In the dawn of civilization, the creative human mind was ever busy in exploring its relation with the manifest beauty of the universe and with nebulous half-formed ideas it longed to merge itself in tune with the infinite beyond the sense of mystery and wonder. This pursuit of the mystery and the wonder of the visible universe with a corresponding restlessness of the soul is responsible for the romantic attitude of the human mind before society was stabilized in the later stages of civilization.
A century of ferment in thought passed in the continent of Europe after the fall of Constantinople at the hands of the Turks in 1453. Renaissance came to the shores of Italy and fired the imaginative sensibility of the whole of Europe. The English people, in the security of their isolation and separated from the continent by twenty-one miles of sea water, slept the sleep of torpor in intellectual darkness. Dante walked with grave Virgil through the valley of the shadow of Death and passed through the terrible regions of Inferno, plunged into the darkest region of Tartarus, to rise, purged and purified into the pure light of day on to the garden of Earthly Paradise where in a grislin-drawn chariot appeared Beatrice, the woman he had eternally worshipped, her brow bound with olive “veiled in white, and mantled in green and robed in a vesture that is coloured like live fire.” Tasso in Soronto wrote his divine poem of the Golden Age-Amima.
Petrarch brought out all the red blood of his suffering heart which he poured at the feet of immortal Laur in his sonnets. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michael Angelo painted immortal frescoes and Madonnas in Florence and Rome. Caesar Borgia committed with impunity all the gorgcous crimes of Renaissance Italy. England heeded not nor was inspired by the intellectual regeneration and ferment of thought that was sweeping over France, where Villon, a ruffian, a robber, and an exquiscit poet “our bad and sad and mad brother Villon,” as Swinburne called him, gave utterance, in language of poignant beauty, to the deepest sentiments of the age that was passing away, and the Pleiades a group of writers of whom Ronsard was the chief sang in lyric rapture their songs of Love and Nature, of joys and sorrows.
It was in the middle of the sixteenth century that all at once as if on a fine morning the belated Renaissance, as a whirlwind, came to sweep away all the lethargy and stupor of the English nation. Through the impact of Renaissance, the English mind was roused at once to national consciousness, particularly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. England was keenly alive at that period to a sense of patriotism centred round the dominating personality of the Virgin Queen. Heliocentric theory of the Universe had found root in the conviction of the people and the Reformation had emancipated the country from the tutelage of Pope. The beautiful world of Greek myth with its essential humanism gave an unwarranted dignity to human passions and desires in their sublimity and the light of imagination was focussed to all the unexplored regions of the mind as much as the discovery of the new world beyong the Atlantic widened the very possibilities and potentialities of the human capacity.
And finally Caxton through his printing press at Westminster, disseminating knowledge of classics through translations, gave the finishing touch in creating at once a humanism in the spacious time of Queen Elizabeth-which found an articulate voice in the might lines of Marlowe, in the mellifluous verses of Spenser, in the passion-impressed, though encrusted, lightening-swift expressions of Shakespeare and in the metaphysical speculations of John Donne. Thus came Renaissance in England which opened untold wealth and untrod vistas of imagination in English poetry and romanticism like a contagion, infected the mind of the greatest thinkers, philosophers and poets of the age. That is why romanticism is a renaissance of wonder, a strangeness added to beauty, an urge to look for inspiration in the past.
In our study of literary currents and cross-currents we cannot but bring in the well-rubbed idea of Zeitgeist. We cannot possibly extricate a poet from his age and study him under the microscope as an isolated specimen. We must colour him with all the currents of thought his own age bears in its bosom before we can place him under the lense. The monastic scholasticism of the medieval age was a dead force, Catholicism lay exhausted after its grim struggle against Protestantism. In the chaotic stage of thought all the values of life are destroyed, the equilibrium and the poise of life is upset; and the poets and thinkers have to create anew an inner world of reality out of this chaos and ruin, according to their own individual values of life. A sort of centrifugalism is set on in their mind which fashions a world I according to their own imaginative susceptibility. And the poets and the thinkers hug to this world of their own creation with all the strength of their soul, with all the faith of their fanaticism.
Thus with robust faith of imagination, for all romanticism lies in this faith imagination, as the only sure guide they create a cosmos out of the chaos around them with their peculiar seciocyncrasies and values in life. It is then that the mind, dissatisfied with the reality and the present, throws its light of imagination on the past, with a sense of mystery and wonder, with a passionate wistfulness; and the classical world of antiquity with all the myths and ordered system of life and thought assume á romantic garb when seen through the coloured spectacles of this romantic outlook. Truly distance lends a charm to the enchanted vision!
After the first flush of Renaissance was over, England had to wait for two centuries for another wave of enthusiasm from German Transcendentalism and from the ideals of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality of the French Revolution to regain the romantic attitude of the mind. Again the Zeitgeist clicked on and realised the reactionary forces against the already spent up force of Neo-classicism of the eighteenth century. And England once again produced great poets like Blaps, Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats whose minds were pre-eminently attuned to the romantic attitude of life.
This great movement of thought and feeling, called the Romantic Revival, is a movement of revolt against all that is effect and worm out, against ali traditions, against all established order. It is like the earlier Renaissance, a great movement of feeling and thought with a deeper and fiercer ferment of ideas, born of a mood of passionate protest against every thing in heaven an on earth. Yet this revolt, strangely enough, is also a record and interpretation of human nature and human destiny. And the burden of romantic song in this age, as inks the previous age, is also the ecstasy of joy, the pangs of sorrow, the interpretation of the mystery of love and death. –