The Enlightenment was a period of individualism, science, rationalism, and of the human right' to govern nature. Poets and authors focused on creating perfect pieces of literature, and hoped that by some means their work would be considered sublime'. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the age of Romanticism, several poets such as Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge sought the sublime' within the realms of nature. The Romantics began to create a new model of poetry through focusing on the feelings or subjects of the poets mind instead of traditional methods.
Alexander Pope would be considered one of the most important writers of the Enlightenment. In "An Essay of Criticism", Pope explains that it is important to know what you are talking about when doing a critique, and that it is wrong to pretend to be someone of vast knowledge. He writes; "So by false learning is good sense defaced: /
And some made coxcombs Nature meant but fools" (25, 27). Pope makes it very clear throughout this piece that one needs to have an education in order to appreciate good works of writing. Pope felt that in order to write something of worth, it is best modeled after classic writing, such as in the Iliad. Pope's strict guidelines and rationality of the poetic process is an excellent example of why several poets began to stray from traditional writing and into the dramatic change found in the Romantic period.
Writers such as Pope were not the only influence in the dramatic shift to the Romantic age. The Industrial Revolution created feelings of despair within William Blake, who is considered one of the first Romantics by many. "The Chimney Sweeper" in "Songs of Innocence" by Blake is a criticism of the treatment of child workers during the Industrial Revolution. It describes the life of a chimney sweeper who was sold into the trade by his parents. The children are described as sleeping in the soot: "So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep" (4). One of the boys tells of a dream that he has about thousands of chimney sweepers who are "lock'd up in coffins of black" (12) and are then released by an Angel, so that they can "wash in a river and shine in the Sun" (16). The blackness of the coffins not only signifies the darkness of death, but also represents the blackness created by the soot. In addition, heaven for the chimney sweepers is depicted as a bath or "wash in the river" (16). Even though a bath may be something common or simple, to these children bathing would be something of luxury. Blake is creating the notion that they will be free from the evils of the world when they die.
In the second version of the poem, which is in "Songs of Experience", a boy speaks resentfully against his parents for selling him into the chimney sweeping business. He has become aware of his fate: "They clothed me in clothes of death" (7). The child knows that his parents are the reason for his quick demise. Blake creates the two poems to contrast each other in terms of one who is innocent and of who is experienced. He further achieves effect though the rhythmic approach of his poetry by creating an almost childlike nursery rhyme. His child-like method of rhyming in "Songs of Innocence & Experience" creates irony due to their despondent nature.
Blake is not the only poet to be considered from the Romantic era. There are numerous references to getting back to nature' in the poetry of Coleridge. One example would be "Frost at Midnight", which describes the "secret ministry" (1) of the frost as it creates a pattern on the window glass. He then compares the frost to various unexpected occurrences, such as the arrival of an unexpected guest. The frost is symbolic of the beauty of chaos'. He also describes being "reared / In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim" (51, 52) which is a contrast to the liberation which he feels when in the country. The alienation from nature that is felt is made apparent in the line:...
Cited: Ed. M. H. Abrams: Vol.2: New York: Norton, 2000: 43-52
Ed. M. H. Abrams: Vol.2: New York: Norton, 2000: 447-448
Ed. M. H. Abrams: Vol.2: New York: Norton, 2000: 467
Ed. M. H. Abrams: Vol.1: New York: Norton, 2000: 2509-2525
Ed. M. H. Abrams: Vol.2: New York: Norton, 2000: 224-226
Ed. M. H. Abrams: Vol.2: New York: Norton, 2000: 284-285
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