From its earliest manifestations in Germany, Romanticism has exerted a powerful hold on Western thought and culture. The Age of Enlightenment, as the 18th century was named for its emphasis on reason and its optimistic faith in a perfectible material and spiritual universe, immolated itself in the flames of the revolutions which closed that century. As Europe and America arose, phoenix-like from the ashes, a bold new vision had taken hold.
Romanticism is the cult of the individual, the inner spark of divinity that links one human being to another and all human beings to the Larger Truth. In poetry, visual art, and music, artists strove to articulate the personal experience that becomes, in turn, a representative one. The artist assumes the status of prophet and moral leader, a divinely inspired vehicle through which Nature and the common man find their voices.
Concern for the common man evolved from the democratic ideologies of the Age of Revolution and from a renewed interest in folk culture. The search began to preserve the stories, songs, legends as an international language of human commonality, at whose center stood the images of home and the heart.
In aesthetic terms this individuality translated into the revolution of feeling against form. Romantic poets, painters, and musicians ceased struggling to make the expression fit conventional forms and boldly carved out new forms to encase their expression and thought. Ever-striving, ever in flux, the Romantic Soul required an equally dynamic new language to make itself understood.
Embracing the unknown and unafraid of the contraries of human existence, the Romantics overthrew the philosophical, artistic--even geographical--limitations of the Enlightenment. The quintessential Romantic figure was the Wanderer, literally and figuratively journeying in search of new lands, new places in the imagination, and new vistas for the soul. Exotic lands, the amorphous world of dreams, the dark terrors of the psyche as well as the dizzying heights of creativity and the dazzling beauties of Nature; these were all waystations along the Romantic quester's route.
For the Romantic, Nature was, indeed, a constant companion and teacher. She became the stage on which the human drama was played, the context in which man came to understand his place in the universe, the transforming agent which harmonized the individual soul with what the Transcendentalists would call the Over-Soul. Throughout all of Romantic literature, music, and art, Nature is a dynamic presence, a character who speaks in a language of symbols at once mysterious and anthropomorphic. who engages man in a dialogue with the life-force, itself.
Since the Romantic Movement, the relation of the individual to society has been one of the central themes of modern literature.
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