There are many themes in Romantic literature as Romanticism was a movement against the previous movement of rationalism. In Romantic literature, the qualities that are stressed most are nature, emotionalism, and individualism. These qualities are seen again and again in some very important and lasting authors, artists, musicians and so forth.
Nature is not just portrayed in Romantic art or literature, but it is portrayed in a Romantic way. For example, in a painting like Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand, the subject is nature as well as the friendship of two men. They stand together atop a cliff while the beautiful scenery is all around them. The use of light makes the photo seem rather hazy but illuminated very well. The trees are lush and green with mountains in the background and babbling brook running through all of it. The emphasis is on the pure, simple beauty of nature.
This also becomes the place where these two kindred spirits can meet and commune away from all the restrictions and pressures of society. It is not accident that they are standing on this rock overlooking this peaceful and serene scene. And the emotionalism of this scene is also shown in the way the two men are standing as well as the name “kindred spirits.” Authors like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson would also be examples of authors who focus on Nature. In fact, Emerson has an essay entitled Nature.
Emotionalism is also shown deeply in romantic literature. Romantics believed that opening oneself up or “going with our guts” so to speak were the ways to find truths. Many times this occurred in nature. So Asher Durand’s painting called “Kindred Spirits” could be one example. However, another example of emotionalism in literature is a poem like “the Raven” or “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe. In “the Raven,” Poe mourns the death of someone in his life and the raven is there throughout as the symbol of death delivering his famous lines, “Quoth the Raven, Nevermore” (Poe). In the poem “Annabel Lee,” he mourns the death of his beloved wife Virginia Clemm and talks about the way that he loved her. “But we loved with a love that was more than love-/I and my Annabel Lee;” (Poe). He again talks about the love that he had for his wife. “Can ever dissever my soul from the soul/Of the beautiful Annabel Lee” (Poe). He will continue to love her for eternity. This is an example of Poe’s use of romanticism in literature. Before this, it would have been inappropriate to discuss such subjects as love and grief in literature. In fact “Wordsworth’s definition of all good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” marks a turning point in literary history” (Romanticism). By defining poetry in this way, Wordsworth opened the door for all other Romantics.
Individualism is also another trait that is shown in romanticism. The idea of “finding oneself” is shown over and over again. For example, in a piece of literature like Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ishmael is downright depressed by city life in Manhattan. He sets out to sea in order to fix the problems of his life and focus on what is truly important. He ends up finding Queequeq and forming a lasting bond with him. Similarly, in a piece like “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Goodman Browne goes into the woods in order to find himself. “Finding oneself” during Romantic times had much to do with getting away from the city and returning to Nature.
Romantics were concerned with the importance of the heart (versus the head) and all things creative. Imagination was important to them as were nature, emotions, and individualism. All of these qualities are directly against the previous movement of rationalism. The philosophy itself came from a variety of sources such as far eastern religions and philosophers like Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. However it was derived, many of our important artists, authors, musicians, etc. came from the Romantic Movement.
Annabel Lee. http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/annabel-lee/
The Western Humanities. http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0073136190/student_view0/index.html