Steve sent this to me by e-mail, and he has permitted me to post it on the blog. I hope you’ll submit a reply/comment and also send me by e-mail a piece you’d like to have posted as a “new” topic on the blog.
Steve’s comments on Romanticism:
Wordsworth’s Prelude (published posthumously in 1850 a full seven years after his appointment as Poet Laureate in April 1843) captures an essence of Romanticism in the following verse from its first Book, lines 340-356:
Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!
Thanks to the means which Nature deigned to employ;
Whether her fearless visitings, or those
That came with soft alarm, like hurtless light
Opening the peaceful clouds; or she may use
Severer interventions, ministry
More palpable, as best might suit her aim.
Not only has our poet engaged in a quest to determine the patterns of the natural world as he predicts Darwin’s November 24, 1859, publication of his Origin of Species, but he has also re-cast the role of observer and message. From Wordsworth’s vantage point, he imbues his message with psychological dissonance, and his discourse reduces to a key element that of his becoming worthy of his own existential understanding. Either Nature teaches him through semiotics or his emergence within himself portends a road to enlightenment. Akin to Darwin, Wordsworth exercises a unique form of natural selection—one of ideas, hypothesis testing, and participant observation—and his product is that of humanity’s search for its place in nature. In similar yet devolved fashion, Milton’s muse, at least his homage to inspiration in the first book of Paradise Lost, is the essence of the Holy Spirit, while Wordsworth evolves and invokes the grace of the “[w]isdom and Spirit of the Universe! Thou Soul that are the eternity of thought.”
I believe that the foundations of Romanticism are in Wordsworth. Critics and scholars have argued for centuries whether American Romanticism evolved spontaneously or as a learned social imitation. Similarities among: Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller (Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli) to Wordsworth and to the early British “punk rockers” like Byron and the Shelleys and others are obvious—now— in the same way that a finch and an ostrich, a dog and a wolf, a goat and an antelope all seem to fit within Nature’s (and man’s) pattern and plan.
As for this week’s readings, we are beginning to see the emergence of: alternatives to mindless veneration of God and County (Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller), psychological literature (Poe and Hawthorne), horror and Gothic (Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe), scientific inquiry (Hawthorne and Poe’s detective works), and settings that are more-or-less quasi-unique to America. Unfortunately, the American Romantics wrote in genre-specific formula for the most part; this may be a product of critics and editors’ selections, learned behavior, or simply the zeitgeist. As fun as it is to tease through the truth and beauty of the message, one must continually seek evolution of genre—IMO.