Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

Ezra_Pound_2“Make it new”       –Ezra Pound, (1934)

“1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome”

“Image…that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.”

–Ezra Pound, from “A Retrospect” (1918)

Check out this introduction to Modernism at The Academy of American Poets website. Also see the intro to Imagism.

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

(1915)

The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.  I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
   As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

        By Rihaku (Li Po)

"Translated" by Ezra Pound in 1917

 

Canto I

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also 
Heavy with weeping, so winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day's end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o'er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wretched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip
I dug the ell-square pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour.
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death's-head;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and at the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the heards, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead,
Till I should hear Tiresias.
But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit.  And I cried in hurried speech:
"Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
Cam'st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?"

     And he in heavy speech:
"Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Circe's ingle.
Going down the long ladder unguarded,
I fell against the buttress,
Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus.
But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed:
A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.
And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows."

And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
"A second time? why? man of ill star,
Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region?
Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever
For soothsay."
     And I stepped back,
And he stong with the blood, said then: "Odysseus
Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
Lose all companions." And then Anticlea came.
Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.
And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away
And unto Circe.
     Venerandam,
In the Creatan's phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite,
Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, orichalchi, with golden
Girdles and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicida. So that:

(1925)

 

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

url-3“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”

–Eliot from “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919)

Read a longer bio of Eliot at The Poetry Foundation. Read a shorter bio of Eliot at The Academy of American Poets. Read a variety of critical responses to “Prufrock” at the Modern American Poets website.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

BY T. S. ELIOT

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate:

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase.
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets,
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep… tired… or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in
upon a platter,
I am no prophet- and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all
”If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along
the floor
And this, and so much more?It is impossible to say just what I
mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say: “That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince: withal, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trowsers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves,
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By seagirls wreathed with seaweed red and brown,
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

(1915)

 WWImontage

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

wallacestevens

“After one has abandoned a belief in God, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.” –Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous 

“The truth seems to be that we live in concepts of the imagination before the reason has established them.” –Wallace Stevens, “Imagination as Value”

Read a bio of Stevens at the Poetry Foundation. Check out scholarly excerpts on Stevens at MAPS.

And here is the Wikipedia page on Stevens.

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

1923

Romanticism (c. 1785-1830)

"Wanderer above the Sea of Fog" 1818 by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich

“Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” 1818 by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich

“Romanticism”

“Romanticism” was a movement in art and literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is given credit for first using the term romantic to describe literature, defined it as “literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form.” This is as accurate a general definition as can be accomplished, although Victor Hugo’s phrase “liberalism in literature” is also apt. Imagination, emotion, and freedom are certainly the focal points of romanticism. Any list of particular characteristics of the literature of romanticism includes an emphasis on individualism, spontaneity, freedom from rules, solitary life rather than life in society, the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason, devotion to beauty, love of and worship of nature, and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages.

English poets: William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats

Also associated with American poets: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman

The word romantic (ism) has a complex and interesting history. In the Middle Ages ‘romance’ denoted the new vernacular languages derived from Latin – in contradistinction to Latin itself, which was the language of learning. Enromancierromancarromanz meant to compose or translate books in the vernacular. The work produced was then called romanzromanromanzo and romance. A roman or romant came to be known as an imaginative work and a ‘courtly romance’. The terms also signified a ‘popular book.’ There are early suggestions that it was something new, different, divergent. By the 17th c. in Britain and France, ‘romance’ has acquired the derogatory connotations of fanciful, bizarre, exaggerated, chimerical, gothic. In France a distinction was made between romanesque (also derogatory) and romantique (which meant ‘tender,’ ‘gentle,’ ‘sentimental,’ and ‘sad’). It was used in the English form in these latter senses in the 18th c. In Germany the word romantisch was used in the 17th c. in the French sense of romanesque, and then, increasingly from the middle of the 18th c., in the English sense of ‘gentle,’ ‘melancholy.’

from Wordsworth’s “Preface” to the Lyrical Ballads (1978)

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity”

“What is a Poet? to whom does he address himself? and what language is to be expected from him?—He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them. to these qualities he has added a disposition to be affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present; an ability of conjuring up in himself passions, which are indeed far from being the same as those produced by real events”

Storming of the Bastille, 1789

Storming of the Bastille, 1789

Context: Industrial and Political Revolutions

The American (1776) and French (1789-1799) revolutions loomed large in the social imagination of the times. Mary Wollstoncraft, in A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) justified the French Revolution against criticisms of it. Tom Paine, in Rights of Man (1791-92) also advocated for England to become a democratic republic that was to be achieved, if not otherwise possible, through popular revolution. Still, many English became disillusioned with France when  revolution turned excessively violent under the Reign of Terror of Robespierre. In England, this was a period of harsh, repressive measures. Public meetings were prohibited, the right of habeas corpus (the legal principle protecting individuals from arbitrary imprisonment) was suspended for the first time in over a hundred years, and advocates of even moderate political change were charged with treason.

The Albion Flour Mills, the first major factory in London, built 1786, burned 1791 (perhaps by disgruntled workers or smaller scale flour millers)

The Albion Flour Mills, the first major factory in London, built 1786, burned 1791 (perhaps by disgruntled workers or smaller scale flour millers)

England also was shifting, at this time, from a largely agricultural society, in which wealth and power were in the hands of the landholding aristocracy, to a modern industrial nation. The Industrial Revolution was spurred by the advent of new machinery, for example the steam engine (1765) and the cotton gin (1793), which increased the speed and altered the forms of labor and production. The demand for industrial labor contributed to the rapid growth of an urban working class and also to consolidation of wealth in the hands of industrial entrepreneurs or owners. The commons, (public) agricultural land, which once supported rural communities was privatized and parceled or literally fenced off. This drove farming families into towns and cities where many were forced into low wage jobs and camped housing. All of these changes contributed to a great gap between rich and poor. Despite these rapid and substantial social shifts, there was little work done by the government to regulate industry and economic growth. This was because of the dominance of the “laizzes-faire” theory of economics, advocated by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776). The idea was that the government should interfere with the economy as little as possible, encouraging the freedom of the “free market.”

"Over London by Rail" Gustave Doré c. 1870. Shows the densely populated and polluted environments created in the new industrial cities

“Over London by Rail” Gustave Doré c. 1870. Shows the densely populated and polluted environments created in the new industrial cities

Lack of regulation led to exploitation: low wages, long hours and poor conditions for workers, and child labor, also a lack of environmental and  health considerations. London became, in some visions of the city, an urban nightmare. Resistance and reform were hard in coming. Labor unions were illegal  and laborers couldn’t vote (only landowners could vote until 1832, and even then universal suffrage was not put into law until 1928).

Imagination

In romantic art and literature, the imagination was elevated to a position as the supreme faculty of the mind. This contrasted distinctly with the traditional arguments for the supremacy of reason. The Romantics tended to define and to present the imagination as our ultimate “shaping” or creative power, the approximate human equivalent of the creative powers of nature or even deity. It is dynamic, an active, rather than passive power, with many functions. Imagination is the primary faculty for creating all art. On a broader scale, it is also the faculty that helps humans to constitute reality, for (as Wordsworth suggested), we not only perceive the world around us, but also in part create it. Uniting both reason and feeling (Coleridge described it with the paradoxical phrase, “intellectual intuition”), imagination is extolled as the ultimate synthesizing faculty, enabling humans to reconcile differences and opposites in the world of appearance. The reconciliation of opposites is a central ideal for the Romantics. Finally, imagination is inextricably bound up with the other two major concepts, for it is presumed to be the faculty which enables us to “read” nature as a system of symbols.

“The View of Tintern Abbey on the River Wye. Nov. 1, 1799,” by Edward Dayes

“The View of Tintern Abbey on the River Wye. Nov. 1, 1799,” by Edward Dayes

Thomas Gainsborough, "Romantic Landscape," c.1783

Thomas Gainsborough, “Romantic Landscape,” c.1783

Nature 

“Nature” meant many things to the Romantics. As suggested above, it was often presented as itself a work of art, constructed by a divine imagination, in emblematic language. For example, throughout “Song of Myself,” Whitman makes a practice of presenting commonplace items in nature–“ants,” “heap’d stones,” and “poke-weed”–as containing divine elements, and he refers to the “grass” as a natural “hieroglyphic,” “the handkerchief of the Lord.” While particular perspectives with regard to nature varied considerably–nature as a healing power, nature as a source of subject and image, nature as a refuge from the artificial constructs of civilization, including artificial language–the prevailing views accorded nature the status of an organically unified whole. It was viewed as “organic,” rather than, as in the scientific or rationalist view, as a system of “mechanical” laws, for Romanticism displaced the rationalist view of the universe as a machine (e.g., the deistic image of a clock) with the analogue of an “organic” image, a living tree or mankind itself. At the same time, Romantics gave greater attention both to describing natural phenomena accurately and to capturing “sensuous nuance”–and this is as true of Romantic landscape painting as of Romantic nature poetry. Accuracy of observation, however, was not sought for its own sake. Romantic nature poetry is essentially a poetry of meditation.

J M W Turner, Buttermere Lake  with Part of Cromackwater, a Shower, 1798

J M W Turner, Buttermere Lake with Part of Cromackwater, a Shower, 1798

Symbolism, Myth, and the Inexpressible or Sublime

Symbolism and myth were given great prominence in the Romantic conception of art. In the Romantic view, symbols were the human aesthetic correlatives of nature’s emblematic language. They were valued too because they could simultaneously suggest many things, and were thus thought superior to the one-to-one communications of allegory. Partly, it may have been the desire to express the “inexpressible”–the infinite–through the available resources of language that led to symbol at one level and myth (as symbolic narrative) at another.

The sublime arose as a category describing experience of that which is beyond reason or comprehension. More specifically, the sublime involves attempts by the intellect to grasp the incomprehensible through insufficient representations that nonetheless imply what cannot be completely conveyed. It is a species of limit experience originating in discourses on architecture but coming to refer also to engagements with natural phenomena and with the spiritual or transcendent.

Portrait of Wordsworth, 1842

Portrait of William Wordsworth, 1842

Emotion, Lyric Poetry and the Self

Other aspects of Romanticism were intertwined with the above three concepts. Emphasis on the activity of the imagination was accompanied by greater emphasis on the importance of intuition, instincts, and feelings, and Romantics generally called for greater attention to the emotions as a necessary supplement to purely logical reason. When this emphasis was applied to the creation of poetry, a very important shift of focus occurred. Wordsworth’s definition of all good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” marks a turning point in literary history. By locating the ultimate source of poetry in the individual artist, the tradition, stretching back to the ancients, of valuing art primarily for its ability to imitate human life (that is, for its mimetic qualities) was reversed. In Romantic theory, art was valuable not so much as a mirror of the external world, but as a source of illumination of the world within. Among other things, this led to a prominence for first-person lyric poetry never accorded it in any previous period. The “poetic speaker” became less a persona and more the direct person of the poet. Wordsworth’s Prelude and Whitman’s “Song of Myself” are both paradigms of successful experiments to take the growth of the poet’s mind (the development of self) as subject for an “epic” enterprise made up of lyric components. Confessional prose narratives such as Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and Chateaubriand’s Rene (1801), as well as disguised autobiographical verse narratives such as Byron’s Childe Harold (1818), are related phenomena. The interior journey and the development of the self recurred everywhere as subject material for the Romantic artist. The artist-as-hero is a specifically Romantic type

Versailles Gardens in the neoclassical French style, built in the late 17th century

Versailles Gardens in the neoclassical French style, built in the late 17th century

English garden in the Picturesque style

English garden in the Picturesque style

Contrast with Neoclassicism and Enlightenment Rationalism

Consequently, the Romantics sought to define their goals through systematic contrast with the norms of “Versailles neoclassicism.” In their critical manifestoes–the 1800 “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads, the critical studies of the Schlegel brothers in Germany, the later statements of Victor Hugo in France, and of Hawthorne, Poe, and Whitman in the United States–they self-consciously asserted their differences from the previous age (the literary “ancien regime”), and declared their freedom from the mechanical “rules.” Certain special features of Romanticism may still be highlighted by this contrast. Enlightenment thinkers of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasized the value of reason and scientific method, which produced mechanistic models of the world, in the pursuit of knowledge. The Romantics were concerned, on the other hand, with the replacement of reason by the imagination for primary place among the human faculties and the shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation for poetry, and indeed all literature.  In addition, neoclassicism had prescribed for art the idea that the general or universal characteristics of human behavior were more suitable subject matter than the peculiarly individual manifestations of human activity. From at least the opening statement of Rousseau’s Confessions, first published in 1781–“I am not made like anyone I have seen; I dare believe that I am not made like anyone in existence. If I am not superior, at least I am different.”–this view was challenged.

Gustave Doré, depiction of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost, 1866

Gustave Doré, depiction of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1866

Individualism and the Romantic Hero

The Romantics asserted the importance of the individual, the unique, even the eccentric. Consequently they opposed the character typology of neoclassical drama. In another way, of course, Romanticism created its own literary types. The hero-artist has already been mentioned; there were also heaven-storming types from Prometheus to Captain Ahab, outcasts from Cain to the Ancient Mariner and even Hester Prynne, and there was Faust, who wins salvation in Goethe’s great drama for the very reasons–his characteristic striving for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted and his insatiable thirst for activity–that earlier had been viewed as the components of his tragic sin. (It was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost.)

In style, the Romantics preferred boldness over the preceding age’s desire for restraint, maximum suggestiveness over the neoclassical ideal of clarity, free experimentation over the “rules” of composition, genre, and decorum, and they promoted the conception of the artist as “inspired” creator over that of the artist as “maker” or technical master. Although in both Germany and England there was continued interest in the ancient classics, for the most part the Romantics allied themselves with the very periods of literature that the neoclassicists had dismissed, the Middle Ages and the Baroque, and they embraced the writer whom Voltaire had called a barbarian, Shakespeare. Although interest in religion and in the powers of faith were prominent during the Romantic period, the Romantics generally rejected absolute systems, whether of philosophy or religion, in favor of the idea that each person (and humankind collectively) must create the system by which to live.

Eugene Delacroix (French), "The Death of Sardanapalus," 1827, which depicts an Assyrian King

Eugene Delacroix (French), “The Death of Sardanapalus,” 1827, which depicts an Assyrian King

The Common and the Exotic

The attitude of many of the Romantics to the everyday, social world around them was complex. It is true that they advanced certain realistic techniques, such as the use of “local color” (through down-to-earth characters, like Wordsworth’s rustics, or through everyday language, as in Emily Bronte’s northern dialects or Whitman’s colloquialisms, or through popular literary forms, such as folk narratives). Yet realism was usually subordinate to imaginative suggestion, and what was most important were the ideals suggested by the above examples, simplicity perhaps, or innocence. Earlier, the 18th-century cult of the noble savage had promoted similar ideals, but now artists often turned for their symbols to domestic rather than exotic sources–to folk legends and older, “unsophisticated” art forms, such as the ballad, to contemporary country folk who used “the language of common men,” not an artificial “poetic diction,” and to children (for the first time presented as individuals, and often idealized as sources of greater wisdom than adults).

Simultaneously, as opposed to everyday subjects, various forms of the exotic in time and/or place also gained favor, for the Romantics were also fascinated with realms of existence that were, by definition, prior to or opposed to the ordered conceptions of “objective” reason. Often, both the everyday and the exotic appeared together in paradoxical combinations. In the Lyrical Ballads, for example, Wordsworth and Coleridge agreed to divide their labors according to two subject areas, the natural and the supernatural: Wordsworth would try to exhibit the novelty in what was all too familiar, while Coleridge would try to show in the supernatural what was psychologically real, both aiming to dislodge vision from the “lethargy of custom.” The concept of the beautiful soul in an ugly body, as characterized in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is another variant of the paradoxical combination.

The Romantic Artist and Society

In another way too, the Romantics were ambivalent toward the “real” social world around them. They were often politically and socially involved, but at the same time they began to distance themselves from the public. As noted earlier, high Romantic artists interpreted things through their own emotions, and these emotions included social and political consciousness–as one would expect in a period of revolution, one that reacted so strongly to oppression and injustice in the world. So artists sometimes took public stands, or wrote works with socially or politically oriented subject matter. Yet at the same time, another trend began to emerge, as they withdrew more and more from what they saw as the confining boundaries of bourgeois life. In their private lives, they often asserted their individuality and differences in ways that were to the middle class a subject of intense interest, but also sometimes of horror. (“Nothing succeeds like excess,” wrote Oscar Wilde, who, as a partial inheritor of Romantic tendencies, seemed to enjoy shocking the bourgeois, both in his literary and life styles.) Thus the gulf between “odd” artists and their sometimes shocked, often uncomprehending audience began to widen. Some artists may have experienced ambivalence about this situation–it was earlier pointed out how Emily Dickinson seemed to regret that her “letters” to the world would go unanswered. Yet a significant Romantic theme became the contrast between artist and middle-class “Philistine.” Unfortunately, in many ways, this distance between artist and public remains with us today.

Spread of the Romantic Spirit

Finally, it should be noted that the revolutionary energy underlying the Romantic Movement affected not just literature, but all of the arts–from music (consider the rise of Romantic opera) to painting, from sculpture to architecture. Its reach was also geographically significant, spreading as it did eastward to Russia, and westward to America. For example, in America, the great landscape painters, particularly those of the “Hudson River School,” and the Utopian social colonies that thrived in the 19th century, are manifestations of the Romantic spirit on this side of the Atlantic.

Milton (1608-1674) and Paradise Lost (1667)

john-milton411px-Great_Chain_of_Being_2michelangelos-the-expulsion-of-adam-and-eve

GustaveDoreParadiseLostSatanProfile

Stanley Fish on Paradise Lost:

“I would like to suggest something about Paradise Lost that is not new except for the literalness with which the point will be made: (1) the poem’s centre of reference is its reader who is also its subject; (2) Milton’s purpose is to educate the reader to an awareness of his position and responsibilities as a fallen man, and to a sense of the distance which separates him from the innocence once his; (3) Milton’s method is to re-create in the mind of the reader (which is, finally, the poem’s scene) the drama of the Fall, to make him fall again exactly as Adam did and with Adam’s troubled clarity, that is to say, ‘not deceived.’ In a limited sense few would deny the truth of my first two statements; Milton’s concern with the ethical imperatives of political and social behavior would hardly allow him to write an epic which did not attempt to give his audience a basis for moral action; but I do not think the third has been accepted in the way that I intend it. (Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967, 1997), page 1)”

QUIZ

Choose three passages, one from each of the sections below, and write about a page for each in which you explain the context of the passage and then analyze it and say why you think it is important.
1. Books 3-4
2. Book 5-8
3. Book 9-12

Poetry and Meter

images

Kinds of Metrical Feet (singular: “foot”) Based on Syllables and Stress

Iamb (Iambic) Unstressed + Stressed Two Syllables: Today
Trochee (Trochaic) Stressed + Unstressed Two Syllables: Only
Spondee (Spondaic) Stressed + Stressed  Two Syllables: Bright Stars 
Anapest (Anapestic) Unstressed + Unstressed + Stressed  Three Syllables: Underneath
Dactyl (Dactylic) Stressed + Unstressed + Unstressed Three Syllables: Happenstance
Pyrrhic Unstressed + Unstressed Two Syllables: Go on

Kinds of Metrical Lines Described by Number of Feet Per Line

Monometer   One Foot
Dimeter       Two Feet
Trimeter      Three Feet
Tetrameter   Four Feet
Pentameter   Five Feet
Hexameter    Six Feet
Heptameter   Seven Feet
Octameter    Eight Feet

Iambic Pentameter:

Shall I | compare | thee to | a sum | mer’s day?
Thou art | more love | ly and | more tem | perate;

Trochaic Tetrameter:

By the | shores of | gitchee | gumee
By the | shining | big-sea | water

Dactylic Hexameter:

This is the | forest pri | meval. The | murmuring | pines and the | hemlocks

Blank Verse (Un-Rhymed Iambic Pentameter):

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, [5]
Sing Heav’nly Muse,that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill [10]
Delight thee more, and Siloa‘s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues [15]
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.

(from Milton’s Paradise Lost)   

Free Verse (no predetermined metrical pattern):

One’s-Self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.
Of physiology from top to toe I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse, I say the Form complete is
worthier far,
The Female equally with the Male I sing.
Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form’d under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.
(Walt Whitman, “One’s-Self I Sing”)