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ROMANTICISM: NEW GODS OF NATURE AND OLD DEMONS OF PHILOSOPHY

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ROMANTICISM: NEW GODS OF NATURE AND OLD DEMONS OF PHILOSOPHY




THE GREAT PHILOSOPHERS:

John Locke, ESSAY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING (1690)

man’s mind is a “blank sheet of paper”, containing no preconceived ideas, at the moment of its birth

it is only afterwards that memory, reason, and logic combine the different sense impression and work upon them

truth and reason can discipline the mind and make man morally good by helping him obey both divine and human laws

even simple people could judge for themselves and that, by appealing to reason, commonsense, and wit, they could find the right path in life.

The Earl of Shaftesbury, CHARACTERISTICS OF MEN, MANNERS, OPINIONS, TIMES

George Berkeley, PHILOSOPHICAL COMMENTARIES

David Hume TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE

the failure of reason to master reality.

the importance of senses in perceiving reality

a spontaneous and haphazard relation with the world

Edmund Burke, A PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRY INTO THE ORIGIN OF OUR IDEAS OF THE SUBLIME AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1756)

the sublime - a distinct aesthetic category generated by strong emotions of amazement and terror

sustained by mystery, obscurity, power, and majesty

subtler, more sensible and refined depictions of nature

the subjectivity of man’s contact with reality, which differed from individual to individual

PRE-ROMANTICISM AND ROMANTICISM

a fresh reunion of reality and ideality

a back-to-nature movement

interest in history and folklore, exotic and primitive cultures

the poet: prophet, guide, guru

anti-intellectualist, sentimental, equalitarian, original

POETS

William Blake (1757-1827)

reason – a cause of social corruption

scientific thought stifles creative energies

freedom, imagination – the sole guides to truth

SONGS OF INNOCENCE (1789): joy and happiness of childhood, divine love and sympathy, delicate images. Infant Joy, The Lamb – serene poems about childhood and its relationship to the world of the angels.

THE LAMB

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed,
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice:
Little Lamb who made thee ?
Dost thou know who made thee ?

Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb I'll tell thee;
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee,
Little Lamb God bless thee.

INFANT JOY

I have no name
I am but two days old. --
What shall I call thee?
I happy am
Joy is my name, --
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy but two days old.
Sweet joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while
Sweet joy befall thee.

SONGS OF EXPERIENCE (1794): sense of gloom and mystery, power of evil, maturity associated with suffering and sorrow. Infant Sorrow, The Tyger and the other poems of the volume parallel Infant Joy, The Lamb and the other poems from Songs of Innocence.

THE TYGER

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

INFANT SORROW

My mother groaned! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt:
Helpless, naked, piping loud:
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my fathers hands:
Striving against my swaddling bands:
Bound and weary I thought best
To sulk upon my mothers breast.

Blake’s Masterpieces

THE PROPHETIC BOOKS (1788-1797): The Book of Thel (1790), The Book of Urizen (1794), The Book of Ahania (1795), The Book of Los (1795), The Four Zoas (1797), etc.

MILTON (1804), JERUSALEM (1804)



complex mythological characters: Los (Inspiration), Luvah (Emotion), Urizen (Thought), Tharmas (Sensation), etc.

difficult symbolism

transience of life, death is the beginning of a new life

Good and Evil are complementary, not opposite elements

opposes tyranny, stands for freedom and imagination, which represent eternity

laments the decay of man from the state of innocence to a state of rational sterility

Text and comments available at https://www.poemhunter.com/william-blake/poems/poet-3026/page-1/

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), S.T. Coleridge (1772-1834)

LYRICAL BALLADS (1798)

Preface by William Wordsworth:

“ I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment.”

recollections in tranquility have a renovating virtue

sensibility in action should be added to the mind

vulgar forms of everyday life are reshaped in a way similar to nature

the aim of the poets should be intensification without distortion, based on observation with truthfulness

important: the memory where man’s imaginative powers can be stored as in a reservoir

nature works as a continuous source of suggestions which awaken the visionary faculties of the poet and help him develop into a perceptive and reflective observer

these ideas are reflected in the poem I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD

I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD

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,  5

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretch in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:  10

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Outdid the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay, 15

In such a jocund company:

I gazed – and gazed – but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,  20

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

S. T. Coleridge

his masterpiece, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1797), is included in the Lyrical Ballads. Other poems are Kubla Khan and Christabel. They all deal with supernatural elements. While for Wordsworth nature was found outside, for Coleridge it was present in a transcendental world.

it is the story of an old sailor, who sails to the South Pole and kills an albatross of good omen, the symbol of nature´s power and benevolent spirit. The crew hang the albatross around the neck of the mariner, the winds stop blowing, and the ship is imprisoned in the middle of the ocean (see Part II). In a dice game, Death wins the crew and all the sailors die, while Death-in-Life wins the mariner, who is punished to remain alive on the ocean as its prisoner. He is saved only when he blesses the creatures of the water in recognition of their divine nature.

Coleridge introduced prose explanations which deepen the effects of mystery and surprise

THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER

PART II

The Sun now rose upon the right :
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariners' hollo !

His shipmates cry out against the ancient Mariner, for killing the bird of good luck.

And I had done an hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe :
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch ! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow !

But when the fog cleared off, they justify the same, and thus make themselves accomplices in the crime.

Nor dim nor red, like God's own head,
The glorious Sun uprist :
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.

The fair breeze continues ; the ship enters the Pacific Ocean, and sails northward, even till it reaches the Line.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free ;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

The ship hath been suddenly becalmed.

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be ;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea !

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion ;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

And the Albatross begins to be avenged.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink ;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot : O Christ !
That ever this should be !
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night ;
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.

A Spirit had followed them ; one of the invisible inhabitants of this planet, neither departed souls nor angels ; concerning whom the learned Jew, Josephus, and the Platonic Constantinopolitan, Michael Psellus, may be consulted. They are very numerous, and there is no climate or element without one or more.

And some in dreams assuréd were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so ;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root ;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

The shipmates, in their sore distress, would fain throw the whole guilt on the ancient Mariner : in sign whereof they hang the dead sea-bird round his neck.

Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Texts and comments available at https://etc.dal.ca/lballads/welcome.html.

P. B. Shelley (1792-1822)

DEFENCE OF POETRY

Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be 'the expression of the Imagination'

the language is vitally metaphorical



Poets are the authors of language and of music, but also legislators or prophets

a Poet participates in the eternal, the infinite; a Poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar

Works: Prometheus Unbound (1818-1819), Ode to the West Wind (1819), The Cloud, To a Skylark (1820), Adonais (1821), etc. To a Skylark is a poem in which Shelley expresses his deep love of nature and his pantheistic beliefs. The skylark, the only bird to sing in flight, is unseen, but its song generates ecstatic moments. It turns, thus, into the symbol of spontaneous art, of the divine power of nature and its spirit which, like that of a poet, reveals the ideal truth to mankind.

TO A SKYLARK

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit,

Bird thou never wert,

That from Heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. 5

Higher still and higher

From the earth thou springest

Like a cloud of fire;

The blue deep thou wingest,

And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest. 10

Waking or asleep,

Thou of death must deem

Things more true and deep

Than we mortals dream,

Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream? 85

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. 90

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. 95

Better than all measures

Of delightful sound,

Better than all treasures

Than in books are found

Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner to the ground. 100

Teach me half the gladness

That thy brain must know

Such harmonious madness

From my lips would flow

The world should listen then – as I am listening now. 105

Texts available at https://www.bartleby.com/139/, comments available at https://www.victorianweb.org/previctorian/shelley/religionov.html

G. G. Byron (1788-1824) and the Byronic hero

CHILDE HAROLD´S PILGRIMAGE

Immediate success: “I awoke one morning and found myself famous

Exotic landscapes- Spain, Greece, Albania

THE CORSAIR (1814) – the story of Conrad, a pirate in search of freedom and adventure

Other poems:Lara (1814), Manfred (1817), Don Juan (1819-1824) develop the Byronic hero into a demonic fighter for liberty, opposing society and lamenting its decay. He is like a fallen angel, condemned to live as a stranger among inferior creatures. He suffers in solitude the disillusionment of his contemporaries’ wrong political decisions, of his own life of luxury and pleasure, of the boredom and spleen which cannot be cured by numerous adventures in exotic lands. Don Juan, for instance, is shipwrecked, put in chains by pirates, becomes the slave of a sultana in Constantinople, is sent to St. Petersburg and then to England on political missions, but cannot get rid of his inner dissatisfaction and alienation.

CHILDE HAROLD’S PILGRIMAGE

From Canto the First

II

Whilome in Albion’s isle there dwelt a youth,

Who ne in virtue’s ways did take delight;

But spent his days in riot most uncouth,

And vexed with mirth the drowsy ear of Night.

Ah me! In sooth he was a shameless wight,

Sore given to revel and ungodly glee;

For earthly things found favour in his sight

Save concubines and carnal companie,

And flaunting wassailers of high and low degree.

III

Childe Harold was he hight: -but whence his name

And lineage long, it suits me not to say;

Suffice it, that perchance they were of fame,

And had been glorious in another day:

But one sad losel soils a name for aye,

However mighty in the olden time;

Nor all that heralds rake from coffin’d clay,

Nor florid prose, nor honeyd lies of rhyme,

Can blazon evil deeds, or consecrate a crime.

IV

Childe Harold bask’d him in the noontide sun,

Disporting there like any other fly;

Nor deem’d before his little day was done

One blast might chill him into misery.

But long ere scarce a third of his pass’d by,

Worse than adversity the Childe befell;

He felt the fullness of satiety:

Then loathed he in his native land to dwell,

Which seem’d to him more lone than Eremite’s sad cell.

V

For he through Sin’s long labyrinth had run,

Nor made atonement when he did amiss,

Had sigh’d to many though he loved but one.

And that loved one, alas! Could ne’er be his.

Ah, happy she! To ‘scape from him whose kiss

Had been pollution unto aught so chaste;



Who soon had left her charms for vulgar bliss,

And spoil’d her goodly lands to gild his waste,

Nor calm domestic peace had ever deign’d to taste.

VI

And now Childe Harold was sore sick at heart,

And from his fellow bacchanals would flee;

‘Tis said, at times the sullen tear would start,

But Pride congeal’d the drop within his ee:

Apart he stalk’d in joyless reverie,

And from his native land resolved to go,

And visit scorching climes beyond the sea;

With pleasure drugg’d, he almost longed for woe,

And e’en for change of scene would seek the shades below.

VII

The Childe departed from his father’s hall:

It was a vast and venerable pile;

So old, it seemed only not to fall;

Yet strength was pillar’d in each massy aisle.

Monastic dome! Condemn’d to uses vile!

Where Superstition once had made her den

Now Paiphan girls were known to sing and smile;

And monks might deem their time was come agen,

If ancient tales say true, not wrong these hole men.

VIII

Yet oft-times in his maddest mirthful mood

Strange pangs would flash along Childe Harold’s brow

As if the memory of some deadly feud

Or disappointed passion lurk’d below:

But this none knew, nor haply cared to know;

For this was not that open, artless soul

That feels relief by bidding sorrow flow,

Nor sought he friend to counsel or condole,

Whate’er this grief mote be, which he could not control.

Teyts available at https://www.online-literature.com/byron/.

John Keats (1795-1821)

three volumes of poetry (1818, 1819, 1820)

important poems: Endymion (1817),, Hyperion (1818), The Eve of St. Agnes (1819), Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819)

reconciliation between the world’s beauty and its transitoriness, its pain and its pleasure, its vulgarity and its refinement

nature and sensuous beauty teach one to love man

poetic visions and sensuous rapture lead to spiritual illumination

Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819) is one of Keats’s most famous poem. It is an ekphrastic description of an imagined object of great beauty, which  suggests that imaginative art can seize the eternal essence of human experience. The last lines of the poem , “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all /Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”, are a famous Romantic reformulation of the Platonic essence of spirituality. Beauty and truth are united in the works of human art, the only elements worth understanding in life.

ODE ON A GRECIAN URN

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,

Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,

Sylvan historian, who canst thus express

A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:

What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape  5

Of deities or mortals, or of both,

In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?

What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?

What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?

What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? 10

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;

Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,

Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave 15

Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;

Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,

Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! 20

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed

Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;

And, happy melodist, unwearièd,

For ever piping songs for ever new;

More happy love! more happy, happy love! 25

For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,

For ever panting, and for ever young;

All breathing human passion far above,

That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,

A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. 30

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?

To what green altar, O mysterious priest,

Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,

And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?

What little town by river or sea-shore, 35

Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,

Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?

And, little town, thy streets for evermore

Will silent be; and not a soul, to tell

Why thou art desolate, can e'er return. 40

O Attic shape! fair attitude! with brede

Of marble men and maidens overwrought,

With forest branches and the trodden weed;

Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought

As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral! 45

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' 50

Texts and comments available at https://englishhistory.net/keats.html.






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