In 1798 William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge published the first volume of Lyrical Ballads. This volume poems that included art like “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “The Nightingale,” and “Tintern Abbey,” was released at the height of the revolutionary era.
The two poets had definitive roles. Wordsworth agreed to incite the imagination through descriptions and events of the mundane; of our “everyday.” In his own words, he described this process as “awakening the mind’s attention to the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us.” For his part, Coleridge was charged with writing about the supernatural—or at least a romanticized version of reality. His supernatural subjects had to possess at least a “semblance” of truth sufficient to produce a willing suspension of disbelief within their readers.
So the one, Wordsworth, called attention to the scenes, sights, and sounds of the world around us through a heightened sense of awareness while the other, Coleridge, took us into the deeper places of our reality—the twisted and turned places, the messes, the apologetic, and maybe even what he may have described as the truth. Accordingly, Coleridge himself used the term “poetic faith” to describe the mind set to which he both subscribed and wished to instill. If deconstruction can be said to be one of the defining characteristics of the modern era, then its opposite macrostruction will be one of the building blocks from this point forward—”poetic faith” being the foundation.
The Lyrical Ballads, met with initial confusion, has become the official beginning point of British Romanticism and one of the high-water marks of The Romantic Era that began in the middle to late 1700s and ran through the 19th century. Its span includes the writing of Goethe, Emerson, and Poe. The voices of Jefferson, Washington, and Lincoln. (In fact, Romanticism may have both culminated and ended with Lincoln, our only Poet-President. It makes sense that American Romanticism would have died at the foot of Modernism.) The music of Mozart and Beethoven. It was a frontier time when men pushed westward and outward. We saw the challenges and accepted them and the consequences of taking action. It was a time of incredible challenge and dynamic success … as well as crippling heartbreak. The Romantics acknowledged that Western Civilization was turning over. If Romanticism was the plow that turned over the “fields of the familiar” and began to redefine the human condition, then these individuals and others were the forces that had taken hold of the plow.
On the eve of President-Elect Barak Obama‘s inauguration I can’t help but consider the merit and understanding of what we’ve come to know as “postmodernity.” Postmodernity is a referent without an antecedent. It says, really, nothing except that wherever we are has followed the modernist movement that found its genesis in the American Civil War and ran through the Twentieth Century. In a series of posts I’m going to muse upon the era we are not engaging as New Romanticism; that our world may be on the threshold of both enormous heartbreak and remarkable achievement. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a little while so we’ll see how it goes.