Romantic Poetry Essay, Research Paper
Romantic Poetry Essay
Romantic poetry gets written during a period of wars and of revolutions, a period of immense changes where human society reorganizes itself at every level.
The Romantic period usually refers to the half century from about 1780-1830. It was a time when Britain underwent the first industrial revolution and so emerged with an economy more radically constructed than in Britain s history. Therefore it brought about different work habits, different leisure patterns, different prospects and even different sex lives for most people. At the same time the French Revolution and the American War of Independence changed the way those countries were govern and made old certainties questionable and new possibilities feasible for everyone else.
The cultural, political and economic structures were being laid down by three revolutions The American, French and Industrial. The American revolution had started in 1776 when the thirteen colonies had declared their independence from Britain, and ended after seven years of war with
British recognition of that independence in 1783.
The fall of the Bastille in July 1789 is the moment when the French Revolution struck British consciousness. Coleridge was only 16 at the time and celebrated the event soon afterwards in Destruction of the Bastille . Soon followed in successive events was Britain s war with France beginning in 1793, The Reign of Terror in 1793-4 and Napoleon s coup in 1799.
The impact for the first generation after the Industrial revolution was depressing, terrifying and intoxicating to a scarcely bearable degree. Eg: Manchester changing from an overgrown village of 27000 people with no cotton mills in 1773 to a town of 95000 people with more than 50 mills in 1802. This monstrous change, quite unprecedented in human history included responses such as those of the Luddites who fought to defend a traditional livelihood and culture by smashing the machines that were used to impoverish them during 1811-1816.
The Industrial Revolution meant for the very first time a great mass of people no longer suffered through a life of brute labour just to avoid starving, to a life of consistent natural disasters and diseases. The huge increase in the productivity of labour that was opened up by the Industrial revolution opened up the chance of leisure and recreation, of education and self-development for everyone rather than just for High-class people.
The Industrial revolution brought about the enclosures and a galloping technology drove country people to the towns, and the discoveries of Arkwright and Hargreaves brought mechanization and mass production to the cotton industry, and a profound change to English Life. The canal system began energetically with the Manchester Canal in 1761 together with the new roads mobilized society. The changes splintered ancient and venerable ways of life. Even as typhoid departed from London and streetlights arrived, the large industrial cities became more and more crammed with people, filth, poverty and suffering. At the same time, however, a new movement in the history of social thought was beginning to disturb the vast inertia of English political administration. More people began to be concerned with the welfare of the poor, more demands were made for individual freedom. 5
Romantic poetry does not turn it back on all these shattering changes and wander off up an Alp to sniff flowers and contemplate eternal verities. 2
But Romantic poets do sometimes speak directly about those events such as Blake s poem The French Revolution.
With the outbreak of the French Revolution it seemed, as Wordsworth s lines have it:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven….
A tempestuous wind was felt blowing through the old bonehead of Europe. The intellectuals of the day were ardent supporters of the revolution, fired with new, noble visions. Despotism seemed to have floundered, the slave trade was abolished, and yet at home no social change seemed to be forthcoming, and abroad the war with France, after a lapse, took up again. The new air seemed to be turning rancid and stale. 3
The long wrestle with Napoleon in Spain (1808-12) exhausted the country. At home she was on the verge of bankruptcy, starvation, and revolution. From 1815 to the grudging, tardy reforms of 1832, the history of the country is a long repetitions of rebellion, unrest, public protest and blind, draconic repression by an ignorant government. The poor marched and re-marched across, up and down England, exhorted by the demagogues to pillage and destroy. 4 The shame of Peterloo is only the most notorious of succession of such fights.
The idea of tension, hopes and fears are all important to Romantic poetry because most of the best Romantic poetry gets written from these ideas.
Tension begins as an understandable response to a turbulent, distressing and exhilaration history which formed and cut across the poets lives from various directions and in complicated ways
We see the poets taking hold of their experience, exploring and negotiating it, using their own lives and own history to add to the poem.
Romanticism places individual man in opposition to a world now only conceived and experienced as the world outside, and it sees man in terms which hitherto had been thought contradictory, as a creature both sentimental and heroic. The value by which this new man lives is neither piety nor virtue, neither loyalty nor constancy nor even the search for scientific truth, but his capacity for experience. 6
Romantic writing is generally seen as embodying novel attitudes which turned against prevailing 18th C new-classicism.7
There are different ideas involved when thinking of Romantic Literature not as escapist but as literature that tries passionately to come to terms with the modern world, as it emerges through a series of wrenching changes 8
Secondly, those changes affected man and woman, working class and middle class, and so in different ways, so what we get in the period is a range of competing, arguing, pain and suffering.
You can look at Romanticism as sometimes dreamy and remote idealized visions of love shown by poets. Eg: unfortunate picture of Keats looking like a wistful wimp or Worthsword maundering on about daffodils; Shelley flits past with too much hair but not practical skill when it comes to paying the bills, over there is Coleridge, stoned out of his mind, while in the corner Blake is taking to the fairies. 9
Against superficial images like these we find in 1775 Coleridge lectured against the Government s war policy and was the target of Government spying. In 1798 Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy were driven out of Alfoxden because neighbours suspicions of their radical politics. In 1804 Blake was put on trial for sedition and avoided a long prison sentence because of the common sense of the English Jury rather than the compassion from the English Judiciary. In 1813 a Government spy tried to murder Shelley. This shows there was more to the lives of these Romantic poets rather than simply than escapists.
From all of the poets studied we find none was a woman. Keats was born over a livery stable, whereas Shelley was born on the family estate. Blake never went to school. Coleridge was a life-long Christian, whereas Keats was an atheist.
William Wordsworth was born in 1770 and grew up in the Lake District, the beautiful area of mountains, lakes, and streams near the Scottish border in northwest England. Wordsworth published Lyrical Ballads in 1798 with Coleridge.
William Blake was born in 1757 was the first of the great English Romantic poets, as well as a painter, engraver and printer. Largely self-taught, he began writing poetry when he was twelve and was apprenticed to a London engraver at the age of fourteen. His poetry and visual art are inextricably linked. To fully appreciate one you must see it in context with the other.
In 1792 Percy Bysshe Shelley was born into an upper-class family from Sussex, England. In 1822 he completed Hellas, a lyrical drama about the Greek war of liberation against the Turks. At his death Shelley was at work on The Triumph of Life, which some readers think would have been his finest work has he ever completed it. On July 8, 1822, Shelley and his friend set out in Shelley’s small boat. A storm arose and both men were swept overboard. Their bodies were found on the beach several days later.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in 1772 in rural Devonshire. Coleridge and Wordsworth soon became friends. Thus began the great collaboration that would culminate in the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798. In 1817 he finished and published the Biographia Literaria, which he begun and worked in intermittently since 1815. Coleridge died in 1834.
John Keats was born in 1795 near London where he grew up. Keats came from very humble origins. One of Keats’s greatest poems, Ode to a Nightingale, and it marks the beginning of one of the most extraordinary productive periods in all of English literature. He died when he was only twenty-five of tuberculosis. On February 23, 1821, Keats died in Rome.
The Romantic poets were certainly faced by a common set of problems, the world slipping and sliding alarmingly beneath their feet, but they came to it from radically different directions and the clung on in radically different ways. For example, Wordsworth produced well over a hundred Ecclesiastical Sonnets, whereas Keats had better things to do than bother with what he scorned in an 1819 letter as the pious frauds of Religion .
Very comparable, but much more dramatic poetic terms are used in some of their work such as Coleridge. Terms such as: Culture and civilization, progress and permanency, hear and intellect, dream and reverie, allegory and symbol, can be compared.
Revealed is a strong dialectical movement, either in there argument or their imagery, and frequently both. Eg: Dejection where the oscillation between sterile grief- seen as two possible responses to nature- commands the entire poem and summons up an accompanying body of natural imager, the painful calm of sunset and the releasing passion of story. 10
The conversational poems as a whole explore contrasting notion of being at home in the human world, and homeless or alienated within nature.