I am not, alas, a romantic, in any sense of the word. I have some friends who are true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool romantics (like Eric) in the "passionate love" manner; and I have some who are deeply versed in Romantic poetry; I even have some (like Norman) who are both. But I've always been a rather tight-assed product of my Protestant upbringing, shrinking away from the loss of self-control involved in passion, & wincing a bit at its expression in poetry. While I deeply admire the music of their verse, I've always found something a bit, well, embarrassing about Keats & Shelley.
At any rate, the semester's over; I don't leave town for holiday travels until Monday, so rather than tackling the beginnings of the next big essay that's due in oh, 6 weeks' time, for some reason I've been thinking about Romanticism – & how little I know about the whole period, the whole movement. I posted a squib to that effect on my Facebook page, & lo & behold a number of friends have chimed in with a whole year's worth of weighty reading.
My education in Romanticism has been spotty. As an undergraduate at Beloved Alma Mater, I must have taken a survey course that covered the Romantics, but I don't remember a moment of it. And I was feeling the lack when I came up to grad school at Campus on the Hill. CotH's PhD program, however, was not the best place to fill in holes in one's undergrad education. The grand old men of Wordsworth studies could still be seen walking the halls (MH Abrams would have coffee every morning with Archie Ammons downstairs, & I was even a TA for one Stephen Parrish's undergrad courses – Victorian novel, I think), but they generally weren't teaching graduate seminars anymore. So I enrolled in a "Romantic Poetry" seminar with Professor Fearsome DeManean, & found myself largely at sea for 14 weeks, reading poems I hadn't read before – enjoying them, for the most part – & then every week sitting stupidly around the seminar table as my fearsomely theory-savvy colleagues argued the fine points of (mostly) Paul De Man, with very occasional reference to Keats, Wordsworth, or Shelley.
I already had a well-developed taste for Blake, & somehow managed to develop a taste for Wordsworth as well. I put stacks of Byron on my comprehensives lists, and dutifully read them (with nothing less than constant enjoyment). And since then I've read around a great deal – most of Keats's poetry and letters, lots and lots of Coleridge, bits and pieces of Shelley. I worked up Keats in general for a "lifelong learning" lecture series I did a few years back, & had the great satisfaction of reducing a roomful of elderly women to tears with a pathos-ridden performance of "Ode to a Nightingale." I've taught Lyrical Ballads several times, & know The Prelude pretty darned well.
It's a matter of improving what Jonathan Mayhew calls one's "scholarly base." Now, I know I'll never be a scholar of Romanticism (tho I wouldn't mind teaching an undergraduate course on Romantic poetry someday), so the "scholary" isn't quite applicable; but as so often, I've gotten the urge to know more, to fill out or round off the vast blank or roughly sketched areas in my own mental map of what everything means. (I got a similar urge in re/ Marx & the Frankfurt School about a decade ago, Milton sometime before that, Hegel about five years ago, Victorian thought at the same time – all ongoing projects.)
It feels oddly like a counter-productive impulse, so far as one's academic career goes. The classic model is that you establish yourself in one limited sub-discipline, then branch out in subsequent work to adjacent or occasionally more distant fields. I don't know any model, offhand, for this kind of intellectual back-filling. Maybe I'm trying to retool myself as a classic "generalist" – a term I deeply distrust, & which is of course the kiss of death in academia these days. Or maybe I'm just trying to get myself to where I can take more pleasure in Keats & Shelley.