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Romantic Aesthetics: Poetry and the Poet In his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” (1800), Wordsworth sets himself in opposition to 18 th century poets like.

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Presentation on theme: "Romantic Aesthetics: Poetry and the Poet In his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” (1800), Wordsworth sets himself in opposition to 18 th century poets like."— Presentation transcript:

1 Romantic Aesthetics: Poetry and the Poet In his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” (1800), Wordsworth sets himself in opposition to 18 th century poets like Pope. He claims they imposed artificial conventions on the free and natural development of poetry.

2 The Mirror and the Lamp 18 th century concept of art (including poetry) – Imitation of Nature. Poet holds up a MIRROR – poet as artificer, skilled craftsman: – “True wit is nature to advantage dress’d, What oft was said, but ne’r so well expressed.“ Alexander Pope, “Essay on Criticism”


4 Key ideas: -- Pope focuses on “true wit,” by which he means real intelligence, spark, creativity, as opposed to mere flash. For him that means embellishing, arranging, organizing the world which the poet or artist sees – i.e. “nature.” The English garden can serve as a useful symbol for Pope’s idea of “nature to advantaged dressed” – a nature both reflected and embellished to be as appealing as possible. --His focus is not on originality, but on facility. What matters for Pope is not to be the first to say something, but to say it best. He emphasizes the quality of the utterance, its style, its cleverness. Pope values the bon mot rather than the new idea.

5 Implicit in the 18 th century concept of art is that reasonable MEN agreed on the large truths. Pope and other writers of his time thought of their audience as primarily male and members of the upper classes, not necessarily aristocrats, but those with the means to afford an education, and who would have read many of the same things (the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, Pilgrim’s Progress, etc. Women become important as writers in the late 18 th Century. Poetry was considered high art, and the novel, a new form, was seen as a lower form, often read (and written by) women.

6 Wildflowers by an Indiana Highway This photograph shows wildflowers in a field beside an Indiana highway. How would you describe what you see here?

7 Formal French Garden How does this image compare to the former one? How is this garden organized?

8 English Garden How would you compare this image to the French formal garden and to the wildflowers? How is this garden organized?

9 English Cottage Garden The English cottage garden works on a smaller scale than the English garden; it is domestic rather than public. How would you describe this garden? How is it organized? How does it compare with the French formal garden or the Indiana wildflowers?

10 Thomas Gainsborough, “Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, 1748 - 49 How do you react to this painting? How does Gainsborough depict the natural world and the people situated within that world?

11 Thomas Gainsborough, The Mall in St. James Park 1783. What do you make of this image? What relationship exists Between the women depicted and the natural world?

12 The Romantics locate poetry in the interaction between the poet’s imagination and the perceptual world, which the poet “half creates.” The 18 th century MIRROR becomes the Romantics’ LAMP, radiating light into the world.


14 Poetry becomes linked to visionary experience, and the power of imagination. The poet becomes a prophet rather than a craftsman: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions, recollected in tranquility.” Wordsworth, “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”

15 Mountain Stream in Wordsworth’s Lake District What is your reaction to this image? How does it compare to the English cottage garden say, or to the French formal one?

16 Key ideas: --Poetry springs from powerful emotion – spontaneous rather than carefully crafted. Once can imagine poetry overflowing, as if beyond the poet’s conscious control. --Poetry responds or recreates the experience later, through the agency of memory. --The poet is a bard, a prophet-poet in touch with powerful, mysterious and possibly dangerous sources of inspriation: “ Weave a circle round him thrice And close your eyes in holy dread For he on honeydew hath fed, And drunk the milk of paradise” – Coleridge from “Kubla Khan.”

17 John Marin, The Bard, 1817 What observations can you make about this painting?

18 Francisco Goya – “The Third of May” (1814)

19 Los, William Blake’s symbol for the creative imagination Bob Dylan and Alan Ginsberg, heirs of the prophet-poet tradition.

20 Look at the painting by William Turner (who comes along later in the 19 th century) in the next slide. How does it compare to the Gainsborough landscapes we’ve seen?

21 J. M. W. Turner, “Rail, Steam and Speed,” 1844. How do you react to this painting? How does Turner depict the natural world and the human-made objects within this world?

22 William Turner, Burning of the Houses of Parliament, 1835

23 Gainsborough/Turner Side-by- Side

24 The Beautiful and the Sublime The Beautiful is associated with form, boundaries and equates well with the 18 th C idea of “nature to advantage dressed” – the carefully planned garden, which simulates nature but orders it in aesthetically pleasing ways. The Sublime is associated with boundlessness. It inspires wonder, awe, even terror. Compare the cottage garden (beautiful) to the Lake District Cataract (sublime). Another apt comparison is Gainborough’s painting as opposed to Turner’s.

25 Thomas Gainsborough – “Wooded Landscape with a Peasant Resting” (1747)

26 It’s really quite easy to see the difference between Pope’s aesthetic and Wordsworth’s; for Pope “wit” in poetry involves skillful, cunning embellishment – carefully polished statements. For Wordsworth poetry involves spontaneous overflowing of emotion recalled later in quiet moments. Pope’s Augustan, Enlightenment aesthetic corresponds to an English garden or an embellished imitation of nature; Wordsworth’s Romantic aesthetic corresponds to a wild natural scene, and has more in common with Turner’s impassioned response to what he sees and, as Wordsworth puts it in his poem “Tintern Abbey,” “half creates.” The eighteenth century neo-classical aesthetic seeks polish, craft, artifice; the Romantic aesthetic seeks transcendence.

27 Thomas Cole – Adam and Eve’s Expulsion From Eden (1828 – Hudson River School) How would you interpret the landscape features in this painting?

28 Classical versus Romantic Music We can also see the differences between Classical and Romantic aesthetics in music. Classical music (Hayden, Mozart) focuses on the elegant fulfillment of carefully articulated forms. Romantic music (Beethoven was a transitional figure) pushes against and through formal barriers in search of greater spontaneity and emotion.

29 Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony #94 Listen to a short selection from Haydn’s Emperor Quartet: YouTube - Haydn-"Emperor" Quartet in C Major - Mov. 1/4 YouTube - Haydn-"Emperor" Quartet in C Major - Mov. 1/4 Haydn (1732 – 1809) exemplifies the classical style in music with its emphasis on formal elements.

30 Compare to Beethoven’s Eroica (Third Symphony) Beethoven (1770 – 1827) originally dedicated his Eroica (Heroic) Symphony (1804) to that titanic Promethean figure, Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, Beethoven angrily scratched out the dedication. zrQg&feature=related zrQg&feature=related The main theme of this symphony brims with grandeur and emotion. Beethoven pushes against and through the forms established by classical composers like Haydn.

31 Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique Berlioz (1803 – 69) represents the full blown Romantic style in music. Listen to a short selection from his Symphonie Fantastique (1830): r2drM&feature=related r2drM&feature=related This piece is designed to tell a story about a gifted artist tormented by a hopeless love and addicted to opium. Berlioz’ music is personal, and focused on an individual’s powerful emotions.

32 Poems to Compare Let’s compare Jonathan Swift’s 1709 poem “A Description of the Morning” with two other descriptive poems: Charlotte Smith’s 1793 sonnet “On Being Cautioned Against Walking on an Headland Overlooking the Sea, Because It Was Frequented by a Lunatic,” (87) and Wordsworth’s “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, Sept. 3, 1802 (450).” How do these poems differ in focus, voice and tone?

33 Wordsworth Memory Poems “Nutting” “The boat” (Prelude, Book 1, 293 – 305) “The woman with the pitcher” (Prelude, Book 11, 271 – 315 “The Simplon Pass,” Prelude, Book 6, 492 – 572 “Mount Snowdon,” Prelude, 13, 1 – 73.

34 Characteristics of Romantic Poetry Memory – emphasis on personal experience; moments of sudden emotional power and clarity arising from ordinary events (“Nutting,” “Westminster Bridge,” boat incident, etc.) Westminster Bridge

35 Emotion and Vision – poet’s emotional state colors what s/he sees or imagines; poets mind radiates out into and partly creates experience (woman with pitcher, lunatic) Headland above the sea

36 Nature and Transcendence – powerful response to natural world creates sense of sacred, transcendent infused into nature (Simplon Pass, Mt. Snowden) Mount Snowden in Wales

37 Supernatural – Blake, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats all work with supernatural themes at times; use of myth and folktale as ways of connecting to the sacred; the supernatural provides an alternative perspective allowing in the non-rational aspects of life. The Abyssinian Maid Xanadu

38 The Romantic Rebel – we will consider this later in the semester. An important aspect of romantic poetry is defiance – resistance to custom, old political arrangements, traditions, moral codes. Prometheus

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