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Romanticism, which spans from 1790 to 1850, rose as a reactionary wave against the Age of Reason or Enlightenment. Romantics focused on many themes and techniques which characterized their works and by extension the movement: nature, sentimentalism, idealism, imagination, religion, utopia, memory, symbolism, and heroism. This movement is not only confined to literature, but also incorporated music, art, and philosophy. The Enlightenment, which preceded Romanticism, largely emphasized rationalism, science, logic, reason, religious unorthodoxy, and humanism. Enlightenment philosophes of the French Revolution argued that one attained knowledge through the mind whereas romantics thought that knowledge came from feeling and being in touch with. On the other hand, romanticism is set apart from other literary epochs because it asserted the importance of individualism therefore, romantic writers had the liberty to conform to the ideals of the movement and to detour in a new directions according tot their own individual desires.
Because of Enlightenment's neglect, Romanticism reasserts nature, feeling, memory, imagination, myth, and spirituality. In Romanticism, nature is lauded as one of the most supreme objects of observation, while the enlightenment intellectuals' eyes were fixed on reasoning, political essays, and science. As man experienced nature, he drew closer to reaching perfection, and understanding life. Nature holds the key to decoding the enigma of life. Hence the application of symbolism, derived from nature, is frequently employed in the romantics' works. Romantics also regard nature as the place best suited for the unfolding of the imagination. Symbolism utilizes imagery from nature in order to convey a deep message which transcends physical bounds. Darkness often depicted death while light was considered a more life-giving source. Feelings and sentimentalism are core aspects of Romanticism since feelings and emotions are the channels through which man expresses thought and creativity. Romantics though that sensory and sensual perceptions also where vital in validating man as a being and not solely the mind as enlightenment intellectuals taught. Memory and imagination are mental transactions which evoke, project, and create images. In memory, anything can happen details can be altered, exaggerated, idealized, and forgotten. Frequently in the romantics' works, nostalgia and a tender evoking of the past play prominent roles where the romantic's retrospective vision is viewed in idyllic and perfect color. Romantics often call mythological examples in order to their aid in describing or adding further spiritual or literary significance to their writing. The adherents of Enlightenment spurned religion, spirituality, and God; hence, romantics embraced and re-introduced the importance of God. Man comprised of not only mind, but also soul, spirit, and emotions. A keen interest in exotic orientalism was born and encouraged within the Romantic Movement so attention was drawn to Eastern religion, art, history and culture.
Edgar Allan Poe stands out as a Romantic author (1809-1849) who embraced and represented the elements and ideals of the Romantic period. In his poem, "Romance" Poe touches on a nature scene where he observes a bird, teaching him, as it were, how to sing. The personified bird recalls the poem "The Raven" where the bird interjects ominously to a love-lorn soliloquy. Very often, romantic authors or speakers of the poems are out in nature. Other Poe poems of his such as "Dream", "Dreams", and "Dream within a Dream", denote an active imagination where the poems conjure up unreal events or transcendent experiences.
Along the way, Poe deviated from strict Romanticism to Dark Romanticism. Poe associates himself in the Dark Romantic genre of writing, under which many of his poems are classified, owing to the poems' content of a pessimistic view of the human nature and man's prospects. Evil icons and dark, gothic imagery are also incorporated in the poetry (Quinn). Because of his undeniable affiliations with Dark Romanticism and some American Transcendentalists' tendency to write on dark, morbid themes peopled with sinister characters, Poe is often implicated as a Transcendentalist as well. The Raven (1845), Tell-Tale Heart (1843), Haunted Palace (1839), and Ulalume (1847) attest as examples of dark, romantic poems permeated with allusions to death, nightmares, murders, haunted dwellings, and demonic epiphanies.
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), like Edgar Allan Poe, partakes in the Romantic and Dark Romantic literary traditions. His well-liked novel, The Scarlet Letter (1850), has caught the attention of the literary world by its attack against American Puritanism and corruption. Other gothic novels and short stories authored by Hawthorne are The Birth Mark (1851), Bosom Serpent (1843), The Minister's Black Veil (1836), and The House of Seven Gables, (1851). Like other romantics, Hawthorne chose to write about nature, human nature, religion, sentimentalism, and memory, often enshrouding his works in dark themes which center on ostracism, persecution, discrimination, spiritual darkness, and gloom (Crowley). In compliance with the prevailing character of Romanticism, Hawthorne has published a range of nature poems such as "Address to the Moon", "The Ocean", "The Darkened Veil", and "Go to the Grave." These self-explanatory pieces indulge in Hawthorne's fascination for dismal, melancholic subjects within the sphere of the natural environment.
The precursor of Romanticism was the German movement Sturm und Drang with forefather of it, Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788). Sturm und Drang, literally rendered, Storm and Stress/Longing has its beginnings opposing the Enlightenment warriors of pure cognition and rationalism. "Hamann's fundamental doctrine was that God was not a geometer, not a mathematician, but a poet" (Berlin 46). Hamann vociferated against subjecting nature and God to the ruler or to a mathematical formula. Major works of Hamann include Wolken (Clouds) and Kreuzzüge des Philologen (Crusades of the Philologian) and Die Magi aus Morgenlande zu Bethlehem (The Magi from the East). These literary pieces begin to mould the incipient Romantic movement's beliefs in nature, religion, and eastern exoticism respectively. It is in this spirit of anti-Enlightenment that the Romantic period emerges.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850) is a strong advocate of Romanticism. His vivid poetry recalls picturesque landscapes, blustering oceans waves, and peaceful forests. Renowned nature poems include Tintern Abbey (1798), The Daffodils (1807), To A Butterfly (1801), and The Stars Are Mansions Built by Nature's Hand (1820). In Remembrance of Collins (1798), A Poet's Epitaph (1800), and Tribute to the Memory of the Same Dog (1807), the poet reminisces about his past childhood, games, and lost friends, honoring their memory by his lines. This attempt to recapture a past loss evokes nostalgic feeling, where the memory helps to regain times of old - often pictured with the speaker lamenting over death or still rapturously enamored by a beloved. Religious imagery and nature symbolism clarify meaning and validate spirituality as inâ€¦
Along with colleague Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth is hailed as a famous romantic nature poet due to his excellent portrayal of nature and obsession with open-air spaces, often in the countryside. Wordsworth distinguishes himself as a nature poet because of his bond forged with nature which goes beyond the physical realm (William). It is a spiritual and emotional bond. Settings in rural zones are places meet for quiet observation and meditation. Wordsworth would avail himself of opportunities to refresh himself out in nature and to write. One witnesses the emotional bond between man and nature for its links with his childhood. In a famous poem, "Ode: Intimations to Immortality - From Recollections of Early Childhood" (1804), Wordsworth explains nature's paradise from a child's perspective, the mysteries, and wonders of nature, intertwining it with his own personal history when he was a child. Further, Coleridge as a conservative of the Church of England, talks about nature's capacity to draw man to the divine. In the poem "Eolian Harp", Coleridge refers to "one intellectual breeze; At once the Soul of each, and God of all." Inebriated and sanctified by the temple of nature, Coleridge is transported by a wind which lures his senses and unites him to One higher than himself.
In sum, Johann G. Hamann, Samuel Coleridge, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and William Wordsworth affiliate themselves to Romanticism through their preferences to adhere to anti-Enlightenment tenets. Their passion for nature, quest for perfection, emotive verse, spiritual inclinations, nostalgic recollections, rich symbolism, and creative imaginations join them in mission and purpose to show that man has a loftier, sublime reach through literature. The Romantic Movement persists in a continuum through the 20th century, heavily influencing future literary eras such as Victorianism and Transcendentalism. Although they have their own individualistic peculiarities - it is the acceptance of idiosyncratic differences that enrich their writing, pervading it with its own romantic flavor.