I’m quite convinced that I am a Romantic. The last of the Romantic poets (William Wordsworth) died in 1850. He was the first of them, in fact. Yet I call him the last simply because he lived longer than the others.
Most of the Romantic poets died young. P B Shelley lived 30 years. John Keats died at the age of 26. Byron managed to make it to 36.
I often wondered why they died so young. One of the books of Will Durant told me a few years ago that the Romantics died young because they dreamed too big. Durant was not a literary critic. Literary critics are not supposed to look at the biographies of writers; they are only supposed to analyse the written discourses. Durant was a philosopher and so he was free to look at the biography (just as he would have been free to look at anything else). He thought that the Romantics died young because the world they dreamt of could never be materialised.
The Romantics tried to run away from the society, from the city, from science and technology, from reality itself. They wished to withdraw to the shelter of the inner experience, of imagination, and of nature. They kept fighting the reality to the desperation of death!
Given an option other than death, I too would opt for that sort of withdrawal. I know it’s an escapist act. What’s wrong in escaping hells, if you can?
I escaped one such hell when I ran away from Shillong more than a decade ago. I landed up in Delhi. My Romanticism of Shelley’s kind (Shelley wrote the famous line: “Hell is a city much like London”) was already on the deathbed when I bid farewell to the (Romantic?) hill station of Shillong. Shillong had become un-Romantic for me because any place will be un-Romantic for a Romantic in the end! Romanticism is essentially escapist. Wordsworth lived long because he understood the lethal nature of Romanticism and gave it up to some kind of acceptance of reality, albeit with scorn. “I could have laughed myself to scorn...” he wrote [Resolution and Independence].
Scorn is a good tool for the Romantics.
Nature is a better tool if it is still available to them.
It is still available to me.
I went on a brief ride today to discover the Romantic side of Delhi, because the city was becoming a Shelleyean hell for me for some funny reasons. When the reasons are funny, you can escape easily. And you can live long if you learn to find it all silly.
Here are some photographs from the Romantic side of Delhi, from the place where I live. The place is called Bhatti. It’s on the outskirts of Delhi, bordering Haryana. Just about 10 km from the Qutub Minar.