What does it really mean to be a Romantic?

There are terms that evolve with history, having different meanings depending on the century. That’s the case of Romantic. What does it really mean to be a Romantic? For the millennials, it’s synonymous with romance and affair, but during the late 18th and early 19th centuries,  it was different. So, what is to be a genuine romantic (in the 18 to and 19th sense)?

The German poet Friedrich Schlegel sums romanticism up as  ‘literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form’. Besides, the romantic period grew as a reaction to the Neoclassicism, which emphasized the clearness and the rational thought.

So, Romantics like Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, William Wordsworth, Victor Hugo, William Blake or Mary Shelley broke the rules and created innovative verses more accessible to the common folk, that expressed feelings passionately and vividly. In addition, they praised nature, individuality and the mysteries of ancient civilizations, such as Grece and Rome.

The feelings were taken to the ultimate consequences, and love was covered by sadness and melancholy because of the impossibility of reaching the loved one. It was tragic, passionate and hopeless, because it broke the frontiers of social conventions and therefore ended up poorly, with disappointment and disillusion.

One of the Bécquer poems, The Black Swallows will return, reflects the end of love with a nature metaphor, which is tragic and plenty of grief.

The black swallows will return
to hang their nests on your balcony,
and once again will knock in play
against your window panes;

but those that stopped their flight and perched
to observe your beauty and my good luck,
those who learned to know our names…
those… will not return!

The honeysuckle will return,
to climb the walls in your garden,
and open once again at evening
their even more beautiful flowers,

but those blooms that were full of dew
where we saw the trembling drops
fall like tears of the day …
those… will not return!

Ardent words of love will return
to sound and resound in your ears;
and your heart from the depths of sleep
perhaps will wake again;

but silent, absorbed, on bended knee,
as men worship God at His altar,
as I have loved you … make no mistake,
they’ll not love you like that!

So, it appears that being a truly Romantic means pain and depression. Some of what we currently call romantic novels share this impossibility of reaching love, causing the same misery as in the Romantic period. It’s the case of some Nicholas Sparks novels, as a Walk to Remember or some novels of the Italian author Federico Moccia, where the lovers come from antagonistic worlds and therefore share a brief but passionate love story. As some 21st century poet said (Adele), “Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead”, even nowadays.


Author: Andrea Llovera


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