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Romanticism in Literature: Analysis of Romantic Style in Longfellow's Works

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Romanticism was an artistic movement that introduced expression of emotions and new ideas through music, literature, nature, love, rebellion and religion. It is typified by emphasizing individualism and emotion in addition to the glorification of nature and of all the past. It prefers the old as opposed to the classical. Some experts believe that Romanticism ideas are associated with the Industrial Revolution and ideas of the government from the Age of Enlightenment. Over time, Romanticism has changed in meaning. During the 17th century, the term ‘romantic’ was an indication of the fictitious or imaginative, and this was in acknowledgment of the new literary genre of writing fiction through novels. Novels were written in romance languages, mostly through vernacular. This aspect relegated most prose fiction to the lower classes, women, and children (Curran 196). The use of vernacular denoted a sharp contrast to the religious texts, which were written using the Latin language. Romanticism in the 18th century was largely associated with science. This was also the Age of Enlightenment, where many things were interpreted through the scientific prism. In the 19th century, the term “Romantic” was used to emphasize personal emotions and lyricism. Works produced during this period were considered sentimental. Although not as popular as some of his colleagues, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow demonstrates the literary aspect of Romanticism in most of his published works, which detail his escapades with the woman of her dreams, who inspires nearly all his writing both in life and in her death.

Background

The specific definition and characterization of Romanticism have been debated for a long time in the literary history and intellectual history all through the 20th century. Despite the ongoing debate, there has been no official agreement. Some experts believe that Romanticism was the outcome effect from of the Age of Enlightenment. Others also believed that Romanticism is also associated with the occurrence of the French Revolution, 1789 (Day 1). Most individuals referred to as Romantics as being progressive in their thinking, although many are said to adopt conservative approaches and views. Similarly, in some countries, nationalism was largely associated with the concept of Romanticism.

The movement of Romanticism created a new outlook on life and heightened many new interests and ideas that were unknown before. This movement was applicable to different groups, such as individual movements, nations, and states. This movement is viewed as new creativity and expression of passion and knowledge through spirit and freedom. Occupations such the composer, the poet, the painter, has a common characteristic of being creative and inventing new material. They do not imitate but develop the objectives that they pursue. These objectives denote the self-expression of an artist in a vision, which is mostly unique and not a response to the demands of some judge of taste, family, friends, public opinion, state, or the church. Responding to certain demands would be considered a betrayal of the highest level of the one aspect that justifies their existence as creative geniuses that society so desperately needs.

Romantic Style in Literature

Romanticism is largely concerned with the individual as opposed to the whole society. The individual imagination and consciousness are highly regarded by Romantics. For romantic poets, melancholy was a buzzword, and altered perceptions were many times sought after for purposes of enhancing the creative potential of an individual. Coincidentally, there was a parallel downgrading of the power and significance of reason, which was a common characteristic reaction against the mode of thinking common during the Enlightenment era. Nonetheless, as the period moved forward, writers invested their time more and more in social causes. The Industrial Revolution also played a critical role in the development of the Romantic style. During this time, English society was experiencing a paradigm shift in nearly every aspect. The reaction of a majority of Romantics was to wish for a simpler and idealized past. More specifically, English poets during this time had a strong correlation with mythology and medievalism. In addition, romantic writing clearly sets itself apart, adopting a mystical quality that is uncommon in other literary periods.

Formally, Romanticism saw a continuous loosening of the traditional rules of artistic expression that guided the field of literature in the past. The 18th-century neoclassical era entailed the application of very strict expectations in regard to the content and structure of poetry. But at the start of the 19th century, artists started to experiment using new subjects and styles. Despite experiencing some level of resistance, the new Romantic style was largely accepted as the high-flown language used by poets from past generations was effectively replaced with more natural verbiage and cadences. In relation to the poetic structure, blank verses started to replace rhymed stanzas. The aim of blank verses was to enhance conversational speech and to uplift it to levels of ascetic beauty. Many people aligned to the classical style termed the new style as ordinary. Nevertheless, even with increasing criticism, the new romantic style became the preferred option. Romantic poets used fantastic and mythological settings to great effect. Country life was also a common theme in romantic poetry.

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Application of Romantic Style in Longfellow’s Works

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is an American poet and one of the many artists who were active during the era of Romanticism. One of his renowned works, ‘A Psalm of Life,’ was originally published in ‘The Knickerbocker’ in 1838 (YuXia 551). This was a magazine based in New York City. ‘A Psalm of Life’ fell out of critical favor with literary analysts owing to its outdated mindset, straightforwardness, and simplicity that typified an ambitious and young American nation. The ‘Psalm’ is an emotional outpouring from the heart of a young individual seen to be experiencing a huge struggle following the demise of his wife in 1835. Whereas ordinarily psalms in the Old Testament are often laments or prayers to God, ‘A Psalm of Life’ appears to be addressed to another psalmist. In addition, the young individual referred to in the ‘Psalm’ is not requesting assistance from his interlocutor, but rather, he looks to himself. As such, ‘A Psalm of Life’ bears the hallmarks of a Romantic document where the hunt for salvation is executed within the realms of oneself.

‘A Psalm of Life’ also carries a Romantic theme that is seen in the manner through which the inner world of human nature has been explored in the poem. Longfellow contends that it is a common characteristic of human beings to develop and progress in life. He states this upon making a claim, ‘Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; Dust thou art, to dust returnest, Was not spoken of the soul’ (Longfellow n.p). These lines contained in the second paragraph of the poem demonstrate the author’s idea that human life on earth is not meaningless, that people do not exist without purpose. Longfellow believed that every individual had a special purpose in the world, and the human soul lives eternally. This type of writing, where the author’s intuitions and thoughts are expressed freely, demonstrates the Romantic style of writing. Many Romantics have demonstrated freedom in the methods used to compose and express their work.

Longfellow’s ‘A Psalm of Life’ conveys his personal and introverted feelings after losing his wife, as well as the long trying relationship of his future second wife. In this poem, Longfellow demonstrates hope, fear, longing, love, sadness, and regret at the same time. The depression associated with his sorrows contributes to his somber and gloomy feeling. He regretfully states, ‘Life Is But an Empty Dream,’ given that his wish to be with his wife is not sustainable (Longfellow n.p). The loss of his wife impacts his perception, and he views life as something that has a purpose. Nonetheless, he acknowledges the fact that death is also part of life and part of being human, given that we are all mortals. He strongly believes that there is eternal life and sees death as only physical separation of the body, having strong beliefs in life after death, and in eternal sustenance of human souls. The approach used by the author is a common characteristic used by Romantic writers.

Although “A Psalm of Life” is arguably his most renowned works, Longfellow had a seemingly protracted career that spanned many years of the use of Romanticism. As aforementioned, Romanticism encouraged the expression of emotions and appreciation of nature. Longfellow finished his first major work in 1839. It was titled “Hyperion, A Romance.” Longfellow displayed numerous aspects of Romanticism in this works. The main protagonist in the story is called Paul Fleming. The character demonstrates his disappointment bitterly when his advances and marital proposal to a woman he was deeply in love with is turned down. In Hyperion: a romance, Longfellow states, “…the bough had broken under the burden of the unripe fruit,” indicating his protracted struggle to marry the woman of his dreams (8).

It appears that ‘Hyperion’ would serve as the autobiography channel for Longfellow since the woman was later recognized as Frances Appleton, a woman he was courting at the time of the publication. Despite the fact that the publication of Hyperion seemingly worked against Longfellow, given that she was not amused, Longfellow would court her for a period of seven more years after which she consented to marrying him. In spite of their unhopeful courtship, the two enjoyed a happy marriage. As time progressed, Longfellow became more popular, and during their marriage, he produced another popular love poem titled ‘The Evening Star’ in 1845. In it, Longfellow uses the Romantic literary style, again correlating nature with his humanly passionate feelings of love, referring to his wife as ‘My morning and my evening star of love!’ (Longfellow ‘The Evening Star’ 560).

Works Cited

  1. Curran, Stuart. The Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism, 1993. Print.
  2. Day, Aidan. Romanticism. Routledge, 2011.
  3. Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. A psalm of life. EP Dutton, 1891.
  4. Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. Hyperion: a romance. Vol. 1. No. 1. JW Lovell Company, 1883.
  5. Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. ‘The evening star.’ Bentley’s Miscellany, 1837-1868, 7, 1840.
  6. YuXia, Fan. ‘On the Aesthetic Value of A Psalm of Life.’ 2015 International Conference on Social Science and Technology Education. Atlantis Press, 2015.

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Romanticism in Literature: Analysis of Romantic Style in Longfellow’s Works. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/romanticism-in-literature-analysis-of-romantic-style-in-longfellows-works/
“Romanticism in Literature: Analysis of Romantic Style in Longfellow’s Works.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/romanticism-in-literature-analysis-of-romantic-style-in-longfellows-works/
Romanticism in Literature: Analysis of Romantic Style in Longfellow’s Works. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/romanticism-in-literature-analysis-of-romantic-style-in-longfellows-works/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Romanticism in Literature: Analysis of Romantic Style in Longfellow’s Works [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/romanticism-in-literature-analysis-of-romantic-style-in-longfellows-works/
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