Although by thinkers such as Hobbes, Smith and Rousseau.

Although it
appears Romanticism is a complete contrast to the Enlightenment values that comes
before it, such as the importance of objective thought, the necessity to think
with reason and logic and more. However, upon further study of the literature
and ideas that Romanticism portrays, I would argue that it is more of a
development of the Enlightenment rather than an anti-thesis of it, as I believe
that the issues Romanticism explores are similar to the issues explored by
Enlightenment thinkers. To keep my argument concise, I will refer mainly to the
literary works of William Blake, namely his songs of Innocence and Experience as
background and confirmation of the points I aim to explore in this essay. I aim
to provide an understanding of the nature of Romantic literature through
examples of common Romantic themes, such as innocence and nature. Meanwhile, exploring
the development of Romanticism further through Blake’s Songs of Experience, to
show the juxtaposition of the Idealist versus the Realist and demonstrate some of
the similarities between Enlightenment and Romanticism, such as the criticism
of religion and state, to further verify that Romanticism is in fact a
development of its predecessor.

The birth of
Romanticism is widely regarded as a reaction to the period of Enlightenment in
which ideas surrounding life, human nature, freedom and the nature of the state
were developed, by thinkers such as Hobbes, Smith and Rousseau. Birthed out of
the Scientific Revolution, the period of Enlightenment saw great historical events
such as the American, French and Haitian revolutions, inspired by ideas such as
‘Life, Liberty and Property’ (Locke and Ward 2016) 1.

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Although obsessed with logic and reason, ethics and virtues, the period of Enlightenment
was full of hypocrisy, bloodshed and disillusion. Romanticism is a reaction
then, to this disillusionment and pretence that Enlightenment brings.

The romantic artwork is a play on the importance of
passion and emotion instead of reason, and reflected the romantic rebellion
against industrial and scientific modernity (Murphy and Roberts 2004)2. Arguably,
the nature of the Romantic approach is birthed from an antipathy towards Enlightenment
values. As William J Long explains ‘Romanticism was marked, and is always marked,
by a strong reaction and protest against the bondage of rule and custom, which,
in science and theology, as well as in literature, generally tend to fetter the
free human spirit’ (Long 2013)3. It is
easy to confuse the reaction of Romanticism as a complete reaction to every
aspect of Enlightenment society, but this is not the case, one should be
careful not to paint a picture of Romantic thinkers, as a group of oblivious,
apathetic, overexcited characters. Romantics such as Blake were very aware of
the hardships of life, they were politically involved, and able to use their
reason to create their own moral codes, which, of course Enlightenment logic
provided. The break between the two comes from the fact that Romantics saw an
importance of reverting back to nature to overcome social issues, unlike
Enlightenment which focused on logic and science.

One of the most recognisable elements of Romanticism is
its use of nature and imagery of innocence within the literate form Blake’s
poems in ‘Songs of Innocence’ are examples of the stereotypical imagery of
Romanticism, poems such as ‘The Echoing Green’ ‘A Cradle Song’ and ‘Infant Joy’
are just a few works that develop on the idea of reverting back to nature, the
beauty of the natural and the child’s innocence. In ‘The Echoing Green’ Blake’s
use of pastoral imagery creates a world filled with wisdom, youth and beauty. He
aims to show the contrast between the polluted, corrupted city life and the ‘natural’
cycle of life in the village on the echoing green. Blake celebrates the
pastoral from the beginning of the poem (Blake and Johnson, n.d.)4; arguably
claiming that we need this image of the natural for our own happiness (Punter
1998)5.

British Romantics often imagined children in poetry as
they saw the child as close to nature. The child had access to a unique
worldview, solely because a child has not yet rationalised and assimilated the nature
of society the way an adult has, i.e. the child has not yet been corrupted by
Enlightenment understanding. There is a crossover here however between
Romantics and the Enlightenment thinkers; Rousseau, one of the fathers of the
period was one of the first to represent the child as an individual entity (Metz
2012)6. Poems
in the Songs of innocence focus on protecting children from danger or sorrow; from
poverty in ‘Holy Thursday’7, to
their nurse’s demand to come into dinner from their playing in ‘Nurse’s Song’8, Blake’s
children are both simple, and immune from, human ‘wisdom’. Blake makes a
comment on the corruption that knowledge brings to society, however he is not
claiming that the process of enlightenment is negative and should be avoided9, disputably
the opposite- he is making the statement that this painful process of
understanding is a stage which we must pass to achieve an even higher truth10. This
shows, that there wasn’t this aggressive rejection of the Enlightenment, as is
sometimes perceived, and shouldn’t be explored in such contrasting, black-and-white
manner.

1 In his Two Treatise, Locke explains that
every man has the right to Life Liberty and Property, as natural rights. Thomas
Jefferson later took Locke’s idea when drafting the American Declaration of
Independence, declaring the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of
happiness”. Locke,
John, and Lee Ward. 2016. Two Treatises Of Government. MA: Hackett
Publishing Company, Incorporated.

 

2 Murphy, Peter, and
David Roberts. 2004. Dialectics Of Romanticism. 2nd ed. New York:
Bloomsbury, 30.

3 Long, William Joseph. 2013. English
Literature Its History And Its Significance For The Life Of The English
Speaking World – The Original Classic Edition. Emereo Publishing, 306

4 ‘The sun does arise, make happy
the skies’ This personification of nature gives ‘Mother Nature’ a voice, remarking
on the true importance of nature

Blake, William, and Will
Johnson. n.d. Songs Of Innocence And Experience. Marston Gate:
Amazon, 8.

5 Punter, David.

1998. York Notes Advanced: Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience William
Blake. 12th ed. London: York Press.

6Metz, Stephanie. 2012. “Romanticism And The
Child: Inventing Innocence”. Web.Utk.Edu.

http://web.utk.edu/~gerard/romanticpolitics/childhood.html.

7 In Holy Thursday Blake makes
a remark on the poverty of children in the church using nature; ‘their sun does
never shine’ along with ‘eternal winter’ the protagonist of the poem is
exclaiming the lack of hope for the poor children. Blake, William, and Will Johnson. n.d. Songs
Of Innocence And Experience. Marston Gate: Amazon, 23.

8 add quotation+
analysis

9 Blake himself was part of various radical circles He did the illustrations for Mary
Wollstonecraft’s first two books, both didactic texts for children, also
illustrating a travel-book, John Gabriel Steedman’s Narrative of a Five Years’
Expedition “Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam” (1796), which dealt graphically
with the brutality of slavery.

 

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