Will We See Another Romantic Era?

Will We See Another Romantic Era?

Perhaps it's time for Romanticism to make a return.

I've always viewed the Enlightenment as one of Western civilization's greatest achievements. It marked a major change in our perception of the world, redirecting us from faith and feeling towards logic and reasoning. The thinkers that dominated the era—individuals like Locke, Kant, and Bacon—helped pave the way for a rational world in which modern science, technology, medicine, and industry would take hold.

From a political perspective, the Enlightenment put democracy back into practice and absolute monarchies out of fashion. It also had a profound impact on human rights. For the longest time, I viewed it as a spectacular turning point in human history—one that was undeniably beneficial. Of course I was foolish to think anything in history could be so black and white.

As a sophomore-year English major, I've only recently begun to dip my toes into the literary and cultural movement that served as a backlash and counterpoint against the Enlightenment: Romanticism.

Beginning at around the time of the French Revolution in the 1790s and lasting up until the mid 19th century, Romantic writers sought to idolize nature and beauty, emphasizing passion and feeling. They fought against a world that was leading them closer towards cold, unfeeling reason.

Consequently, lyric poetry became the dominant poetic form during the period. In a lyric poem, the speaker will typically, in the first person, try to describe or express emotions surrounding a particular moment.

Romantic artists valued intuition, imagination, and feeling over the rigid and logical structure attached to scientific and mathematical thought. These values are evident in Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Purloined Letter," when a detective, tasked with retrieving an incriminating letter, fails to find it through his formulaic and carefully measured search method. It is only through another character's ability to empathize with the criminal that the location of the letter finally becomes apparent.

In their quest to uncover truth, the Romantics did not bother with revealing the hidden equations and numbers that govern the world. Rather, their focus was on attaining "spiritual truth" and transcendent experiences.

Eventually, like most movements, Romanticism faded away. In the middle of the 19th century, Realism emerged to replace it, never to be seen at such a scale again.

But that was almost 200 years ago. Where is Romanticism now? If I were to summarize how a Romantic artist would view our world today, I would simply reuse the words of Romantic Era poet William Wordsworth in his poem "The World Is Too Much With Us" (1807):

"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn."

In a traditional 14-line Petrarchan sonnet, Wordsworth expresses frustration at society and how, through its growing materialism, rationality, and industry, our ability to feel and appreciate nature has faded.

In the poem's sestet, the speaker frustratingly concludes that he would rather be a "Pagan," ignorant of reason and technology, than lose his ability to see wonder and beauty in the natural world. In other words, the speaker of the poem would rather revert back to having childlike mystery and grandeur placed into the world more than all of the advancements in industry and in thinking that we have made.

Although this notion is exceedingly radical on its own, if turned down a few notches in extremity, there's a chilling degree of relevance to the modern day.

It’s doubtless that Wordsworth would be horrified by how monstrously out of touch we are with nature now. Not only has new technology separated us even further from it, it’s also potentially destroying it.

I can only imagine the look on Wordsworth's face when he sees a child, holed up in their air-conditioned home on a summer day, playing in a virtual world instead of playing outside. Or what he would think of people walking with their faces in their phones instead of observing the world around them.

It seems the world that Wordsworth describes in his poem is our world—more so than it was his.

Perhaps then, it's time for Romanticism to make a return. If anything it could serve to offset and balance a society that so strictly emphasizes science, technology, and industry.

In the Information Age, our world is seemingly being reduced to ones and zeroes. We're becoming more technologically dependent by the year. The Digital Revolution along with modern materialism/consumerism would be seen as, through the lens of Romanticism, grossly complicating and bloating society and separating us from what is truly important. Furthermore, the Humanities, the subject matter concerned with emotion and the human condition, is losing its relevance in modern education as policymakers are beginning to dismiss it as economically unproductive.

Clearly, popular philosophy is moving further and further away from Romantic ideals, but that's precisely why we might see it pop up again. Maybe, because of these shifting tides, another Romantic movement is inevitable. After all, movements always seem to produce counter-movements. Therefore, it might stand to reason that Romanticism may return once more as backlash, to re-introduce some feeling into a world caught up in reason.

Cover Image Credit: John Trumbull

Popular Right Now

11 Things Psychology Majors Hear That Drive Them Crazy

No pun intended.

We've all been there. You're talking to a new acquaintance, or a friend of your parents, or whoever. And then, you get the dreaded question.

"So what are you studying in school?"

Cue the instant regret of picking Psychology as your major, solely for the fact that you are 99.9% likely to receive one of the slightly comical, slightly cliche, slightly annoying phrases listed below. Don't worry though, I've included some responses for you to use next time this comes up in conversation. Because it will.

Quick side note, these are all real-life remarks that I've gotten when I told people I was a psych major.

Here we go.

1. So are you, like, analyzing me right now?

Well, I wasn't. But yeah. Now I am.

2. Ugh so jealous! You picked the easy major.

"Lol" is all I have to say to this one. I'm gonna go write my 15-page paper on cognitive impairment. You have fun with your five college algebra problems, though!

3. So can you tell me what you think is wrong with me? *Shares entire life story*

Don't get me wrong; I love listening and helping people get through hard times. But we can save the story about how one time that one friend said that one slightly rude comment to you for later.

4. Well, s**t, I have to be careful what I say around you.

Relax, pal. I couldn't diagnose and/or institutionalize you even if I wanted to.

5. OMG! I have the perfect first client for you! *Proceeds to vent about ex-boyfriend or girlfriend*

Possible good response: simply nod your head the entire time, while actually secretly thinking about the Ben and Jerry's carton you're going to go home and demolish after this conversation ends.

6. So you must kind of be like, secretly insane or something to be into Psychology.

Option one: try and hide that you're offended. Option two: just go with it, throw a full-blown tantrum, and scare off this individual, thereby ending this painful conversation.

7. Oh. So you want to be a shrink?

First off, please. Stop. Calling. Therapists. Shrinks. Second, that's not a psych major's one and only job option.

8. You know you have to go to grad school if you ever want a job in Psychology.

Not completely true, for the record. But I am fully aware that I may have to spend up to seven more years of my life in school. Thanks for the friendly reminder.

9. So you... want to work with like... psychopaths?

Let's get serious and completely not-sarcastic for a second. First off, I take personal offense to this one. Having a mental illness does not classify you as a psycho, or not normal, or not deserving of being treated just like anyone else on the planet. Please stop using a handful of umbrella terms to label millions of wonderful individuals. It's not cool and not appreciated.

10. So can you, like, read my mind?

It actually might be fun to say yes to this one. Try it out and see what happens. Get back to me.

11. You must be a really emotional person to want to work in Psychology.

Psychology is more than about feeling happy, or sad, or angry. Psychology is about understanding the most complex thing to ever happen to us: our brain. How it works the way it does, why it works the way it does, and how we can better understand and communicate with this incredibly mysterious, incredibly vast organ in our tiny little skull. That's what psychology is.

So keep your head up, psychology majors, and don't let anyone discourage you about choosing, what is in my opinion, the coolest career field out there. The world needs more people like us.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Short Stories On Odyssey: Roses

What's worth more than red roses?


Five years old and a bouquet of roses rested in her hands. The audience-- clapped away her performance, giving her a standing ovation. She's smiling then because everything made sense, her happiness as bright as the roses she held in her hands.

Fifteen now, and a pile of papers rested on her desk. The teachers all smiled when she walked down the aisle and gave them her presentation. She was content then but oh so stressed, but her parents happy she had an A as a grade, not red on her chest.

Eighteen now and a trail of tears followed her to the door. Partying, and doing some wild things, she just didn't know who she was. She's crying now, doesn't know anymore, slamming her fists into walls, pricking her fingers on roses' thorns.

Twenty-one and a bundle of bills were grasped in her hands. All the men-- clapped and roared as she sold her soul, to the pole, for a dance. She's frowning now because everything went wrong, but she has to stay strong, for rich green money, is worth more than red roses.

Related Content

Facebook Comments