The only poetry that’s ever truly enchanted me happens to be from the Romantic Period in literature, which originated in Europe at the end of the 18th century. It was all about introspective feeling, melancholy and yearning, sensing, aspiring for the sublime, the irrational and the supernatural, and the power and wonder of the natural world. Poets like Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge, Bryon, Blake and Shelley all made their mark during this time.
Here are the core characteristics of romantic poetry :
An emphasis on emotional and imaginative spontaneity
The importance of self-expression and individual feeling – the ‘I’ is central
An almost religious response to nature – God is in nature
A capacity for wonder and consequently a reverence for the freshness and innocence of the vision of childhood
Emphasis on the imagination as a positive and creative faculty
An interest in earlier forms of art such as from the Medieval Period as well as Ancient Greece and Rome
An interest in and concern for the ‘outcasts of society’: tramps, beggars, obsessive characters and the poor
The idea of the poet as a visionary figure
(If you are interested in reading more about it, here is a nice link)
Now the sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines using any of a number of formal rhyme schemes, in English typically having ten syllables per line. But most people probably recognise the Shakespearean form best, with its rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg, comprising of 3 quatrains (of 4 lines each) and a rhyming couplet to finish. Its rhythm is that of iambic pentameter. Iambic a two syllable sound, meant to echo the lub dub of the human heart beat, with the softer stress on the first beat, the lub, and the harder on the second beat, the dub. So the sonnet has long been used to express deep feeling that comes from the heart, and was thereby a perfect lyrical form for Romantic poets.
When I was doing my writing course, much to my consternation, poetry was included, so I found myself having to engage with poems and to actually write some. I tolerated it to start with, but then became more tuned into it – at least for a while. So I have a sonnet for you which I wrote about creative yearning in the style of a romantic poem – at least that’s what I told myself ;>) I haven’t shared this with anyone until now, because I don’t particularly like the sentiments expressed towards the end. However they are sentiments which all creative people, including myself, will probably have had at some stage in our lives, more youthful fancies, shall we say, about our creative life, until we wise up to the realities or reconsider our values!
So here goes!
An Artist’s Room
A warm and glowing shrine of yellows, greens,
With highlights of pinks, cushions and quilts,
While by the window shift the seasonal scenes,
With me contained composing lyric lilts.
A room of many colours, many beings,
Where I have studied, sifting through the hours,
Where I have slept through many fleeting dreams,
Secluded in my private floral bower.
Where works I’ve painted long since filled the cupboards,
Where aspirations long since lined the walls,
An artists’ life I live, so I chase bluebirds,
To guide me to success in hallowed halls.
And though I’m often tempted to despair,
My room will always listen to my prayer.
And interestingly, this creative yearning is highly prominent in a Shakespearean sonnet from John Keats (1795-1821), written in 1818, which struck me with some force years before I really put pen to paper myself. Keats had already witnessed the suffering of his mother and his brother, Tom, who both died of tuberculosis, before succumbing to it later himself. In this sonnet he reflects on his own death, knowing that he will die before he is able to express in his poetry all that he holds within him, or in other words, before he can fulfil his creative potential.
When I have fears that I may cease to be
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
Keats is frightened of dying before he has gathered the harvest of his busy thinking and feeling mind and expressed all of it within his writing. The full ripened grain may allude to his life works, as represented by the pile of books. He despairs that he will never see the beauty of the world or experience love from that ‘fair creature of an hour’ a beautiful woman who he has known for only a short time. Both love and fame will elude him. But in the end he recognises that we all face death alone, and that love and fame become essentially meaningless. He is the classic young ‘genius artist’ who dies tragically young, and I suppose the irony has to be that he did happen to become posthumously famous for all the work he managed to produce within his three years of creative writing.
I love this sonnet because it put the creative life into perspective, but at the same time it highlights how important it is to do your creative work and bring forth what is within you, and while there is no comparison in quality between my sonnet and Keats’s, there is still that sense of keeping your creativity going for as long as you can – and that is all that really matters…
So as the nights draw in and the darkness of winter begins to enfold us, we have a special place to go to that sustains us – and that is our creative life.
Happy creating all!