Honors British Literature
The search for the good, the true, and the beautiful in nominalism and realism is characterized through the Romantic period and its various authors who have produced seemingly impossible concepts in hopes of understanding the universe. The founding father of this process was William Wordsworth, who, through his poetry, embodied the ideas that are the cornerstone for Romanticism. He accepted contradiction, and found solace in fleeting moments of passionate feeling called “spots of time,” embracing the marriage of philosopher and poet. His blueprint for the Romantic period, applicable to all romantic authors, can be found in his poem Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, in stanzas two and eight which reflect the core beliefs of Romanticism through imagery that describes beauty, metaphors that reveal truth, and allusions to the Bible that portray the good. Thus, the three pillars of Romanticism: beauty, truth, and the good, became the foundation for a new English era.
Stanza two is full of these poetic devices that describe Wordsworth’s spots of time. They appear when something is experienced for the first time or infrequently, described by him through miracle-like acts of nature: “the rainbow comes and goes” (10). The rainbow, which is an allusion to a sign of goodness and beauty in the Bible through the story of Noah and the Ark, (Genesis 9:14), still fascinates society and is thought to be somewhat of a miracle. A questions arises, through wondering why such an advanced people still find wonder in light hitting water. The answer lies in the spots of time, because when someone looks at a rainbow, they see the beauty in nature and discover the joy in this understanding of God’s creation. He laments the only momentary emotions that one experiences after seeing something beautiful: “But yet I know, where’re I go/That there hath past away a glory from the earth,” (17-18) describing the pain of only feeling a certain way the first time it has been made known to man. That is what the Romantic authors constantly search for, the child-like innocence filled with wonder and a desire to find the good and the beautiful.
Stanza eight explores the desires of authors in Romanticism to find the truth in the world that surrounds them: “Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep/Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,/That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep,/” (110-112). These verses are metaphors for the poet, who is above the philosopher. It is through the marriage of the historian and the philosopher that truth is found in poetry; it is the combining of fact and art, proof and passion; poetry becomes the reason why humans can discover good and beauty in a world that is ridden with disease and sin. It is at the heart of every author desiring to discover truth amongst the darkness Wordsworth warns against, a truth that when set to melody, raises man to match God in creation.
Again, to fully accept Romanticism, Wordsworth stresses the importance of carrying the demeanor of a child through an allusion to Jesus’s passage on children and the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3): “Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might/Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height” (121-122). There must be a longing, a desire to learn and be fulfilled that every Romantic poet must have if they are to discover the true, the beautiful, and the good. There also has to be an acceptance of things unknown, because faith and trust are what humanity needs if they are ever to discover truth past what is already known.
The Romantic author Coleridge took Wordsworth’s approach and accepted the unknown in his personal search for truth, beauty, and the good. In Kubla Khan, he used imagery to portray the beauty seen in nature just as Wordsworth had: “With walls and towers were girdled round:/And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills/Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree” (7-9). Both authors stressed the importance of finding beauty in God’s creation which also leads to the good because everything God has created is good. This search for beauty contributes to desire to synthesize the nominalism and realism as the Wordsworth desired, further showing that he was the father of the Romantic period.
Yet another romantic author, Shelley, borrowed the ideas of Wordsworth to contribute to the romantic period. In his Defense of Poetry, he explained the importance of the marriage between philosopher and historian, a metaphor for the synthesis of nominalism and realism, the combination of fact and imagination. He argued that poetry was important for the imagination and vision of beauty in everything. He said “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” This correlates with Wordsworth’s concepts of beauty in nature, also seen in Coleridge. Shelley also said:
“The great instrument of moral good is the imagination and poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all others thoughts and which form new intervals and interstices whose void forever craves fresh food.”
This is his proof that poetry is not just the birth of beauty, but of truth through thought and the good as well. It is at this point in the Romantic period that the desire for spots of time imposed by Wordsworth turn into a search by all romantic authors for some greater passionate purpose.
The final author influenced by Wordsworth was Keats. Keats took Wordsworth’s acceptance of contradiction and brought it to a new level through negative capability. His vision was a never ending search for the truth, through endless possibilities to interpret his works, such as Eve of St. Agnes. There are many opposites, one of the most popular being the Madonna Whore complex. The dilemma lies in a virgin wanting to have sex, thus agreeing to the sin but not completing the action. “Young virgins might have visions of delight,/And soft adorings from their loves receive/Upon the honey’d middle of the night,” was the plight of Madeline, who fit the Madonna Whore complex. The influence of Wordsworth here is obvious because negative capability allows for a continual search for truth, and an acceptance of contradiction.
Thus Romanticism is born through Wordsworth and his desire to discover the good, the truth, and the beauty in the world around him. It is expressed frequently in his poem Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, through various metaphors to poets, imagery of nature, and Biblical allusions. A new world of literature that seeks answers to realism in a nominalistic world produces poets that accept the world as it is, but dig deeper because they have a burning desire to satisfy their thirst for the truth. It gives them a purpose that becomes their religion, spurring them forward even though they lived in a society that rejected faith because of fear to embrace contradiction.
This is my fourth quarter essay for Honors British Literature with Doctor Nighan. I analyzed the Romantic Period.
Honors British Literature