Romanticism: Points of View

Romanticism: Points of View

Romanticism: Points of View

Romanticism: Points of View

Excerpt

In Act II, Scene III, of Shelley Prometheus Unbound, Panthea describes her first reactions to the realm of Demogorgon as follows:

. . . the mighty portal, Like a volcano's meteor-breathing chasm, Whence the oracular vapor is hurled up Which lonely men drink wandering in their youth, And call truth, virtue, love, genius, or joy, That maddening wine of life, whose dregs they drain To deep intoxication and uplift, Like Maenads who cry loud, Evoe! Evoe! The voice which is contagion to the world.

The passage is a remarkable concatenation of ideas and images which reflects the peculiar density, complexity--the mystery--of that perennially vital phenomenon we call Romanticism; and at the same time it prophetically foreshadows the myriad shapes and forms which the interpreters and definers (one might almost add, the inventors) of Romanticism have given it.

To define is to limit; an ism is "oracular vapor" condensed or, as Shelley himself put it, "a consideration of thoughts not in their integral unity, but as the algebraical representations which conduct to certain general results." What we tend to forget or ignore too often, perhaps, is that all of the major Romantics resisted the human tendency to manufacture isms, to cramp the idea in a slogan, to make the intangible tangible. "Energy is eternal delight," said Blake; isms (Blake used the word "Reason" here) are the "bound or outward circumference of energy." The idea implicit in the image of oracular vapor above, as well as Blake's point, is echoed in Shelley Defense of Poetry, where poetry is defined as "at once the center and circumference of knowledge . . . at the same time the root and blossom. . . ."

. . . great rooted blossomer, Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole? O body, swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?

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