When I taught senior college-prep English in small-town Georgia public schools, I arranged the syllabus by literary movements. When we reached the romantic movement, and Wordsworth, I had the students bring a permission slip from home (necessary for leaving the campus) and took them on a short walk across the football field to a stretch along a creek of undeveloped pristine forest. I didn’t give them any explanation in advance but only instructed them that they were not allowed to speak during this time, but to follow in single file and be aware of the sounds, the smells, and the sights of their surroundings. When we returned to the classroom, still with no discussion or conversation, I wrote three words horizontally on the board: Environment, Nature, Creation. They were to choose one of the words as a title for a two-page essay that reflected their experience on the walk. The results were interesting. If I didn’t know my students by the time we reached romanticism, I knew them in reading their essays, as soon as I read their chosen titles.
Without over-classifying, and allowing for varied skill levels in writing, the essays’ contents followed a certain type: Environment essays were political, angry, activism-oriented. The Nature essays were emotional, sentimental. The Creation essays were faith expressions, even devotional.
All of these were actually romantic, romanticism being that mixture of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual psychic pubescence that visits every one of us sooner or later in our lives. If we avoid the romanticism in ourselves, it will come to wake us at 3:00 a.m. someday and leave us wondering what has happened to us. If it comes later in life, the consequences can be devastating, or at least, life-altering—for better or worse. If we use that experience to learn about ourselves better, a healthy maturation will result—even, or perhaps, especially—if the experience is a bad one. And that knowledge can save us from the downward gravitational pulls of addiction, violence, destructive relationships, and a number of other negative outcomes.
I never kept records on the subject, but sometimes I wish I had. It would be interesting to discover which groups went where in later years. I did notice that the division of titles was about equal: one third were Environment; one third, Nature; and one third, Creation. Only a couple of times, I got an essay with all three titles, followed by a thesis that how we look at creation, nature, or our environment, said nothing about any of those things but a lot about us. These were from “gifted” students and I suspect they were also the ones who would be awakened at 3:00 a.m. someday. One trait that is not romantic is objectivity.