Sample Essay Romanticism
In Romanticism, composers not only transform human experience through imagination but also manipulate textual forms and features in response to their times.
For Romantics, experience, imagination and art are inextricably linked. They believed human experience is transformed by the active imagination, resulting in (them creating?) innovative textual forms. In the Romantic period, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the manipulation of poetry, short stories and autobiographies were different methods of transcribing an individual’s unique experience during or after its reaction with imagination, which then makes it a new perception. (with changes their perception? Whose perception is changed?) This is evident in the works of well-known Romantic literary figures including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Edgar Allan Poe and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although these individuals composed their human experiences in their own ways, they are linked through common concerns of the era such as the reaction between imagination and nature, decorated by passion and emotion.
(Good opening, but be mindful of being more specific with your expression. As in state who says what)
The active imagination plays upon a certain experience and changes (can change) the individual’s perspectives of it. This is evident in Coleridge’s ‘Conversation Poems’, (you miss an opportunity here to reinforce that this ‘invention’ is the way that Romanticists manipulate textual forms and features to express their feelings on ‘truth in nature’) a term coined by George McLean Harper in 1928 to describe poems whereby Coleridge’s active imagination searches for truths in nature through the adoption of natural symbolism. (Magnuson, 2002). An example is ‘This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison’ (1797) where an initially traumatic experience is transformed by a reaction between nature and the imagination. Coleridge addresses this poem to Charles Lamb, a friend who visited Coleridge in the countryside once, and unfortunately Coleridge could not explore nearby nature with Lamb, hence he transcribed his displeasures into a conversation poem whilst sitting in a garden-bower. (This detail doesn’t really add much to your argument. Don’t give us the history – just give us the argument) The limitations he felt are expressed through his use of diction with negative connotations such as the words ‘gone’, ‘prison’ and ‘lost’ in the first two lines of the poem – ‘Well, they are gone, and here I must remain, / This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost’. Furthermore, the imagination has created the bower as symbolic of a prison, an institution that is restricting. This is a reflection of Coleridge’s viewpoint on the political society where he and many others in the first generation of Romantics, developed a new language of ‘rights’ (Ruston, 2007). The transformations generated by the imagination are evidenced through the shifting in pronouns. Originally, there is common use of possessive first person and distant third person pronouns – ‘Had dimmed mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,’ (You can just cite the pronouns used, you don’t have to transcribe the entire line) which shows Coleridge feels separated from Lamb in this experience. However, towards the end of the poem, the pronoun is more inclusive in the use of ‘we’ – ‘That we may lift the Soul, and contemplate / With lively joy the joys we cannot share.’ In utilising his imagination’s reaction with nature, Coleridge is able to better connect himself with Lamb’s experience and hence changing (changes) his experience. The use of a conversation poem not only allows him to personally convey theses (these) experiences to Lamb, but also allows a free flow illustration of a dynamic experience.
(Try to make a stronger connection between the language techniques you use to ‘how Romanticists manipulate textual forms and features in response to their times’. You will find this makes their use much more relevant.)
The limitless nature of the imagination is directly transposed into Romantic literature because what an individual feels is more important than a society’s dominant ideology or way of thinking. For example, a fragmentary experience is translated into a fragmented poem, as opposed to the generalised neoclassical literature norm where texts have a defined beginning, middle and end. The large extent of which this is true is witnessed in Coleridge’s poem ‘Kubla Khan’ (1797). Coleridge’s (persona – you need to make this distinction between the Coleridge portrayed in the poem (persona) and him as being separate things) subconscious imagination, in addition to opium, illustrated a newfound world in his dream. Poets such as Coleridge are able to translate many abstract ideas into poems, illustrating the complexity of the unconscious (Rogers, 2001). This idea in the form of a dream was transcribed into an oddly structured manner whereby the stanzas are of differing lengths, with the occasional, or set of, indented lines. For instance,
‘Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground’
These lines are in the middle of the first stanza whilst Coleridge describes the setting of his dream. The indented line can be seen as a run-on from the line before, similar to a follow on thought that occurred to him as he wrote down the words. (You need to provide evidence from the extract Coleridge wrote to suggest this) This shows that it is Coleridge’s unique experience that shapes his writing rather than the conventions of poetry. His appreciation towards nature is once again witnessed in his use of sensual imagery – ‘Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree’. Furthermore, this poem as a whole demonstrates the same idea whereby it was not completed because someone interrupted Coleridge whilst he was writing it, explained in the epigraph. The incomplete poem defines the single experience that Coleridge had wished to write about, one that changed due to the imagination and the mind being interrupted. It is therefore evident that a strong focus on the dynamic relationship between imagination and individual human experience is reflected through Coleridge’s work.
In comparison to Coleridge’s reactions between nature and imagination, Keats asserts the dominance of imagination over nature due to its constant ability to transform experiences. In the poem ‘Fancy’ (1820), Keats compares his experience with nature and the imagination. Although nature is active, seasons such as winter are looked down upon and dreaded. For Keats, this may be due to the fact that he suffered during the winter, with a succession of colds, which forced him to move in with his brother who was suffering from tuberculosis (Motion, 1999). Keats says, ‘She [Fancy] will bring, in spite of frost, / Beauties that the earth hath lost’, referring to the fact that nature does not provide complete comfort for an individual. However, the imagination is powerful enough to always transform an experience whether it is winter or summer. This poem has three long stanzas with structured couplets; this reflects the constrictions felt towards the imagination. Where Coleridge’s poetry was generated through the use of imagination, Keats’ description of the imagination imitates the boredom of society without imagination. Hence, two of the last lines say ‘Quickly break her prison-string / And such joys as these she’ll bring’, once again using a prison metaphor, however it is to describe how the imagination is underappreciated. Hence, it is evident in Keats’ poem ‘Fancy’ that the imagination plays a large role in his experience.
In another one of Keats’ poems, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ (1819), appreciation is placed upon human experience and the imagination as opposed to immortality and eternity. Keats addresses an urn, which is not living and will therefore exist for eternity; an idea thought to be amazing by many. However, through the works of his imagination and sense of rebellion against social tradition (Watts, 1985), he is able to come to the conclusion that the living experience is more important than the preservation of beauty. To illustrate this, Keats has used a parallel, ‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter;’ It is evident that by ‘those unheard’, Keats is referring to those imagined. In using an ode to express his concerns, Keats is also appealing to an audience, informing them to utilise their unique imagination and human experience to interpret this poem similar to the way in which Keats interprets the urn using his imagination and experiences. This is evidenced in ‘Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss’ when he sees two lovers together. Through experience, Keats knows that lovers kiss, and through using his imagination, he is able to deduce that the story of them involves kissing. Using repetition of high modality language, ‘never’, Keats clearly distinguishes the strong emotions he feels towards an eternal experience. Therefore, this poem shows the importance of imagination in its reaction with human experiences and how they are transformed or how they transform others.
However, imagination can be perceived to be dangerous and tormenting, as is witnessed in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, ‘Black Cat’ (1843). Through the use of a gothic genre, illustrated by supernatural elements, the theme of murder and a mentally challenged protagonist, Poe convincingly persuades readers of the dangers that the imagination can bring. Italics is used to emphasise the twisted mind the protagonist has embodied – ‘and that’s why I did it – yes! I did it because I knew it was evil’. The attention given to his ‘evil’ feeling as the cause for murder not only shows corruption in his mind, but also the dominance of emotion over reason, which is a key feature to Romantic writing (Day, 1996). This is similar to the way Coleridge’s work is driven by his experiences rather than the conventions of poetry. Additionally, the concept of ‘murder’ involves the killing of the living – nature; hence Poe shows how the imagination leads to disastrous consequences. Even so, it is still an integral part of transforming an individual’s experience.
In comparison to a late Romantic such as Poe is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who, like Coleridge, more or less supports the reactions between nature, experience and the imagination. Through a greatly personal and long autobiography, Confessions (1782), Rousseau conveys the pleasantries he experienced due to the imagination. Rousseau writes, ‘for it is impossible for man, and difficult even for nature herself, to surpass the riches of my imagination’ when he arrives at Paris, disappointed. He acknowledges the power of nature by comparing it to that of man, because one sees nature as free of human imperfections, however imagination takes it one step further to provide an even better perception of his experiences.
A comparative analysis of key texts by Coleridge, Keats, Poe and Rousseau reveals that they share differing opinions on the effects and role of the imagination upon an individual’s experience. Furthermore, their translations of their experience onto text vary from conversational poetry, to lyrical poetry, to gothic short stories and to personal autobiographical books. However, one thing to be agreed upon is the imagination’s capability to transform experience and uncover emotion.
(Note: Please avoid using centre-justified formatting, it makes it hard to mark. I have changed it to left-aligned to make it a bit easier!)
Watts, C. (1985). A Preface to Keats. London: Pearson Longman Publishing.
Day, A. (1996). Romanticism. London: Routledge Publishing.
Magnuson, P. (2002). The ‘Conversation Poems’. In L. Newlyn, The Cambridge Companion to Coleridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Motion, A. (1999). Keats. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ruston, S. (2007). Romanticism. London: Contiuum (Bloomsbury Publishing).
Rogers, P. (2001). The Oxford Illustrated History of Enligh Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Some excellent discussion and research, your depth of research is particularly impressive and of a really high standard.Quality discussion of the theme of imagination and how this is represented by each of the poets.Tremendous quality and links between each of your chosen texts and poets.
Some stronger links could be made to how the poets manipulate textual forms and features to represent their times. You do provide a number of examples but why they represent their times and the effect of the deliberate use could be defined more clearly. Some details need either a specific point of reference or citation.
You have shown tremendous depth of detail, but remember to have clear and focused definitions you can refer to for answering two-part questions (you have to treat ‘but’ like a full stop)