The Subjective Turn in Romanticism

Romanticism is known for its turn to subjectivism--the impulse to look for truth inwardly.  Rousseau, Wordsworth, and Keats all show this same subjective, inward turn in differing but overlapping ways.  Note the following:
Rousseau--He relies on his imagination's ability to shape his experience of Nature:

"[A]ll this sets my soul free, gives me greater boldness of thought, throws me, so to speak, into the immensity of things, so that I can combine, select, and appropriate them at pleasure without fear of restraint.  I dispose of Nature in its entirety as its lord and master; my heart, roaming from object to object, mingles and identifies itself with those which soothe it, wraps itself up in charming fancies [. . .] what fresh colouring, what power of expression I give them! (675).

For Rousseau, the real power by which one experiences the world is the imagination's ability to alter and refine one's experience.  Keep in mind also, Rousseau's notion of confession and how it differs from that of Augustine.

  1. Imagination shapes the perception and experience of Nature.
  2. Confession is important because the human self is at the center of creating truth.
  3. Feeling is essential to value.
Wordsworth--The same idea is further developed in Wordsworth.  Remember that he sees the business of poetry as not only "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" but also as "emotion recollected in tranquillity" leading to the creation of a new emotion in the mind.   And poetry is "the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement." Like Rousseau, Wordsworth holds that one must look inward to the way that past experiences are reshaped/ associated anew in the memory ("recollected in tranquility.").  This is why Wordsworth praises the mind as "a mansion for all lovely forms" and the memory as "a dwelling-place/ For all sweet sounds and harmonies" (140-142).
  1. The emotional experience of Nature (for instance, the Wye River valley) is recollected in the subjective self.
  2. Poetry is the result of this reshaping/ new association that takes place in the self.
Keats--Keats builds on these ideas in a slightly differing way.  Like Rousseau and Wordsworth, Keats holds that truth is essentially subjective ("'Beauty is truth, truth beauty'--that's all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know").  He agrees with Wordsworth that poetry is an expression of emotion in regard to an object or experience.  He also stresses that the poet has a "negative capability" to ignore the logical disturbances of reason in order to focus on the subjective feeling of mystery that results.
  1. The poet emotionally/ imaginatively experiences the object (for example, the urn) in a profound way.
  2. The poet possesses negative capability, the ability to set aside objective claims of truth for the inward, subjective truth of mystery.
Notice how for each thinker, one's perception of the outside world (nature, object, etc.) is shaped by an inward reconfiguration or sense of a subjective truth.  For each, it is that inward turn that reveals what is truly important.

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding