Abrams Claims All Romantic Poets Are Centrally

Social And Political Essay, Research Paper Abrahams claims that the romantic poets are ‘centrally political and social poets’ discuss this claim with reference to at least two poets.

Social And Political Essay, Research Paper

Abrahams claims that the romantic poets are ‘centrally political and social poets’ discuss this claim with reference to at least two poets.

When the background of the Romantic era is looked at, it can be seen that there were changes in thought and attitudes after 1780 that are closely linked with both the political and social attitudes of the time. We will be discussing how these changes were reflected in the works of the poets. Poets of all era’s have tended to write about what was happening in their own societies at the time. The word political seems to imply that things stand still, that the poets of the time wrote from the same stance all their lives, never changing their views, however, Wordsworth who at one time dallied with the radicals, ended up campaigning for Tory politicians. For the purpose of this essay then, political and social will be taken to mean having an interest in the social democracy, freedom of thought and the surfacing moral conscience of the time.

One of the key political changes of the time was a move to a democratic structure of society. This was fuelled by the American Revolution in 1776 and the French revolution in 1789. It was not only that England came under the influence of foreign revolutionary ideas there was also the rapid growth in population, urbanisation and periodic famines, social misery was enough to breed discontent and revolt. There was also a mixture of fear, misgivings and a growing social conscience among the governing classes. The romantic era can be thought of as indicative of an age of crisis, even before 1789, it was believed that the ancient regime seemed ready to collapse (Harris 1969)

Shelley gives us an idea of what is happening in the period leading up to the parliamentary reforms of the 1820’s in his poem England in 1819 he lists the flaws in England’s social fabric. Who and what he is referring to is blatantly obvious in the first five lines of the verse, if it is read in context with the time it was written. The “old, mad, blind, despis’d, and dying King” could be no other than King George, the “princes, the dregs of their dull race…” could possibly mean the Prince of Wales, however, this reader believes it to be referring to the old order, the nobility of the time who Shelley says are “Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, but leech-like to their fainting country cling…” again, if we read this in the context of the time the people were oppressed, hungry and hopeless. He goes on by commenting on the army as being a “two edged sword,” here he is obviously making reference to the Peterloo massacre in Manchester of 1819, thousands of people had met on St Peters fields for a meeting on parliamentary reform when mounted troops charged on them killing and maiming many people (Romantic Chronology, 2000). His use of metaphors ‘Princes as leeches in muddy water, the army as a two edged sword, religion as a sealed book’ leave the reader in no doubt as to how the speaker feels about the state of the nation. In the last two couplet of the verse “are graves, from which a glorious phantom/may burst, to illuminate our tempestuous day” the speaker gives no clue as to what the phantom may be, however, given the blatant political bent of the poem its not hard to imagine that he is hinting at liberty through revolution.

Wordsworth also wrote about the state of the nation in his poem London 1802 Wordsworth calls for the soul of Milton, saying that he should be alive at this moment of history, for England needs him. England is stagnant and seen to be selfish, Milton could raise her up again. Every institution is mentioned in the list of the vices of the era “England hath need of thee; she is a fen/of stagnant waters: altar, sword and pen” leaves the reader to believe that the altar represents religion, the sword is the military and the pen is representative of literature. When he speaks of “inward happiness” he seems to identify it as a specifically English birthright just as Milton was a specifically English poet, he asks Milton to come and restore “manners, virtue, freedom, power” all the things in fact that the poet believed were lacking in society at the time. Even though the emphasis of this poem is on passion and freedom, we can see that Wordsworth was equally concerned with goodness and morality (sparknote)

William Blake has also been classed as a political and social poet, Blake, however writes about freedom, freedom of the imagination and of the mind. He disapproved of Enlightenment thinking of rationalism and reason, and of institutionalised religion. In Blake’s poem London we see the speaker wandering through the streets and commenting on his observations, he sees despair in the faces of the people he meets and hears the fear and repression in their voices. In the opening lines “I wander thro each chart’d street/ near where the chart’d Thames does flow”, he uses the term charted, which draws up connotations of legalism and of mapping out. Blake’s repetition of this word reinforces the sense of confinement the speaker feels as he enters the city. He repeats the word mark in the second and third lines “And mark in every face I meet/marks of weakness, marks of woe” but here it undergoes a subtle change, from a verb to a pair of nouns. The effect this has is to brand the people creating an indelible imprint on their faces. It also helps to set up the drumming oppressive beat of the poem. All the other subjects of the poem men infants, chimney sweeps soldier and harlot, are known only through the traces they leave behind them, the cries and the blood on the palace walls. In the third verse the chimney sweeps cry and the soldiers sigh, are changed into soot on a church wall and blood on the palace walls. We never see the chimney sweep or the soldier, likewise we never see the clergy or government who reside in the Church and Palace, Blake does this to show that he does not simply blame a set of institutions or a system that enslaves for the city’s woes; rather the victims help to make their own “mind forged manacles”, which he sees as being more powerful than real chains ever could be (sparknote).

Harris (1969) says in his book Romanticism and the social order that “ Blake expounded a philosophy of brotherhood, not only between human beings, but between all living things…he entirely rejected the empirical philosophy of Locke”.

The newspapers and cheap pamphlets of the time made these poets readily available to the growing middle classes, the artists could no longer rely on aristocratic patronage. Popularity among the new and powerful middle class audience became crucial, it also enabled the politicals and radicals to spread their own ideologies. The Government of the time increased the newspaper taxes so that by 1797 a newspaper cost four and a half pence meanwhile literary hacks and Grub Street writers produced popular potboilers for the masses. Blake of course published his own poems. Harris (1969).

In conclusion then three very different poets, both could be argued to be political and social, however, Shelley seems to be more concerned with changing the political order, whilst Wordsworth seems to want to change the social order of society. The three poems, all written about London in the Romantic era, give us only a small insight into the varying political beliefs held by the three poets mentioned. As all three can be seen to take a political or social stance of varying degrees, it would seem that we would have to concur with Abrams that the romantic poets were centrally political and social.

Bibliography

Harris R.W (1969) Romanticism and The Social Order 1780-1830, Blandford Press Ltd, London.

Blake W. (no date) “London” cited in Clark r. and Healy T. (1997) The Arnold Anthology of British and Irish Literature in English, Arnold, London.

Romantic Chronology (2000), 1810-1820, available on-line Http//:English//ucsb.edu:591/rchrono/fmpro accessed 10th March 2001.

Shelley. P.B (1819) England 1819, available on line Http//www.Bartleby.com/101, accessed 10th March 2001

Sparknote. (no date), available on-line, www. Sparknote.com accessed 10th March 2001.

Wordsworth W. (1802) London 1802, cited in Hutchinson T. (1895) The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Bibliography

Harris R.W (1969) Romanticism and The Social Order 1780-1830, Blandford Press Ltd, London.

Blake W. (no date) “London” cited in Clark r. and Healy T. (1997) The Arnold Anthology of British and Irish Literature in English, Arnold, London.

Romantic Chronology (2000), 1810-1820, available on-line Http//:English//ucsb.edu:591/rchrono/fmpro accessed 10th March 2001.

Shelley. P.B (1819) England 1819, available on line Http//www.Bartleby.com/101, accessed 10th March 2001

Sparknote. (no date), available on-line, www. Sparknote.com accessed 10th March 2001.

Wordsworth W. (1802) London 1802, cited in Hutchinson T. (1895) The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Oxford University Press, Oxford.