Romanticism and the Beauty of Realization
When reading, how do I interpret the words on the page? As I reflected on this issue, it came upon me that in the context of reading I relate most to the events and emotions on the page, to myself and not towards an outside facet. When reading you insert yourself into the piece, in order to better relate to the emotions and issues of the characters involved. You must interpret the world through your own experience first. This simple truth becomes evident, as all we know must come from an outside source at some point. Before our being can evaluate and respond to an action something must warrant a response. In this way I am sympathetic towards the romantic plight of understanding the internal workings of human nature. As the poets Shelley and Poe struggled to capture the essence of man, I wish to better evaluate my own position of mind by empathizing with the features of literature. The beauty of Romanticism is the process that you undertake in order to reach this point of realization.
In order to understand what occurs in life, I find it better to organize my own thoughts based on the action or affect that is on the page. Poe as a method of writing used a similar technique to begin the process of crafting his works. Going onto “prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect” (Poe 639), a deliberate way to work towards creation would be first having a goal in mind. I agree with this interpretation of the creative process wholeheartedly. Furthermore the act of choosing intent over spontaneity, as Shelley preferred, has more power to it. If something is created by you, or even interpreted in your head, the thoughts are yours and with this ownership you should claim responsibility for your reasoning.
Now a flaw in this logic may come to light when attempting to grasp the issue of taking inspiration in from the outside world versus your own individual thoughts. In particular, Shelley who had the notion that poetry came as an expression of “the beautiful which exists in thought, action or person, not our own” (Shelley 596). This should mean that our desires to create are not are own claims. Then do you but totally attribute to a higher power? I cannot agree with this idea, and while I do agree that there is a certain aspect of beauty that can only be brought into literature from the outside, it is how the feelings are ascribed into words and action that makes a piece relevant to the audience. This aspect of the process is fundamental to understanding both the romanticist movement as a whole, and how these works fit into the grand scheme of literature. To understand the emotion needs a vessel of form, that must in turn have a creation.
Forming an image requires the work of the brain, while adding beauty requires the work of the imagination. The separation of a physical and imaginative portion make is supported by Shelley. As he points to imagination is what “collects the brightest rays of human nature and divides them and reproduces them from simplicity” (Shelley 599), I enjoy the allusion to the act of division. The idea that one example can resonate to spark a myriad of other responses from within. In the act of making Romanticist literature I would call these fractures of thought the inspiration that an writer draws from . Yet a fractured medium will still need to be given form from the brain to enact anything that can be experienced as beauty. Poe wished to create this form with a “design of rendering the work universally appreciable” (Poe 641); with intention to tailor the work to the viewer. You have yourself a completed creation when this imaginative idea and form reach the medium of writing. This work would then have all the aspects to render it both a tactile beauty, while consolidating the human experience by the inspiration of the fused form of the Self and the outside universe. A work that can then be experienced by the audience, and then interpreted, or mixed with the experience and judgment of the individual observer. Whether this judgment condemns the work to be good or bad is of little consequence, as long as the observer and the work can relate and interact with each other in order to create a meaningful stimulation of the mind, and through it the soul.
In discussing a soul, I do not mean a part of a person, but rather that the soul is the individual itself in full. The nature of a soul would be a unison between the mind and imagination in harmony. In order to gain an understanding of the romantic beauty a work must spark this unison and actively engage it. A person’s brain will only see the literal meaning, and the imagination will fail to grasp the form that the author had the intent to create. As Poe describes the workings of beauty, that these two forms are “absolutely antagonistic to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul” (Poe 641). This experience contains many emotions, thoughts and feelings, that while given a form still allude the audience, and even perhaps the writer. I would contribute then that when the soul has truly been engaged in a piece, that the end result is the attainment of a sublime state. A state that is met with confusion, and though it may be frightening somehow allures the audience to continue on. Many times this has happened to myself during particularly emotional or tense times in a literary work. As I struggled to bring into myself the emotions that I think that I should feel to properly convey the situation. Now this state may be intriguing but it is also problematic. Particularly, when you need to interpret literature for the sake of criticism. Perhaps the reason that Shelley attributes his poetry to a divine origin is because, the sublime is almost instinctual in nature, or the closest that a human can get to a base state of mind. Without direction it would be easy to be swept up into the antagonistic experience and lose your sense of self to the work as Shelley so often describes.
How then do you make sense of that which has no discernible sense to begin with? As the sublime is often stated to be “infinity, irrationality, fear, and terror” (Norton 12), and while this appears to be a question of philosophy, I assure you it can be interpreted. The key to doing so lies in the very definition of sublime, which is made of individual parts. These parts can then be separated out from the state of the sublime and analyzed. My interpretation of what can be considered the complete form of Romanticism is to view it from within myself, as a part of my own experience. By identifying with your own string of emotions, in relation to the work it becomes possible to re-piece together this torrent of ideas and feelings into a form once again. Where there is a form to create, there is a reason behind its creation, and this interpretive element brings together the romanticist piece and the beauty in which it gives to the audience.
The true mark of Romanticism is the steps it takes to understand it. By giving yourself to the task you intrinsically learn of your own human nature in order to one day relate better to others. As all humans are unique the final interpretation can of course also vary. However, these differences in my opinion just lend to the complexity and beauty of a piece. While Poe and Shelley may not have the same style of creation, I feel the goal is still the same in that they wish to evoke a feeling that is unique to the case that only romanticism can bring.