It was Wordsworth who wrote the following famous lines about the French Revolution as it first appeared to many of its sympathizers: Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very Heaven! It is no accident that many Romantic theories of literature were forged in the heat of such revolutionary enthusiasm.
O times, In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways Of custom, law, and statute, took at once The attraction of a country in romance! But, as Wordsworth’s own modified reactions reveal, Romantic literary theory has an oblique and complex, often contradictory, connection with the ideals behind – and the reality of – the Revolution.
Three books of this poem are concerned with revolutionary events in France; and these books effectively contextualize the somewhat idealistic impulse of his own early revolutionary fervor and republican sympathies.
Wordsworth describes in the how he forsook the “crowded solitude” of London society, resolving to go to France.
In contrast, imagination frees us from what Wordsworth calls this “tyranny” of sense, bringing us to the realization that we are in our interaction with nature and the world, and that the “mind is lord and master” over outward sense (XII, 127–136, 203–206, 222–223).
In this passage Wordsworth makes his celebrated declaration that there are in our existence “spots of time,” or moments of imaginative insight, whereby our minds are “nourished” and renovated above the “deadly weight” of trivial and present occupations.
In book XIII, he called imagination “a Power / That is the visible quality and shape / And image of right reason,” a power which teaches us humility by presenting us with “a temperate show / Of objects that endure,” the permanent forms of goodness in man and nature (XIII, 30–37).
Interestingly, Wordsworth does not merely associate imagination with reason as two concurrent powers; rather, he identifies the two powers, imagination being the sensible image of reason.
Hence, imagination is a power that does not simply, like abstract reason, leave behind the world of sense altogether and impose its abstract ideals; rather, it has its foundation in the world of sense but transcends that world in its ability to discern what is truly enduring and universal in it; imagination is a comprehensive and unifying power, allowing the poet to connect sympathetically with all of nature and human nature; it lifts us beyond the world we see through our eyes to an invisible world that acts as an ideal.
Imagination has not only an important perceptual function, showing that human perception is creative, but also a vital moral function, guiding us to the realization of truths that are beyond mere sensation and that are not located in the world as it is given.