Welcome to Nineteenth Century Romanticism 2018

We had our first class yesterday and plunged straight into the radicalism of William Blake and William Wordsworth. William Blake dared to openly challenge the dark world of the 18th Century Church with its restrictive moralism and its fear and hatred of the human body. “The Garden of Love” is Blake’s symbolic sermon on how the Church has pushed childhood, natural beauty, and the instinctive expression of Love out of the way. His last lines, in their rhythm and imagery,  denounce the destructive pomposity of

Priests in black gowns [who] were walking their rounds,

And binding with briars my joys and desires. (Norton 131)

Wordsworth also dared to openly challenge the learning of the Enlightenment by expressing his sense that books were not the only way to wisdom, insight and humanity. Wordsworth proclaimed in his two poems “Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned” that there was as much, if not more, to be learned from bird song and indeed from emptying the mind of all thoughts: “… we can feed this mind of ours/ In a wise passiveness”. Here is Wordsworth’s profound understanding of what it means to still the turning mind and open to the sense of awe and wonder that can come in facing the silence of nature. Clearly Wordsworth was in tune with the essential teachings of meditation and its power over the unsettled mind.

Stillness is something that is at the very centre of what the Romantics are trying to connect with. Perhaps one of the most powerful creative statements of this comes at the very end of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”. In some ways this whole poem is a celebration of silence, of how it can amplify the Being that is part of what we all are. The last lines of this poem are an extraordinary artistic depiction of Coleridge’s discovery of the immensely rich life that comes from attention to the silence of nature, listening to the quiet conversation that is taking place between an icicle forming and the moon in the sky. Maybe it sounds absurd, but if you think of those moments of deep silence that you (everyone) has experienced in their life, then it is not so far fetched. This is a moment of deep attention to the sacred meaning that comes from the silent processes that are all around us in nature. The ancient aboriginal traditions of Dadirri are very close to this kind of awareness of the extraordinary in the ordinary.

 

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,

Whether the summer clothe the general earth

With greenness… whether the eave-drops fall

Heard only in the trances of the blast,

Or if the secret ministry of frost

Shall hang them up in silent icicles,

Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.  STC (Norton 477)

 

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