inspire the readers. The theme of nature can be found in poetry during the whole romantic period, i.e. the period of the onset of contemporary thinking about nature, philosophy and, of course, spirituality. At that time poets began to contest against traditional attitude to rationality, religion, and the way people interacted with the world around them. Namely, the basic aims of Romanticism are: the turning from reason to the senses, feelings, imagination and intuition; from civilised, modern and sophisticated to the primitive and natural; from preoccupation with rationality to preoccupation with the aesthetic and spiritual values of external nature; as well as the growth of nationalistic self-esteem and the worship of the senses and emotions instead of rationality and reason.
My first duty, before I start to analyse the theme of Nature, is to mention what the word “nature” means, as the uses of it are numerous and as old and the history of thought itself. In one sense, nature has been taken to mean the whole universe, including God, the cosmos, and the mind of man. The other sense of the word (in modern time, certainly the more common one) denotes “the power external to human-kind which informs earth and sky and that is them except only man” (Strong, 1921:158). “In philosophical terminology and even in ordinary language, nature refers to something deeper and more fundamental” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10715a.htm), and my present aim is to explore all the concepts of nature on grounds of the above statements.
The terms “romantic” and “romanticism” were commonly understood in nearly the same sense and are still applied as terms for the kind of literature created after neo-classicism. The word “romantic” expresses a shade of disapprobation. The dictionaries make it a synonym for fabulous, nostalgic, picturesque, sentimental, wild, extravagant, chimerical, in other words “all evident derivatives from their more critical definition, pertaining or appropriate to the style of the Christian and popular literature of the Middle Ages, as opposed to the classical antique” (Gleckner, 1998:5).
The etymology of the word “romance” is familiar. The name was applied to any piece of literature composed in the vernacular language instead of in the ancient classical Latin. It was the name for the tale of chivalrous adventure, that was called a roman, romans, or romance, written in Provençal, Old French or Spanish. The adjective romantic, implying a certain degree of critical attention to a piece of literature in order to generalise its peculiarities, came into use in the last half of the seventeenth century and the early years of the eighteenth century. And this period was marked with that shade of disapproval, which has been noticed in popular usage.
Romanticism is a vast subject, which came along with the great rise of science and industry. On the other hand, it revealed aspects that science and industry tended to suppress. In fact, the romantic period can be very roughly counted from 1750 to 1850. The main romantic period is generally considered to be the time of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s fruitful poetic co-operation – the result of which was a collection of their poems named Lyrical Ballads and published for the first time in 1798.
I presume that Romanticism is an ideology, and it is based upon a metaphysical theory:
“Traditionally, metaphysics refer to the branch of philosophy that aims to understand the fundamental nature of all reality, whether visible or invisible. It seeks a description so basic, so essentially simple, so all-inclusive that it applies to everything, whether divine or human or anything else”(http://websyte.com/alan/metamul.htm).
To my mind, the most serious difficulty in the discussion of romanticism and its place is the loss of meaning. Romanticism is not a stylistic term, and the criterion of its application is not how the subject writes, but what he believes.
Before turning to a brief commentary on the emergence of romanticism, it is also appropriate to focus on one main element of the romantic equation – God. Throughout the research, two frequently recurring themes are the relation of nature to God, and the relation of man’s spirit to God and nature. God is set above men only to the extent of being a personification of the moral standards, which are relative to this time, culture and self-interest.
“Christian tradition has claimed a vital correspondence between God that is immanent in Nature and in Man, a vital relation between the morning stars singing together, and the sons of God shouting for joy. It has discriminated between the natural and the spiritual, but its ideal has been to harmonize them.” (Enscoe, 1962:79).
I realise how broad and difficult is the field I have undertaken to explore. Thus, my project is to study a number of nineteenth-century English poets, chosen for their importance in illustrating the main aspects of my subject. In the chapters devoted to this survey, I have included two representative English poets – William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge – not only because of their poetic “wedding”, but also due to their paramount significance in relation to my theme.
If I lay my main emphasis on Wordsworth, it is because he is universally recognised as the most important and most characteristic of nature-poets, who wrote in English, and he has preserved the status of one of the greatest Romantic poets. Despite we frequently consider William Wordsworth as a poet who worshipped nature, his poems do not relate only to its scenic descriptions, they obviously involve the problems of man, society, human nature, as well as relation of man to both the natural and supernatural world. His opinion was that poets should turn to the common speech when describing simple scenes, and employ imagination to give rise to feelings and inspiration. The heightened perception of these ideas also promoted shaping the poetic identity of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Thus, the author of this paper has paid special attention to the importance of the communion with nature in the poetry by Wordsworth and Coleridge.
The romantic poets showed special interest in such a peculiarity as imagination.
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