LITR 5431 Seminar in American Literature: Romanticism

lecture notes


Last week's poems

imagining a world besides the one we're in

intensification, indulgence of feeling

romance narrative as quest for transcendence, even through pain


Genesis & Letters of Columbus

Genesis 1 without form and void; cf. knowledge of America before Columbus

Gen 1.31 God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

+ Columbus 1.3 America as unspoiled, God's country

Gen. 2.15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.  16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

2.12 human beings = caretakers but keep forgetting; web of life

2.20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field

Columbus 1.1 I gave the name of San Salvador, in commemoration of His Divine Majesty, who has wonderfully granted all this. The Indians call it Guanaham. The second I named the Island of Santa Maria de Concepcion; the third, Fernandina; the fourth, Isabella; the fifth, Juana; and thus to each one I gave a new name.

Gen 2.25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.


Columbus 1.5 so unsuspicious and so generous with what they possess, that no one who had not seen it would believe it. They never refuse anything that is asked for. They even offer it themselves, and show so much love that they would give their very hearts. Whether it be anything of great or small value, with any trifle of whatever kind, they are satisfied.

Columbus 1.1 I found no towns nor villages on the sea-coast, except a few small settlements . . . sent two men to find out whether there was any king or large city. They explored for three days, and found countless small communities and people, without number, but with no kind of government, so they returned.

3.17 cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

Gen 3.23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.  24 So he drove out the man

Columbus notes

1.1 no kind of government

1.3 Romantic rhetoric of excess, abundance, intensity

1.4 rich and fertile

1.5 a hopelessly limited people

1.5 to induce them to become Christians, and to love and serve their Highnesses and the whole Castilian [Spanish] nation, and help to get for us things they have in abundance, which are necessary to us. [absorption of Indians to two Western world-plans: conversion, + economic development / extraction]

1.11 cannibalism; cf. human sacrifice; also 2.7

[2.1] Two Indians brought me to Carambaru, where the people go naked

2.3 Indians trick Columbus

2.7 civilization: crafts, forges, clothing

2.9 Columbus's ultimate motives

2.10 never think without weeping

2.13 may the earth weep for me




Ligeia notes

romantic diction, Romantic rhetoric

Romanticism as a world beyond, behind, beside ours, either adding or alternating value


1 decaying city near Rhine

2 a wildly romantic offering on the shrine of the most passionate devotion?

3 emaciated, marble hand

4 skin purest ivory

6 the many incomprehensible anomalies of the science of mind [psychology

approaching the full knowledge of their expression—felt it approaching—yet not quite be mine—and so at length entirely depart! [<desire/loss]

Yet not the more could I define that sentiment, or analyze, or even steadily view it.

innumerable other instances

7 the character of Ligeia. An intensity in thought, action, or speech,

8 the acquisitions of Ligeia were gigantic, were astounding; . . . infinite supremacy

9 grief

The wild eyes blazed with a too—too glorious effulgence

Words are impotent to convey  . . . the intensity of her wild desire for life

10 strength of affection

pour out before me the overflowing of a heart whose more than passionate devotion amounted to idolatry

the principle of her longing

12 Are we not part and parcel in Thee?* [*compare Emerson, Nature, para. 13]

13 exhausted with emotion

14 an abbey, which I shall not name, in one of the wildest and least frequented portions of fair England. [<gothic>]The gloomy and dreary grandeur of the building, the almost savage aspect of the domain, the many melancholy and time-honored memories connected with both, had much in unison with the feelings of utter abandonment which had driven me into that remote and unsocial region of the country.

14 the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine. [Rowena as fair lady, Ligeia as dark lady; cf. Alice & Cora in Last of the Mohicans]

15 no system, no keeping, in the fantastic display

ceiling, of gloomy-looking oak, was excessively lofty, vaulted, and elaborately fretted with the wildest and most grotesque specimens of a semi-Gothic, semi-Druidical device.

16 the couch, too—bridal couch

an endless succession of the ghastly forms

17 my wife dreaded the fierce moodiness of my temper—that she shunned me and loved me but little—I could not help perceiving; but it gave me rather pleasure than otherwise. I loathed her with a hatred belonging more to demon than to man. My memory flew back, (oh, with what intensity of regret!) to Ligeia, the beloved, the august, the beautiful, the entombed. I revelled in recollections of her purity, of her wisdom, of her lofty, her ethereal nature, of her passionate, her idolatrous love.

excitement of my opium dreams (for I was habitually fettered in the shackles of the drug)

18 a bed of suffering

19 motions which she then saw, but which I could not perceive

20 some palpable although invisible object had passed lightly

a shadow—a faint, indefinite shadow of angelic aspect—such as might be fancied for the shadow of a shade

a gentle footfall upon the carpet

brilliant and ruby colored fluid

22 a sob, low, gentle, but very distinct, startled me from my revery [dream-state].—I felt that it came from the bed of ebony—the bed of death.

23 Rowena still lived

endeavors to call back the spirit


again gave myself up to passionate waking visions of Ligeia

24 Amazement now struggled in my bosom with the profound awe [the sublime]

25 time after time, until near the period of the gray dawn, this hideous drama of revivification was repeated;





1 a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.

2 Man is a stream whose source is hidden. Our being is descending into us from we know not whence. . . .  a higher origin

3 unity, oversoul

that common heart, of which all sincere conversation is the worship

4] We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE. [Unitarian]

5 our better thoughts, by yielding to the spirit of prophecy which is innate in every man,

transcendent simplicity and energy of the Highest Law. [transcendent form]

6 what happens in conversation, in reveries, in remorse, in times of passion, in surprises, in the instructions of dreams

7 this pure nature

it pervades and contains us  (trans)

8 [soul] abolishes time and space

9 The landscape, the figures, Boston, London, are facts as fugitive as any institution past, or any whiff of mist or smoke, and so is society, and so is the world. The soul looketh steadily forwards, creating a world before her, leaving worlds behind her.

[10] After its own law and not by arithmetic is the rate of its progress to be computed. [contrast age of reason]

12 In youth we are mad for persons. Childhood and youth see all the world in them. But the larger experience of man discovers the identical nature appearing through them all. [transcendent form]

13 a higher self-possession. It shines for all. . . .  [transcendent form]

14 We owe many valuable observations to people who are not very acute or profound, and who say the thing without effort, [wisdom of common people as Romanticism]

16 manifestations of its own nature, by the term Revelation. These are always attended by the emotion of the sublime.

that shudder of awe and delight with which the individual soul always mingles with the universal soul. [the sublime]

16 The trances of Socrates, the "union" of Plotinus, the vision of Porphyry, the conversion of Paul, the aurora of Behmen, the convulsions of George Fox and his Quakers, the illumination of Swedenborg   [Unitarian]

18 deferential to a higher spirit than his own.

19 Humanity shines in Homer, in Chaucer, in Spenser, in Shakespeare, in Milton. [catalog]

21 When we have broken our god of tradition, and ceased from our god of rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence. It is the doubling of the heart itself, nay, the infinite enlargement of the heart with a power of growth to a new infinity on every side. . . . And this, because the heart in thee is the heart of all; not a valve, not a wall, not an intersection is there anywhere in nature, but one blood rolls uninterruptedly an endless circulation through all men, as the water of the globe is all one sea, and, truly seen, its tide is one.

22] Let man, then, learn the revelation of all nature and all thought to his heart; this, namely; that the Highest dwells with him; that the sources of nature are in his own mind,  [<correspondence]

23 the world is the perennial miracle which the soul worketh, and be less astonished at particular wonders; he will learn that there is no profane history; that all history is sacred; that the universe is represented in an atom, in a moment of time. He will weave no longer a spotted life of shreds and patches, but he will live with a divine unity.





2 In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

3 The power which resides in him is new in nature

4 accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny

5 one babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play to it  (childhood)

6 The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner

[8] Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. [<Romantic Individual separate from masses]

What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested,—"But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil."

[9] No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.

13 But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.

14 If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument.

17] A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds [aphorism]

Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. . . . [another great Unitarian catalog of heroes]

19 that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct.

27] But now we are a mob. . . .  We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins,

28 a law no less than eternal law . . . I must be myself

32 Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.




  • What can we apply from what we know about Romanticism to Whitman’s work?


Objective 1a- Romantic Spirit or Ideology:

  • Nostalgia, idealism, the individual in nature or separate from the masses (a child, harks nostalgic memories of our own youth, idealism


  • This child went forth into nature and revels in nature, rather than being afraid or disgusted by nature.


  • The individual in nature - the child went forth (into nature)


  • Separate from the masses  - this child goes forth, rather than any other child


  • A desire for anything besides “the here and now” or “reality” (went forth- into nature daily)


  • Innocent, golden boy or fair lady - can we find anyone more innocent than a child?


  • What is Romantic about the poem?


Objective 1c- Romantic Genres- the romantic narrative:

  • Journey from repression to transcendence: The child willingly, literally goes into nature


  • The child has a rather literal journey from their daily-repressed life into nature and thus gains transcendence.


·       What potential contradictions in these various Romantic elements?



  • Is this Whitman’s reminisce of own personal childhood?


  • “Everychild” - as Walden deals with “everyman” going into nature, making himself a part of nature.


  • Child enters nature, becomes part of it; he takes what he sees and makes it a part of himself.


  • Simple context, children play pretend, “I am a flower!”


  • Philosophical context, almost medication


  • Child imbibes the goodness of nature


  • Calmness, peacefulness, and being content with what is there.


Rachel Risinger reading discussion 24 Jan. 2013


Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe (Originally published 1838, revised 1845)


Ligeia deals with gothic conventions including, but not limited to: premature burial, the repression of fears to hopefully overcome situations and the repression of desires so as not to become involved in “situations”, and especially, death and decay.


Death and decay, although synonymous with putrefaction and decomposition in today’s modern understanding are omnipresent in gothic literature even after a period of rebirth or restoration. The unnamed narrator of Ligeia leaves their home in a “dim, decaying city by the Rhine”, purchases himself an abbey somewhere in England and begins restoration of the old building, however, even after his effort and treasure have been spent, there is no indication that his home is either inviting or pleasant to spend time in. How do gothic conventions explain this “Downsizing” from haunted house to a home with great potential to be haunted according to the new owner’s specific tastes?


The Narrator creates a “bridal altar” in his new home in which he marries Lady Rowena and which eventually becomes a sacrificial altar where she lies in a state of perpetual death and revival over the course of a night, eventually being revealed to have taken on the physical attributes of Ligeia. Does the repressed desire of The Narrator to replace Lady Rowena with a newer version of Ligeia suggest a sense of guilt over Ligeia’s death?


Dr. White’s discussion question:


What appeals to readers then and now? Why does Poe remain the most popular of American classic writers, while Emerson remains essential to the traditional canon of American literature?