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Romantic Poets

"Of genius the only proof is, the act of doing well what is worthy to be done, and what was never done before: Of genius in the fine arts, the only infallible sign is the widening the sphere of human sensibility, for the delight, honor, and benefit of human nature. Genius is the introduction of a new element into the intellectual universe" (Wordsworth, 158).

The Romantic notion of creative production originates in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, with poets such as Wordsworth, Goethe, and Herder responding to the work of Edward Young, Conjectures on Original Composition. In Romantic ideology an author is perceived to be the source of original ideas, transforming the world around him through his own genius. Goethe expresses this view, describing writing as "the reproduction of the world around me by means of the internal world which takes hold of, combines, creates anew, kneads everything and puts it down again in its own form, manner" (Letter to Jacobi 116).

Wordsworth in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, professes his theory of poetry, proclaiming that the poets of the eighteenth-century distort poetry through fabricated conventions, detracting from its natural expression. Setting himself counter to many of the writers of the past, Wordsworth's theory sets forth new concepts of the author, presenting the writing process as the containment of pure emotion. The inner-self of the author became the driving force in creative production, emphasizing the mind and emotions of the poet.

The lyric poem, written in the first person, became the main style of poetry. Lyric poetry written of the Romantics often reflected their own autobiographies, as in the work of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and others (Abrams/Stillinger, 7). This radically new conception of the author perceived through his work, calls for a transition in reading strategies. Interpretation of the work of the Romantic poets reformed literary criticism, requiring autobiography to take a leading role, in order to locate the author's intention (Woodmansee, 447).
The natural scene and the organic growth of poetry are themes within the theory and work of these poets. The organic metaphor, developed by German poets such as Fichte, Herder and Goethe and adopted by Coleridge and other English poets, presented the creative process as organic, mirroring the growth of a plant.

An original work, "may be said to be of a vegetable nature, it rises spontaneously from the vital root of genius; it grows, it is not made" (quoted in Woodmansee, 446). Romantic poetry remains synonymous to "nature poetry" (Abrams/Stillinger, 9). These works often use landscape as a trope for inner or spiritual worlds, nature becomeing a means by which poets write meditative poems.

Rejecting the boundaries and constraints of rules of writing, the Romantic poets and philosophers claimed to return to 'natural' poetry. Subject matter played into this naturalism, glorifying the ordinary of life, "elevating the humble and rustic life and the plain style" (Abrams/Stillinger, 11). Wordsworth states in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads that his goal was "to choose incidents and situations from common life" and to use a "selection of language really spoken by men" (Abrams/Stillinger 10). The Romantic period was a time of fierce individualism resulting in a revolution within concepts of the author and the work. With the mind of the individual elevated and the belief that the human being should refuse to submit to limitations, the poets held lofty goals beyond human reach. An emphasis on solitude and isolation of the poet from society set the poets apart as singular genius creators.
Viewing the Romantic period through a historical lens lends us insight as to the impetus of this movement, and therefore the necessity for authors to create the singular genius notion of authorship, as seen in "Genius and the Copyright".

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H., Jack Stillinger. "The Romantic Period: introduction". The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. Seventh Ed. Vol. 2, New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2000. Norton Anthology Online

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. To Jacobi, 21 August 1774. Goethes Briefe. Vol. 1. Hamburg: Christian Wegner, 1962. 115-16. Trans. Martha Woodmansee.

Woodmansee, Martha. "The Genius and the Copyright: Economic and Legal Conditions of the Emergence of the Author". Eighteenth-Century Studies. 425. (1984).

Wordsworth, William. "Essay, Supplementary to the Preface", in Literary Criticism of William Wordsworth, 158. Ed. Paul M. Zall, ed., 1966.

Young, Edward. "Conjectures on Original Composition. In a letter to the Author of Sir Charles Grandision" The Complete Works. Poetry and Prose. Vol. 2. Ed. James Nichols. Hildensheim: Georg Olms. 1968.

For Romanticism on the net.

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This page last updated on: Friday, 20-Oct-2006 13:15:20 EDT