Romanticism and Taylor Swift: How Perfectly Can a Modern Song Reflect the Ideas of a Literary Period
What is Romanticism? Is it something characterized by love? Is it a good movie that makes people emotional under blankets? Or is it a Taylor Swift song? Taylor Swift once started her less popular but most enchanting song ‘’The Lakes’’ by saying ‘’Is it romantic how all my elegies eulogize me?’’ (Swift, 0:22-31). There was a hidden meaning between the opening lyrics of "The Lakes". The popular singer was not only writing or evoking feelings about love but also, she was hiding some mysterious meanings to her song which can only be seen if it is read as a whole. The song first appeared on Swift’s surprise album "Folklore" (July 2020) deluxe edition as a bonus track. Folklore is an album that is truly a musical miracle that lets its listener dwell into the forests that are full of small pounds and feel each kind of emotion very deeply. It consists of folk ballad songs that reveal easter eggs. Especially, "The Lakes" is a national anthem or an homage to the literary period of the late 18th century which is Romanticism. There is a strong connection between the term Romanticism and ''The Lakes''. Listeners may not catch the connections at first sight if they do not pay attention but when the song listens closely it can be seen enchanting connections of the literary term. The listener would certainly find themselves on a path to Romanticism. Before going through, it will be better to look at the term Romanticism closely.
Romanticism or the Romantic era was a literary, artistic, musical, and intellectual period that emerged toward the end of the 18th century. Its peak time was around 1800 to 1850s. The period had first started immediately after The Age of Sensibility and with the publication of Lyrical Ballads which is a collection of poetry written by the two founders of the movement William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Lyrical Ballads even includes the well-known poem of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as well as William Wordsworth’s unique definition of poetry as a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings". The period most probably occurred as a reaction to the social changes and revolutions, especially the French revolution that caused political oppression. There were various important principles for the Romantic period, there was great respect and adoration to nature as well as the celebration of nature, focus on individual and experience, importance of emotional sensitivity and individual subjectivity rather than reason, and the women as perfect, innocent also adorable. Besides, embrace of isolation, melancholy, and glorification of the past. The Romantic period ended with the reform bill that signaled the coming of The Victorian Age. However, some say that the period ended with the death of Sir Walter Scott who had been considered the great writer of Romantic verse.
Romantic poets were divided into two generation groups. The first group of Romantics consisted of William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge who also known as the Lake Poets since each of them mostly lived in the same Lake District of Northwestern, England whose works were characterized by emotional sensitivity, unity between intellection and nature. On the other hand, the second-generation Romantics who were Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelly who were more notorious due to their subversive works also deal with more intuitive thoughts, exotic elements, and the supernatural as well as the influence of Greek and Roman literature. The unique ideas of Romanticism had never faded away since they were rather universal compared to the literature in the related century. Later, Romanticism loosely co-existed with Gothic literature by the influence of Mary Shelly who wrote Frankenstein with a romantic idea and by using Gothic elements. Even in our age, the influence of Romanticism can clearly be seen in novels, movies, TV series as well as songs such as ''The Lakes'' by Taylor Swift.
There are many allusions, imagery, references both direct and indirect in the song ''The Lakes''. First of all, the title refers to the Lakes District in England where first-generation Romantic poets spend their life. Especially it is clear to see a direct reference to William Wordsworth. The first chorus "Take me to the Lakes where all the poets went to die" refers to William Wordsworth who lived and died in the Lake District. The chorus probably suggests fatalism and metaphorical decay. The second verse where she sang "I've come too far to watch some namedropping sleaze; Tell me what are my words worth" "Words wort" doubles as a play, referring to William Wordsworth. It is clear to see in the lyric video this line has been written as: "Tell me what are my Wordsworth.''(Swift 1:25)
The second chorus of the song has both special and personal meaning for the singer;
"Take me to the Lakes where all the poets went to die
I don't belong and, my beloved, neither do you
Those Windermere peaks look like a perfect place to cry
I'm setting off, but not without my muse'' (Swift 0:44- 1:01)
The three lake poets were men who had muses, women who inspire for artistic purposes, and poets wrote poems about the muses. In contrast, Taylor Swift is a woman who is writing a song about a male muse. Also, Windermere is the biggest lake in the UK where the muse that Swift wrote a song (Joe Alwyn) is from. In the last line, she connects herself with the poets but also with an allusion to sexism.
"I want auroras and sad prose
I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet
'Cause I haven't moved in years
And I want you right here
A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground
With no one around to tweet it
While I bathe in cliffside pools
With my calamitous love and insurmountable grief"(Swift 1:47-2:29)
It is clear to see in this stanza the mystical and natural allusions are used by Romantics excessively. Wisterias are Asia origin enigmatic plants that symbolize long life and immortality. She wants and knows that her love will last forever as Romantic poets had an immense romantic sensibility and valued emotions as well as nature.
In conclusion, Taylor Swift’s song ''The Lakes'' is a song that has great secret potential but is underrated even though it is a delicate flower that belonged to paradise. By this song, the artist showed her adoration to literature, poetry as well as Romantic poets, especially William Wordsworth, wisely and indirectly. Besides, for Taylor Swift personally, lakes is a place where she can reflect her true emotions without even being seen by the public. Since she found her love she is happy in the lakes with her lover with the presence of Romantics who are full of pleasurable emotions.
- Swift, Taylor. ''The Lakes'' ,Folklore - Deluxe Verison, Republic Records, August 2020.
- Swift. Taylor. ''The Lakes'' Official Lyrics Video. Youtube, Taylor Swift, August 2020.