The Lost Arts of Imagination (55+)

What is the imagination, and how does it differ from fancy and fantasy? What is the relevance of the beautiful? What is inspiration? Originality? What does it mean to live artfully? What is true freedom? In short, what is the good life?

Many of our contemporary concerns—the value of imagination, the importance of respecting nature, the function of art, the politics of gender, the lessons of psychology—were fiercely debated in the Romantic era, and were embodied in great works of art. We will examine selections from the art, music, poetry, theory and prose of Romanticism (circa 1770–1830) to discover why the period’s central preoccupations should strike such a chord today. We’ll see how the creative spirits of this era, which was richer than any since the Renaissance, left a legacy of startling relevance to today’s world.

Note: This course involves required reading.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Defending Ancient Springs

In literature, a galaxy of poets emerged in England whose members are still at the forefront of the language: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron and Clare. They inherited the Enlightenment values of the Age of Reason, but they deepened and spiritualized those values, blending feeling and imagination with reason.

Week 2: Seeing into the Life of Things

The first generation of English Romantic poets invented modern poetry, the poetry of inner exploration: Blake was also a great painter and visionary; Wordsworth, after Rousseau, celebrated the nuptials of the soul with Nature; and Coleridge defined the Imagination, as distinct from fancy and fantasy.

Week 3: Wordsworth's Exquisite Sister

Women writers and poets of the time, who were respected by their male peers, wrote passionately about social issues, including courageous anti-slavery awareness: Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals are classics of their time; Austen and Mary Shelley wrote great novels; and Wollstonecraft is regarded as the first great feminist.

Week 4: New Horizons of Significance

After Haydn and Mozart had seemingly exhausted the tonal possibilities of classical music, along came Beethoven, followed by a host of others. In painting, formal modes gave way to Roman-inspired heroics in David, fantasy in Caspar-David Friedrich, and the sublime and the picturesque in Turner and Constable and many watercolourists.

Week 5: The Holiness of the Heart's Affections

Among the second generation of English Romantic poets, Keats's Odes and Letters are classics; Shelley's Defense of Poetry is an eloquent polemic in a distinguished genre, and the "peasant poet," John Clare, in his own words, "kicked the poems out of the clods." Byron bequeathed the word "Byronic" to posterity.

Week 6: The True Voice of Feeling

The Romantics traced rivers to their sources. They went back to the origins of creativity, and were able to blend the ancient with the avant-garde. To borrow Joyce's famous pun, they were "jung and easily freudened", so they anticipate by one hundred years those great mental pioneers.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

There is required reading for this course.

Readings will be available online through Canvas and selected materials will be available in a course pack. Information will be provided on the first day of class.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

Look at other courses in