Darkness falls quickly, long before dinner.  The evenings are deep and reflective, times that make body and soul a bit weary.  Deep Winter, just before the Solstice, is a time for imagination and possibility more than making something happen.

Into this darkness plunged the news that the “Dear Leader” of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, has died suddenly.  The world has reacted with a mild panic, stock markets tumbling as they contemplate the possibility of more uncertainty ahead in the region.  This was especially true in South Korea, a nation that only recently completed the leap from developing nation to the developed world.

This may not seem like a time of “Romance” in the way that anyone typically uses the word, but the imagination of the moment demonstrates what a new Romantic Era is like, good and bad, far better than nearly anything else.

There is little doubt that the situation in North Korea is desperate.  For decades, young men have willingly sold themselves into  slavery in Russian (and possibly Chinese) labor camps simply for the thin opportunity to defect once they were there.  Word of a new famine has leaked out, one that may rival the one of a decade ago that killed at least a million people.

South Korea has always imagined reunification when the enigmatic north finally failed.  They recently started “Reunification TV” as an internet channel full of news, dramas, and talk shows designed to get a new generation that has never known open war ready for their part when the day comes.  Nearly 60 years of unresolved cease-fire will not hold forever, and they have to be ready.  If the border was flown open in chaos tomorrow the wave of refugees would overwhelm absolutely everything in their nation.

But in their minds, it must happen.  It will utterly drain South Korea, but they must imagine it so that when the time comes they can make it real.

This is the nature of a Romantic Era, a time when imagination calls to first principles of freedom and the power of the human spirit.  It is not easy, but it is invigorating to imagine revolution and liberation around the world as brothers and sisters of the heart are reunited.

When the question was asked in Barataria as to whether a new Romantic Era is dawning, the discussion seemed to resolve in a very illuminating way.  Readers argued that Romanticism has been a strong force in the developed world since the late 1960s, at times a dominate force but certainly always present as an undercurrent.  It is in the developing world that a new Romanticism is rising today.  The world is becoming more equal, more free, and generally more hopeful as it imagines a better world for its children.  That is not necessarily true in the developed world, where systems and cultures are collapsing in a sour mash of distrust and corruption.  The two worlds are relying on each other to cross into new era of some kind – one that will probably be led in spirit by the Have-nots and led materially by the Haves.

It takes a lot of imagination to see this through peacefully to a great new age on the other side.

There is no place where these two worlds meet more starkly than on the Korean Peninsula.  The death of Kim Jong-Il does not mean that chaos will erupt tomorrow or that Reunification is just around the corner.  But the Yin and the Yang of tomorrow’s promise, portrayed vividly in the flag of South Korea, are both starkly present.  It takes a lot of imagination to contemplate how this plays out, either when preparing for the worst or longing for the best.

Imagination of a better world is at the heart of the human spirit, and it is what Romanticism is made of.  The terror of militarism and civil war spilling out over national borders is sometimes what it takes to break the old order and fuel that imagination into something better.  Korea may be on the edge of showing us just what our imaginations can do when fully engaged.  And that is how a Romantic Era that crosses the skies and oceans takes hold – for better or worse.

The darkness does not last forever, but dark times well spent, full of imagination, are what make the light inside shine brighter.