Romanticism was a key movement in the Counter-Enlightenment, a reaction against the Age of Enlightenment. As opposed to their precedents, the romantics valued imagination as the most powerful aspect of the human mind, traditionally inferior to logic and reason. Romanticism emphasized intuition, imagination, and feeling, to a point that has led to some Romantic thinkers being accused of irrationalism. Imagination was seen as the fundamental “shaping power” which enabled the creation of all art-imagination’s primary faculty. In a broader sense, its faculties extended to a way of constituting reality, achieved through actively creating one’s world instead of merely perceiving it.
Imagination was quintessential for a person’s ability to search within deep within themselves for self-betterment, to unlock a higher order of thought and experience- a nobler truth than that of fact, logic, or the “here and now”. This was evident in the valuing of art not so much as a mirror of the external world, but as a source of illumination of the world within; in a sense, the reciprocal of mimesis. Another central concept to the Romantics was the “reconciliation of opposites”, namely reason and feeling, which was successfully unified through the power of imagination. Imagination was believed to be inextricably bound to both poles (reason versus feeling) as the faculty enabled us to “read” nature as a system of symbols.
As greater attention to emotion became a necessary supplement to purely logical reason, the purpose of poetry changed to the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, as opposed to its previously structured form, such as those used by the metaphysical poets, like Donne. This change effectively saw the increased frequency in the use of first person lyric, with lessening persona, and rather more of the poet’s voice.
In the spirit of their new freedom, romantic writers in all cultures expanded their imaginary horizons spatially and chronologically. They turned back...