Romanticism is one of the recurring themes that are linked to either imagination, idealism, inspiration, intuition, or individualism. The theme often criticizes the past, stresses upon sensibility, isolation of the writer and pays homage to nature. Preceded by Enlightenment, Romanticism brought not only fresh poetry but also great novels in English Literature. Started from England and spread throughout Europe including the United States, the Romantic movement includes famous writers such as William Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Lord Byron, Shelley, Chatterton, and Hawthorne.
Etymologically, romantic has been modified from the French word romaunt that means a tale of chivalry. After two German writers Schlegel brothers used this word for poetry, it transformed into a movement like an epidemic and spread throughout Europe.
Examples of Romanticism in Literature
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.”
This is one of the best romantic poems of its time. Keats composed this phenomenal romantic poem during one of his evenings in Winchester. It describes the autumn and its features through imagination, intuition, and idealism. Keats describes three stages of autumn as it progresses from early autumn to mid-autumn and the onset of winter and compares it to the cycle of life in general.
To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley
“We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
Yet if we could scorn
Hate, and pride, and fear;
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.”
The above lines show a strong inclination to the expression of subjectivity or individuality of the poet in his poetry. Although Shelley is writing about the skylark, he expressed his personal feelings of sorrow in the poem and related them to the song of the bird. This romantic trait runs throughout the poem.
Frankenstein is one of the best examples of romantic novels. It shows the idea of how supernatural works in an environment where the pursuit of knowledge and discovery of Victor Frankenstein overpowers him so much so that he forgets the moral aspects of life and creation. He rather becomes a godlike human being and creates a monster instead of a human. Moreover, the novel has also stressed upon feelings of love and romance. The monster’s intense desire to have a mate points to the theme of romanticism.
Daffodils by William Wordsworth
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”
In this poem, Wordsworth has elaborated his personal feelings as he sees daffodils and everything else around him. He continues to describe the beauty of nature not only in the flowers but also trees, stars, and the milky way galaxy.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’
He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.”
These three stanzas tell a mysterious tale which contains elements of surprise and dream-like situation. The entire poem has these romantic elements in the story of the ancient marine which has transformed it into a representative poem of the romantic movement.
Romanticism Meaning and Function
Romanticism, as a movement in literature, has also led the writers and poets to create masterpieces having romantic elements. Romanticism as theme celebrates freedom and breaking conventional rules. Romanticism is also considered an active power with functions to present our imagination.