Variants in the Romantic Movement Essay

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Romanticism began shortly after the French Revolution bringing together both libertarian and egalitarian ideas.  The birth of the romantic movement was in Germany but quickly emerged and incorporated itself into the public conscience of France, England, and eventually the United States in 1820.  Romanticism was a revolt against rationalism and classicism.  The basic tenants of romanticism including the return to nature, the belief that humanity was inherently good, the artist was the supreme creator, nationalistic pride, and emotions were more important then intellect.  When romanticism reached the shores of newly formed America, the national was in a period of intense physical growth and had gained a unique American voice.

            The coupling of national identity, idealism, and the passion of romanticism inspired a generation of writers, poets, and intellectuals.  This was termed the American Renaissance.  The ideals of this time were inspired by art, nature, and emotion.  Romantics believed that only through art, not hard science, could the truth fully be conveyed.    The romantic love of nature was well placed in the United States.  It was a country of vastly different landscapes and environments from the seashore, to mountains, deserts, and the southern tropics.  Romanticism paired extremely well with American democracy.  Both encouraged individual action, stressed the importance of the common person, and had the confidence to create something entirely new.  Romanticism could not be unaffected by the American spirit and slowly it evolved into what modern historians called transcendentalism.  Transcendentalism took the best parts of platonism, deism, romanticism, and calvinism to found a new philosophy.

            Three of the major contributors of transcendentalism were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fully, and Walt Whitman. Emerson (1803-1882) was a revered and respected man of his time.  He was prolific writer, and his works are the foundations of modern American thought and lifestyle. Fuller  (1810-1850) was the first female journalist in the states and was a constant critic and proponent of social issues specifically pertaining to women.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) a common man who worked as a carpenter and was largely self educated.  He managed to produce the most original poetry in the English language.  Emerson, Fuller, and Whitman can be seen as three different kinds of romantics.  Emerson in Nature  focuses was on religious romanticism and where God can be found.  Fuller in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, focuses on womans issues and therefore she is feminist romanticist.  Whitman in Song of Myself is a the living embodiment of what romanticist is and what romanticist should do the true romantic poet.

            There are several components of romanticism found in Nature by Emerson. He ventures into the romantic ideals of the return to nature, the importance of emotion, and the idea that the artist is a supreme creator.  Emerson encourages people to go out into nature because In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child.    It is only in nature, Within these plantations of God , that an individual can find and interaction with God.  Emerson also believes that only through the examination of nature can true wisdom be gained.

He believes that a true poet finds beauty in nature because of its exacting order and In the woods, we return to reason and faith .  He encourages society to be in harmony with nature and only through this harmony can an individual be morally virtuous.  Emerson comments no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair.  He writes Nature always wears the colors of the spirit and essentially nature reflects the moral and emotional state of the inner soul.  Emerson also points out that the poet or artist is part of the supreme creator and in nature he is a transparent eye-ball ¦ the Universal Being¦ part or particle of God.  Emerson explores the issues of nature, emotion, and compares the role of the artist to the role of god.

             Woman in the Nineteenth Century and Fuller embodies the most important element of romanticism the importance of the individual and the common man.  Fuller, in  Woman in the Nineteenth Century, creates the first piece of literature which explores and examines, openly and honestly, the role of women within the American society.  Fuller, in her lifetime, was a major contributor to the transcendental movement in the United States.  She inspired, worked with, and loved a number of men which were major intellectuals during this time period.  In this piece of literature she applies both political democracy to women as well as the romanticism ideals of independence.  She critically reviews a number of instances of sexual discrimination and offers advice on to stop it.

She asserts that women lack confidence in themselves because they were systematically taught to learn their rule from without, not to unfold it from within.   She believes that women are often dominated to be made docile and advises Let us be wise and not impede the soul.  Well much of Fullers writing, currently, are at the center of the modern feminist movement she was more of proponent of womens rights and a societal reformer.  She believed that all people should have freedoms and rights.  It is Fullers solid adherence to independence of the human body and soul, let us not bind it by the past to man or woman, black or white, which makes her a truly romantic writer.

            Walt Whitman in Song of Myself does only preach the traits of romanticism but he truly lives them.  The romantic movement believed that the soul of the poet, the artists personal truth, existed inside of the prose.  Whitman was a common man who worked as a skilled laborer.  He was pulled out of school to work when he was young and was not formally educated.  He was a very intelligent man and a skillful interpretor of the human experience.  He lived what others, like Fuller and Emerson wrote about.  Whitman became the  poet described in Emersons essay The Poet.  He was a normal man who filled the role of the artist as the supreme creator in the universe fully.  Whitman is the ultimate romantic poet because he wrote wholly unique poetry which put forth the tenants of romanticism full of emotion and exaltation of nature.

In Song of Myself he documents nature and how his own personal self exists in every piece of it.  He writes My ties and ballasts leave me / I skirt sierras, my palms cover continents / I am afoot with my vision.  Whitman sees himself as representing all men and comments Voyaging to every port to dicker and adventure, / Hurrying with the modern crowd as eager and fickle as any. Whitman wrote Song of Myself in free verse which was extremely innovative structure for any piece of prose of the time.  The poem is openly emotional, forceful, introspective, and draws on the common human experience.  Whitman is not just a romantic author but man who lived the romantic movement just as much as he contributed to it.

            Whitman, Fuller, and Emerson were romanticists in their own ways.  Emerson was an academic who believe that the best way to find God was to leave church and venture into nature.  In nature an individual could find all that was necessary to be a moral and virtuous human being.  Fullers main concern was social issues. She believe that women, and people of color, should not seen as inferior to white men.  Minorities should seek out and demand their own space in society.  Whitman was a carpenter and a poet.  He single handedly laid the foundation to modern poetry in writing Song of Myself.   Each of these romantic authors depict different events, through different eyes, and each expresses different sentiments.  However, through the common beliefs and dedication to the exploration of self, emotion, and independence they can all be consider romantics.


Capper, C. M. (1992). Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life (Vol. 1). New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved April 28, 2006, from Questia database:

Emerson, R. W. (1883). The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Sully and Kleinteich. Retrieved April 28, 2006, from Questia database:

Untermeyer, L. (Ed.). (1949). The Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman. New York: Simon and Schuster. Retrieved April 28, 2006, from Questia database:

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