Saturday, March 21, 2009

When does a writer become known as a romantic writer?

In, “Wordsworth, Gibran, and the Moral Landscapes of Romanticism”, James Barcus introduces his readers to two masters of language - Gibran, a Lebanese ex-patriot, lived enough time in the United States to be considered as a poet. His literary work and life are international with firm roots in Lebanon. His texts center spirituality and the interior of human heart. Moreover, Wordsworth, whose poetry is dominated by nature and philosophy, centering on the English Traditional literature, is known to be a romantic poet. However, in spite of these contrasts, Gibran has been known as a Romantic writer as well. The question, which Barcus aims to answer, in what sense is Gibran a Romantic writer? He barely fits into the Western historical moments, which supported Wordsworth and many other romantic writers and there is little common between him and these master of English and American Romanticism. What is it in his structure and style which is making him to be entitled as a Romantic writer? How can his style be similar to Wordsworth? Barcus says, through his perspective towards life, his moral landscape and his commitment. Gibran’s relationship with nature sounds very much like Wordsworth. They both “believe visions of the rural landscape are a source of stability and nourishment.” (1999, p. 231) Unlike other authors – Bernbaum, who believed that love of nature with distaste for city life is the first point to consider about a Romantic writer. Gibran says, “Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls.” (1999, p. 230) Pantheism has led critics to decide that it is important to the Romanticism, which Wordsworth himself committed his writing to in some way or another. With Gibran was the same case – his writings brought God nature and man under a unitary relationship. He says, “Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children, and look into space and you shall see Him walking… you shall see him smiling in flowers…” (1999, p. 233) Those common qualities between Gibran and Wordsworth have made critics complicate the definition of Romanticism. Knowing many people through the ages glorify nature and pantheism, they have sought to refine other conceptions. A movement that reshaped the thinking – scholars start reading Romantic writers against their cultural context. Meaning, instead of seeing Wordsworth as an amateur religious thinker, he is merely explaining the human mind development, specifically in his poem The Prelude. Similarly to Gibran’s structure of The Prophet. It is a journey – Almustana, the messenger, “Has waited twelve years or his ship to arrive and bear him back to the isle of his birth.” (1999, p. 234) After many years the ship arrives and he is overjoyed for returning home but saddened to leave his people. Like Wordsworth, Gibran’s The Prophet entails a forward movement. However, just as Gibran’s journey is a secondary to the “inner” voyage, Wordsworth’s journey back to the Lake District is secondary. So far Barcus has been trying to center on the definition of Romanticism, pointing out although Wordsworth and Gibran love nature and be tempted with pantheism, these qualities are not important to Romantic tradition. Rather, it is the interior life that Wordsworth and Gibran explore – opening the doors to the individual moral self. Inconsistently, in the context of nature, Wordsworth’s love of Nature is seen “Divine and morally uplifting”. (1999, p. 235) The moral landscape relates back to what he experienced and if he really had lived in the tropics, his picture would have been different, for “The jungle is marvelous, fantastic, beautiful; but it is also terrifying, it is also profoundly sinister.” (1999, p. 236) In comparison with Gibran, they have parallel ideas. Gibran is committed to continuing spiritual and natural growth. He says- in The Prophet, “For to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be burned in a mould.” (1999, p. 238) Like Wordsworth, he is believes to stop growing is to die. Moreover, Barcus says they both hold a special place for children. Gibran says, “You may give them your love but not your thoughts … you may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.” (1999, p. 238) Labor and work is another criteria both Wordsworth and Gibran call “ennobling and soul- making”. Obviously, much is common between Gibran and Wordsworth yet, unlike Wordsworth’s text, Gibran has a commitment to sensuous experiences. In this area Wordsworth seems to draw a distinction between feeling and thinking. Whereas Gibran finds the sensuous always present. “When you kill a beast say to him in your heart, by the power that slays you, I too am slain… and when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart, your seeds shall live in my body…” (1999, p. 239) Barcus elaborates saying, Gibran’s moral vision includes the killing of animals and the crunching of an apple. He is giving thanks for the rewards he consumes while knowing he is inside as well as outside the cycle of nature. In addition, lust and passion, which are unknown to Wordsworth, play a great role in Gibran’s perspective. He believes passion must have a place in humans. He says, lust for pleasure destroys passion- it makes mock of the senses- lust kills the passion of the soul. Finally, Gibran promotes and sustains a moral vision; this moral universe is not in the painting of Wordsworth’s world. To Gibran laws condemn all. He says no one can escape from it and whoever breaks the law is not any worse than those who push others to break it. This is where the major differences between the Romanticism of Wordsworth and Gibran- the understanding of the truth and how it relates to the human soul. They both agree very well on the growth of the human soul, yet the conclusion of this journey is different in their eyes. Wordsworth believes what he finds is in all people; meaning whatever truth he finds will be the same truth to all. In contrast to Gibran, he says, “say not I have found the truth, but rather, I have found a truth. Say not I have found the path of the soul, say rather, I have met the soul walking upon my path…” (1999, p. 241). Gibran and Wordsworth, the pairing is neither usual nor customary. Barcus’s great article depicts great common between the two Romantic writers- the faith in humans being to grow, the wisdom of children, and the belief of work as a noble act. At the same time, I believe, Barucs chooses to be one of those people who give credit to those who have suffered much to get to the level of well known authors or writers. I do not believe I can ever be a master of Chinese language as well as a writer, whose text extends to almost half of the world, and not be a Chinese origin. Gibran did it. Not only he is considered as one of the American authors, rather one of the masters of his time and even to this day.

Barcus, J. (1999) Landscape and morality in Wordsworth & Gibran. Prophets of Lebanese writers american literature. Ed. Naji Oueijan. Louaize: Notre Dame University Press.

No comments: