Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, extending between the approximate period of 1780 and end in 1837 when Queen Victoria was crowned. It was marked by a rejection of the ideals and rules of the Enlightenment and Neoclassicism and by an affirmation of the need for an freer, more subjective expression of the passion, pathos, and personal feelings. This period is also regarded as the bridge between and connects the Enlightenment’s promotion of commerce, reason and liberty and the Victorian experience of industrialization and empire
At Its narrowest, the romantic period in the Britain is usually taken to run between 1798, the year in which Coleridge and William Wordsworth published the first edition of Lyrical Ballads, and 1832, when Sir Walter Scott and Goethe died and the reform bill was passed.
The Romantic period was one of major social change in England, due to depopulation of the countryside and rapid development of overcrowded industrial cities that took place roughly between 1798 and 1832. The movement of so many people in England was the result of two forces: the Agricultural Revolution, which involved enclosures that drove workers and their families off the land, and the Industrial Revolution which provided them employment, “in the factories and mills, operated by machines driven by steam-power”. Indeed, Romanticism may be seen in part as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, though it was also a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, as well as a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature.
Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity.
Romanticism in English literature began in the 1790s with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth’s “Preface” to the second edition (1800) of Lyrical Ballads, in which he described poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” became the manifesto of the English Romantic movement in poetry. William Blake was the third principal poet of the movement’s early phase in England.
The literature written before the romanticism was only available to the upper and elite class of the society and the lower segment of the society remained deprive of its charms. It means that before Romanticism, the literature was not representing the lower class of the society as the language used in writings was fanciful and bombastic.
The main aim of the romantic poetry was to set forth elements of the new type of poetry, based on the “real language” and which avoids the poetic diction of much 18 century poetry.
First Generation poets
William Blake (1757–1827) was poet, painter, print-maker and was an early writer of his kind. Blake was generally unrecognized during his lifetime, but is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. Among his most important works are Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794), Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), The Book of Urizen (1794). The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The Four Zoas, Jerusalem and Milton.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand–William Blake (extract from Auguries of Innocence)
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
After Blake, among the earliest Romantics were the Lake Poets, a small group of friends, including William Wordsworth (1770–1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), Robert Southey (1774–1843) and journalist Thomas De Quincey (1785–1859). However, at the time, Walter Scott (1771–1832) was the most famous poet. Scott achieved immediate success with his long narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1805.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850) has long been one of the best-known and best-loved English poets. The Lyrical Ballads, written with Coleridge, is a landmark in the history of English romantic poetry. His celebration of nature and of the beauty and poetry in the commonplace embody a unified and coherent vision that was profoundly innovative. He became England’s poet laureate in 1843, a role he held until his death in 1850. His famous work consists of The Lucy Poems(1798-1801),The Thorn (1789), The Prelude (1805), and Wordsworth’s Poetical Work. His famous poems are; I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud, My Heart Leaps Up, We Are Seven, The Solitary Reaper ,etc.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host,of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.–William Wordsworth (extract from I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge is the premier poet-critic of modern English tradition, distinguished for the scope and influence of his thinking about literature as much as for his innovative verse. His poems of this period, speculative, meditative, and strangely oracular, put off early readers but survived the doubts of Wordsworth and Robert Southey to become recognized classics of the romantic idiom. Most of his notable works are; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, Christabel, Conversation poems, Biographia Literaria etc.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,Samuel Taylor Coleridge (extract from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
Second Generation Poets
The poets of the second generation, Gorge Gordon Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats all had intense but short lives. They lived through the disillusionment of the post-revolutionary period, the savage violence of the terror and the threatening rise of the Napoleonic Empire.
George Gordon Byron was the prototype of the Romantic poet. He was heavily involved with contemporary social issues and like the hearers of his long narrative poems, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan, was a melancholy and solitary figure whose action often defied social conventions. Like Shelley, he left England and live on the continent. He pursued adventure in Italy and Greece.
I want a hero: an uncommon want,
When every year and month sends forth a new one,
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
The age discovers he is not the true one;
Of such as these I should not care to vaunt,
I’ll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan—
We all have seen him, in the pantomime,
Sent to the devil somewhat ere his time.– Lord Byron ( extract from Don Juan)
Percy Bysshe Shelley was the most revolutionary and non-conformist of the Romantic poets. He was an individualist and idealist who rejected the institutions of family, church,marriage, and the Christian faith and rebelled against all forms of tyranny. Shelley’s ideas were anarchic and he was considered dangerous by the conservative society of his time.Many of his poems address social and political issues. Among his notable work is Adonais, The Revolt Of Islam, Queen Mab, Ozymandias, Ode to the west wind, To a skylark etc.
The flower that smiles to-day
all that we wish to stay,
Tempts and then flies
What is the world’s delight?
Lightening that mocks the nights,
Brief even as bright…-P.B.Shelly (The flower that smiles today)
John Keats was born in London. His early life was marked by a series of personal tragedies:his father was killed when he was eight years old, his mother died when he was fourteen and one of his younger brothers died in infancy.He received relatively little formal education and at age sixteen he became an apprentice to an apothecary –surgeon. In 1816 Keats obtained a licence to practice as an apothecary, but abandoned the profession for poetry.
Some of the most acclaimed works of Keats are “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Sleep and Poetry”, and the famous sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”.
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My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.John Keats – Ode to Nightingale