By Martin Travers
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Additional resources for European Literature from Romanticism to Postmodernism: A Reader in Aesthetic Practice (Continuum Collection)
We will be able to enjoy the world more than ever, for our spirit has become ethereal. New Fragment No. 272 Imagination [Einbildungskraft] is the marvellous sense that can replace all our other senses - and which lies so much under our own discretion. If our external senses seem to stand so entirely under mechanical laws, so is the imagination equally clearly not bound to the present and to contact with external stimulation. New Fragment No. 276 The distinction between madness and truth lies in the different contexts from which they arise.
Many, such as the Italian poet Giovanni Berchet, argued that Romanticism was the sole force of breaking that hegemony, and providing a medium for national cultural unification. Romantic literature, irrespective of when it was created (and Berchet eclectically invokes figures as diverse as Homer, Pindar and Milton), represents the most vital part of a nation's culture, the 'poetry of the living', that heart of the past which has continued to beat into the present, and which is capable of transcending all divisions, cultural and social (Reading 15).
For Mickiewicz, Romanticism represented an ethos of both personal and national liberation. As he argued in his series of lectures, The Slavs (1844), literature is not simply the expression of a nation's suffering (and he is thinking here of a Poland forced into tutelage by Russia); it is also (and primarily) the means by which that suffering can be undone through cultural struggle. Mickiewicz' words are aimed at 'those souls who are the best tempered, the most noble, the strongest, those who communicate with Divinity, [and] reserve all their strength for action rather than for words' (Reading 17).