SALIENT QUALITIES OF ROMANTICISM IN EDGAR ALLAN POE’S “THE RAVEN”
The Raven, written by Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), was published in ‘’The
Keywords: Romanticism, Nevermore, Restraint, Classicism, Rhymes, Alliteration, Simplicity, Directness, Nobility, Achievement, Communion with Nature, Imagination
Romanticism is a style in fine arts and literature. It emphasizes passion rather than reason, and imagination and inspiration rather than logic. Romanticism favors full expression of the emotions, and free, spontaneous action rather than restraint and order.
(The World Book Encyclopedia, 1983. Vol. 16. p. 142)
Romanticism is the sweeping revolt against authority, tradition, and classical order that pervaded western civilization over a period that can be roughly dated from the later eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. More generally, Romanticism is that attitude or state of mind that allies itself with the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imagination, and the emotional and the most often takes for its subject matter history, rational striving and the sublime beauties of nature.
(The New Encyclopedia Britannica.
Encyclopedia Inc. 1768. Vol. X. pp. 160-61)
The above illustrations on Romanticism transparently can be used as a guide to identify the qualities of Romanticism in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.
The essential elements of romantic spirit are curiosity and love of beauty; and it is as the accidental effect of these qualities only that it seeks the effect, of a strange beauty to be won by strong imagination out of things unlikely or remote.
Curiosity and the love of beauty, these are certainly the integral factors of romanticism, the one intellectual, and the other emotional. But romanticism is certainly not limited to such a simplification; it also includes a subtle sense of mystery, an exuberant, intellectual curiosity and in instinct for the elemental simplification of life.
Thus the characteristics of this period can be summed up as: The protest against the bondage of rules, the return to nature and the human heart, the interest in old sagas and medieval romances, the sympathy with the poor, the oppressed and the lowly, and the emphasis upon individual genius. Romanticism cannot be restricted into one certain corridor.
Though it is a little bit difficult to seek a satisfactory definition of Romanticism, it is still possible to point out a number of important elements which can be regarded as the Romantic Qualities. Here the term ‘’qualities’’ is used to name the romantic elements instead of ‘’aspects’’ or ‘’characteristics’’.
Semantically, in accordance with the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English, ‘’quality’’ means something that is special in, or that distinguishes a person or thing whereas ‘’aspect’’ means particular part and ‘’characteristic’’ means special mark or quality. Thus the words ‘’quality’’ and ‘’characteristic’’ have the same meaning but the word ‘’quality’’ gives a better accuracy in this study and has more sense to refer to Romanticism. There are some special points in Romantic literary works that distinguish them from other literary movement, especially those of classicism. This term is also used in the World Book Encyclopedia, volume 16, 1983.
Many writers have undertaken to point out and explain the qualities of Romanticism which tend to be contrasted with the classicism. The main marks of classicism are simplicity, directness, and nobility, and perfection in achievement. In a classic work of art there is no evidence of a lack harmony between the ideas and the medium. As a consequence, the personality of the artist is not expressed; the artist is lost in his work, which stands impersonal and objective. The artist’s own attitude, his emotional struggles and the play of his life are not shown towards the subject matter. The Romanticist, on the other hand, puts himself into his work; it is not a separated idea of beauty that he seeks to express, but his own personality, the longings, hopes and ideals of a spirit that has a tendency toward the Infinite, and which, therefore, can never express itself in any limited and objective medium. Classicism is thus always definite, objective and complete, while Romanticism is always touched with subjectivity, and thus with a suggestion of incompleteness, which is due to the fact that it seeks to convey the mystery of spirit for which no objective mode of expression is adequate, and which, therefore, can only be symbolized and vaguely suggested.
As Romanticism tries to express what is strange and mysterious in the life of spirit, it naturally seeks its material in the past and feels itself especially in sympathy with the Middle Ages. Thus a sympathy with the past, a new interest in humanity as such, marks Romanticism.
Romanticism gives expression to a deep and enduring vision of Nature as an immediate personal experience, the supernatural, night, death, ruins, graves, the macabre, the dreams and the subconscious. The Romantic hero is either an egocentric devoured by melancholy or boredom, in either case often a man of mystery. The emotion is preferred to the reason. Romanticism proclaims freedom from rules and conventions, emphasizing spontaneity and lyricism.
Just because Classicism seeks express the idea of beauty in definite and objective form, it is possible to lay down fixed procedure and so to render the result formal, precise and almost mechanical. Romanticism, however, aims to represent what is inner and subjective, and, therefore, necessarily protests against making art stiff and formal by the application of external rules and mechanical standards. Art, the Romanticism, declares, must spring from the untrammeled expression of the free spirit of the man of genius.
And some of the salient qualities of Romanticism that are going to be discussed in Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘’The Raven’’ are: Imagination, Relationship to Nature, and Interest in the lowly subject.
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