Romanticism : Romantic Movement in Literature

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      No title can adequately label a period so immensely rich in achievement as the first thirty years of the nineteenth century. It has been generally called the age of the 'Revival of Romance'. More speaking titles as 'The Return to Nature' or 'The Renascence of Wonder' or 'Lyrisme' have been applied to denote the literature of the period but each of them only emphasises particular phases of the Romantic literature but none of them is comprehensive enough to include the whole of it.

Romanticism, as Prof. Herford has aptly defined it "is an extraordinary development of imaginative sensibility".

      Romanticism, as Prof. Herford has aptly defined it "is an extraordinary development of imaginative sensibility". It thus represents an outlook on, a method of approach to, life and the world, through sharpened sensibility and heightened imagination. It invests the commonplace with "the light that never was on sea or land" (that is, to make the natural supernatural or to make the supernatural appear as natural).

      A subtle sense of mystery and the love of beauty these are the integral factors in romanticism and these inform the whole literature - poetry and prose, of the Romantic writers. At countless points the physical world appealed to them in a new light and brought forth, beautiful works of art. "Glory of the lake and - fountains, grace of childhood, dignity of the untaught peasant, wonder of fairy, mystery of the Gothic Church, radiance of Attic marble" - all these springs of the poets's inspiration and the artist's joy began to flow throughout England (as in Germany and France). It may be noted that this spirit of romance and liberalism was in the air in the whole of Western Europe and had its brilliant expression in the romantic literatures of Germany and France, too.

      Thus English Romanticism was not an isolated phenomenon. This nineteenth century Romanticism has been also called Romantic Revival. It is, indeed, a revival of an insistent spirit that had existed in the past. The supreme Romantic movement in English literature was the Renascence, which had its richest flowering in the literature of the Elizabethan age. That may be called the first Romantic period. In course of time it led to certain excesses, which the succeeding age of commonsense had tried to correct. This brought about the classical school of English literature (ages of Dryden and Pope).

      That in turn became artificial and lifeless in course of time and there was the tidal movement for the revival of the spirit of romance that the present Romantic movement symbolises. Thus the new movement was a reaction against the soulless classical poetry. The reaction began in the heart of classical age and was at work slowly but steadily. The precursors of the Romantic age (Thomson, Gray, Colins, etc.) foreshadow the oncoming tendencies. In the poetry of Burns and Blake these new tendencies appeared in a pronounced and full-fledged form, so that they are not merely the 'precursors' but actual exponents of the Romantic poetry.

      Wordsworth and Coleridge are the official leaders of the Romantic Movement. The publication of their Lyrical Ballads in 1798 is a great landmark in the development of English poetry and clearly marks the start of the Romantic literature. "Wordsworth's place in the romantic movement is pre-eminently that of the interpreter of Nature to man, revealing her as the indwelling consoler and fortifier of the heart that is true to her lessons." Nature is the best of teachers, according to him. She is pervaded by an indwelling spirit that enters into the primrose, or the cuckoo's song, rippling lake, etc. And into the hearts of men, giving them life and beauty and inspiring the best deeds of men. In short, he spiritualised Nature. He is also the poet of men in his special way. He is the singer of man in some special aspects - the child, the men of humble and rustic life. His poetry is written in the language of man, a selection of language that is ordinarily spoken.

      Coleridge represents the mystic side of the Romantic movement. There is suggestion of the vague menace, the intensity of vivid imagination, the appreciation of the mysteriousness of nature. He makes the mystery more actual, widespread and obsessing. In the haunting melody of verse he is unsurpassed in English poetry. With Shelley nature is the perpetual presence of the spirit of life which vitalise the universe and life of man. It is the spirit of love and beauty. with Keats Nature is a mighty divinity of love. But it is capable of positive sensuous enjoyment. Nature of him is a thing of beauty and joy for ever. His descriptions of nature are sensuous to a degree, rich and pictorial. As a painter of nature Keats occupies a high place. Byron is the poet of tempestuous and violent aspects of nature - the terror of the thunderstorm, the foam of the billows. He also represents the revolutionary side of the Romantic movement, celebrating the patriots and lovers of freedom and denouncing tyranny in strong terms.

      Poetry is, of course, the chief glory of the Romantic age. But romantic prose is no less glorious. It was a golden age of English prose, too, but like every literary movement, Romanticism has definite limitations. As Prof. Herford has pointed out, "The romantic poets lacked the vision of man, save under certain broad and simple aspects - the patriot, the peasant', the visionary, the child. They lacked understanding of the past save at certain points on which the spirit of liberty had laid a fiery finger." In prose this limitation was partially overcome (as by Scott, Lamb, etc.). Romantic poetry is deficient in human interest and the note of humanity is brilliantly struck in the poetry of Browning of the succeeding age.

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