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The Romance Of Travel Essay

1528 words - 6 pages

The Romance of Travel

Romance, as it confirms human agency with regards to understanding the world and organizing one's existence, is an enabling genre. Northrop Frye identifies "romance" in its questing, adventurous, persistently nostalgic, and "perennially child-like quality" as the "nearest of all literary forms to the wish-fulfillment dream" (186). Arguably, many of the texts that we have examined over the course of the term can be understood as (more or less) participating in the affirmative conventions of romance in the ways that they show men and woman turning travel into a journey.

Take for instance Gilpin's essay "On Picturesque Beauty:" what a light hearted quest ("the searching after effects") it is that he assigns to the picturesque traveler. He would not bring this intention of travel into conflict with the other more "useful ends of travel," but he also offers it as a goal for those who "travel without any end at all." Gilpin even describes the amusements of picturesque travel as a sort of adventure:

This great object [beauty of every kind] we pursue through the scenery of nature. We seek it among all the ingredients of landscape -- trees -- rocks -- broken-grounds -- woods -- rivers -- lakes -- plains -- vallies -- mountains -- and distances.

The gaze of the traveler ranges "with supreme delight among the sweet vales of Switzerland," as well as through the "limits of art;" it "seeks" after nature's "various effects;" the "scene of grandeur bursts on the eye." Indeed, Gilpin's picturesque traveler is very active. Moreover, when the traveler finds him or herself among less visually appealing natural environments, then it is that the wish-fulfilling imagination can be "let [. . .] loose" to "plant hills," "form rivers and lakes," and "build castles and abbeys." This may indeed read as a very fanciful interpretation of Gilpin's remarks, and perhaps I have over-extended the metaphor. However, applying some of the conventions of romance to Gilpin's essay allows one to read it, not merely as aesthetics, but as a document that turns purely recreational travel into a purposeful journey.

Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" also has the features of romance cited above -- most notably in the nostalgic reminisces of the poet's early relationship with nature. Incidentally, the poem was composed during the summer (the season that Frye assigns to his mythos of romance). More significant to the subject of this commentary though is the change in the poet's relationship to nature that is the subject of the poem. Passed are the "coarser pleasures of [his] boyish days" (74) when nature was "all in all" (76) to him, a "feeling and a love, / That had no need of a remoter charm, / By thought supplied" (81-83), for the poet has learned to hear in nature "the still, sad music of humanity" (92) and has felt in nature that "presence" that "rolls through all things" (103) and that has prompted those "best portion[s] of a good man's [his own]...

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