Aestheticism and Romanticism have a lot in common, rejection of the material world and materialism in general, emphasis on sensibility and imagination, the quest for that striking, unforgettable emotion that gives meaning to your life. There are many similarities, but one thing is certainly different: the role of the artist. For Wordsworth the artist was the super sensitive genius, that has a mission to accomplish: defending man’s innate, natural sensibility which was about to be worn away by the values expressed by the new industrial society. On this purpose he had created a new “bourgeois poetry”, purged of all classic refinements, a new artistic language accessible to everybody which should have made the poet’s message easily attain man’s soul. They were great communicators and dreamers: art may change the world and its message should be available for all people. But for the aesthetes all the beautiful people of the world were just like the crew of Baudelaire‘s Albatros: hopelessly rude, ignorant, insensitive.The artist had nothing to say these people, whatever his choice of language was; they couldn’t and wouldn’t have understood. Therefore he decided interrupt the Romantic communicative effort and kept on flying in their sky made of taste and beauty. Art is for art’s sake and not for the sake of morality. The two opposite communicative intents can be clearly seen if we just compare the layout of the preface of the Lyrical Ballads to Wilde‘s preface of the Picture of Dorian Gray. The former is an extensive text, where Wordsworth explains his poetical project outlining methods and objectives, the latter is only a list of thought that don’t aim at being discussed. The artist is the creator of beautiful things. Full stop. The critic should judge the form rather than the content of an artistic product. Full stop. An artist should not have a didactic or moral aim. Full stop, All art is quite useless. The end.
Often, to amuse themselves, the men of a crew
Catch albatrosses, those vast sea birds
That indolently follow a ship
As it glides over the deep, briny sea.
Scarcely have they placed them on the deck
Than these kings of the sky, clumsy, ashamed,
Pathetically let their great white wings
Drag beside them like oars.
That winged voyager, how weak and gauche he is,
So beautiful before, now comic and ugly!
One man worries his beak with a stubby clay pipe;
Another limps, mimics the cripple who once flew!
The poet resembles this prince of cloud and sky
Who frequents the tempest and laughs at the bowman;
When exiled on the earth, the butt of hoots and jeers,
His giant wings prevent him from walking.
Charles Baudelaire L’Albatros translated by William Aggeler
It is in Charles Baudelaire‘s L’Albatros that the poet becomes clearly the martyr of common ignorance and blindness. Mankind, just like in Coleridge is represented by a crew of coarse men and the Albatross, which stands in this case for the poet himself, floats by. In his flight the Albatross is magnificent and elegant with his vast wings, he is “the prince of sky and clouds“, but when the men of the crew catch the Albatross and place him on the deck, well ,everyhting changes. The bird has to walk now and he seems to have lost all its confidence and becomes pathetic,clumsy, ashamed and his beautiful wings which used to take him up to the sky seem like oars that drag him down. This fallen angel has become so gauche and weak that seems like a cripple. But the men feel no pity, but quite the contrary, they sneer at him. The poet/Albatross belongs to the sky and he is used to facing the tempest. Only up there he is the king that laughs at the(bow)man. But when he is on the earth, when he is exiled among the jeering men, his wings are useless because they “prevent him from walking“. Modern society is no longer for poets. Men don’t understand them and so laugh at them. Any attempt of communicative effort is destined to failure. Poetry, just like the wings of the Albatross, is useless. The earth is no place for poets.