Gray, Burns, and Blake: The Transitional Poets
It was the mid-eighteenth century and poets were tiring of the neoclassical ideals of reason and wit. The Neoclassic poets, such as Alexander Pope, "prized order, clarity, economic wording, logic, refinement, and decorum. Theirs was an age of rationalism, wit, and satire." (Guth 1836) This contrasts greatly with the ideal of Romanticism, which was "an artistic revolt against the conventions of the fashionable formal, civilised, and refined Neoclassicism of the eighteenth century." (Guth 1840) Poets like William, "dropped conventional poetic diction and forms in favour of freer forms and bolder language. They preached a return to nature, elevated sincere feeling over dry intellect, and often shared in the revolutionary fervour of the late eighteenth century." (Guth 589) Poets wanted to express emotion again. They wanted to leave the city far behind and travel back to the simple countryside where rustic, humble men and women resided and became their subjects. These poets, William Blake, Thomas Gray, and Robert Burns, caught in the middle of neoclassic writing and the Romantic Age, are fittingly known as the Transitional poets. Thomas Gray transitioned these phases nicely; he kept "what he believed was good in the old, neoclassic tradition" ("Adventures" 442) but adventured forth into "unfamiliar areas in poetry." In particular, Gray brought back to life the use of the first-person singular, for example "One morn I missed him on the customed hill…" ("Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", p. 433, line 109) which had been "considered a barbarism by eighteenth century norm." (431) Thomas Gray’s poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is a wonderful example of natural settings in transitional poetry. It "reflects on the lives of common, unknown, rustic men and women, in terms of both what their lives were and what they might have been". ("English" 268) Gray is unafraid to see the poor, and emotionally illustrates how...
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