literature / Science

Romantic clouds

Hi guys!
As maryssa wrote, we’re studying English Romanticism. Literature doesn’t really attract me, but one particular aspect of this period has made me very curious: the interest in natural phenomena. Indeed, they’re experiences that could provoke terror in the audience, since terror and pain were the strongest of emotions. Another reason is the scientific progress which made many poets (and not only) curious about natural phenomena.

What does the word “cloud” suggest to you? Actually, I know that the first thing that you, or better, “we” think of when we see a cloud isn’t certainly English literature or Wordsworth’s poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, but this example will help us to better understand Romantic ideology. If you haven’t studied the poem yet, don’t worry, I’m going to briefly explain it.

One day, Wordsworth was lying on the sofa and, because John Logie Baird (the inventor of television) wasn’t born yet,  he started to think about a field of daffodils that he had seen before. So he reflected about the feelings he had had looking at this landscape and he transformed this vision into poetry. In particular, he compared himself to a cloud while the daffodils resembled a cluster of stars: this way, he inverted the perspective, because the ground became the infinity of space, celebrating the fusion between men and nature.

Now, let’s throw ourselves into a soft sea of clouds. First of all, how do clouds form? They form when sunlight warms the surface of the earth and water evaporates; as the pressure decreases, they expand until they reach a point where water vapour in rising air parcels condenses to liquid or sublimates to ice because of the low temperature (they overcome thermal energy).

While there is a great variety of cloud shapes and sizes, they’re all made up of the same thing: condensed water or ice. After these cloud droplets form, they can collide with each other and become so big by joining together that they fall to the ground as rain or snow; they can evaporate and change back into water vapor, too.

They’re usually white because they reflect (scatter) all the visible wavelengths of light from the sun. However, they can also appear dark taking on the color grey or black. This depends on the amount of sunlight passing through it that changes in accordance with the thickness of a cloud. An important Romantic “sky-watcher” was Luke Howard, a member of the Royal Society, who spent most of his life studying and classifying the clouds. According to him, there are four main types of clouds:

cumulus, the Latin word for “pile”: a large, white, fluffy cloud that appears during fair weather, even though they

can form thunderheads on hot days

stratus, the Latin word for “layer”: a cloud that forms a sort of grey sheet,

often with rain or snow; it extends at low altitudes

cirrus, the Latin word for “curl”: they form at high altitudes and

they’re characterized by a shape similar to a curly lock of hair

nimbus, a large grey rain cloud

Have you ever tried to guess cloud shapes, such as running lions, cauliflowers, strange faces and so on? They usually take the oddest forms and make us travel with our imagination; but be careful and… always keep your feet on the ground! 😉


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