English Poetry

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Romantic poetry

Romanticism largely began as a reaction against the prevailing Enlightenment ideals of the day. Inevitably, the characterization of a broad range of contemporaneous poets and poetry under the single unifying name can be viewed more as an exercise in historical compartmentalization than an attempt to capture the essence of the actual ‘movement’. Indeed, the term “Romanticism” did not arise until the Victorian period.

Nonetheless, poets such as William Wordsworth were actively engaged in trying to create a new kind of poetry that emphasized intuition over reason and the pastoral over the urban, often eschewing modern forms and language in an effort to use ‘new’ language. An early exponent was Robert Burns, who is generally classified as a proto-Romantic poet and influenced Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Burns’s Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was published in April 1786 and included “The Two Dogs,” “Address to the Deil,” “To a Mountain Daisy,” and the widely anthologized “To a Mouse.”

Wordsworth himself in the Preface to his and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads defined good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” though in the same sentence he goes on to clarify this statement by asserting that nonetheless any poem of value must still be composed by a man “possessed of more than usual organic sensibility [who has] also thought long and deeply”. Thus, though many people seize unfairly upon the notion of spontaneity in Romantic Poetry, one must realize that the movement was still greatly concerned with the pain of composition, of translating these emotive responses into the form of Poetry. Indeed, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, another prominent Romantic poet and critic in his On Poesy or Art sees art as “the mediatress between, and reconciler of nature and man”. Such an attitude reflects what might be called the dominant theme of Romantic Poetry: the filtering of natural emotion through the human mind in order to create art, coupled with an awareness of the duality created by such a process.

1 Major Romantic poets

• Brazil: Álvares de Azevedo, Castro Alves, Casimiro de Abreu, Gonçalves Dias • England: William Blake, George Gordon Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, John Keats • United States: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Questions:

What are the characteristics of romantic poetry?

Give examples of who were the romantic poets?

Lyrical Ballads

Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems is a collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, first published in 1798 (see 1798 in poetry) and generally considered to have marked the beginning of the English Romantic movement in literature. The immediate effect on critics was modest, but it became and remains a landmark, changing the course of English literature and poetry.

Most of the poems in the 1798 edition were written by Wordsworth, with Coleridge contributing only four poems to the collection, including one of his most famous works, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. (Additionally, although it is only the two writers that are credited for the works, William’s sister Dorothy Wordsworth influenced William’s poetry immensely because he studied her diary which held powerful descriptions of everyday surroundings).

A second edition was published in 1800, in which Wordsworth included additional poems and a preface detailing the pair’s avowed poetical principles. Another edition was published in 1802, Wordsworth added an appendix titled Poetic Diction in which he expanded the ideas set forth in the preface.

Wordsworth and Coleridge set out to overturn what they considered the priggish, learned and highly sculpted forms of eighteenth century English poetry and bring poetry within the reach of the average person by writing the verses using normal, everyday language. They...
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