Romantic poetry

(1785 – 1830)
Poetry of the 18th
Romantic poetry
• Based on reason
 Modern, civilized life
• Motifs from urban life
 Senses, feelings, intuition
• General human values
• Earthly reality
 Personal moods
 Visions of mysterious,
ideal, eternal
 Spontaneous, personal,
original, free expression
• Deliberate traditionalists
• Strict observance of form,
orderly, polished
 Medieval/primitive life
 Themes from rural
• The key year for English Romanticism was 1798 which saw
the publication of Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and
Coleridge – manifesto of romantic poetry. They laid down
the principles on which they thought the composition of
poetry should be founded:
the language of ordinary men and women, unspoiled in the
speech of rural people; against the ‘poetic diction’.
Against the rationalist content of the Augustan poets – a
turn to imagination, legend, human heart
The poet was a prophet, the initiator of truth
The poet had the key to the hidden mysteries of heart; the
poet gave life a meaning.
• Love of nature; ordinary things seem wonderful
• Wordsworth’s attitude to nature: the Nature is the great
teacher of morals and the prime bringer of happiness; in
Nature resides God – in contact with mountains, lakes,
trees, woods we can feel the divine presence.
• The worship of Nature leads Wordsworth to venerate the
simple folk who live ‘in the eye of Nature’: they are purer
and wiser than town populace and their language is less
• Ultimately, Wordsworth is to regard children – unspoiled
as yet by education, uncorrupted by the world – as the real
repositories of virtue and even wisdom: In his great ode
Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early
Childhood the Child is addressed as:
Thou, whose exterior doth belie
Thy soul’s immensity;
Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep
Thy heritage, thou eye among the blind…
The basis of faith and wisdom is in childhood, before the
business of the world has shut off the view of heaven:
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
• Mysterious events acceptable to the reader
• Introduced the magical and mysterious, supernatural
into romantic poetry – the source of disagreement
with Wordsworth, who wanted poetry to stay on the
ground; Coleridge wanted poetry to fly into the
regions of the marvelous that, though fantastic,
should be accepted through ‘willing suspension of
• The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – the mariner kills an
albatross and is forthwith tormented with the most
frightening visions and visitations, presented in the
style and meter of the old ballads.
• Kubla Khan – unfinished – goes to the fabulous
ancient Orient for its theme, contains the
quintessence of Coleridge’s magic. Composed under
the influence of opium, it is a fantastic invocation of a
‘sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice’, with sinister
images of a ‘woman wailing for her demon-lover’ and
‘ancestral voices prophesying war’.
• Christabel – influenced by Gothic genre; Christabel
finds the beautiful lady Geraldine in the woods and
brings her home; it turns out she is an evil spirit.
introduced new poetic themes and style into English
poetry; strongly influenced later poets and spawned
many imitators; influenced non-literary taste as well –
love of nature, mysteries, rural life, spontaneity and
originality; often brought to extremes – pathetic and
melodramatic. (e.g. Walter Scott)
• a handsome cynic, strongly built, fought with professional
boxers, the great lover, hedonist and atheist, had an
aristocratic title from an early age; the hero who eventually
lost his life dying for the cause of Greek independence.
• Although a romantic figure, his poetry is much more
influenced by Classicism: strict form, satyrical, critical of
English high society
• His poetry is essentially self-centered as seen in his semiautobiographical Childe Harold’s Pilgirmage – description
of the journeys of young Harold in Portugal, Italy, Greece
and Albania.
 Byron’s own life, more than his works, was interesting
to his contemporaries, as well as to later generations.
 His personality has even been typefied into a stock
character/archetype called the Byronic hero:
 The Byronic hero is an idealised but flawed character
exemplified in the life and writings of Lord Byron,
characterised by his ex-lover Lady Caroline Lamb (who
said it before becoming Byron's lover) as being "mad,
bad, and dangerous to know". The Byronic hero first
appears in Byron's semi-autobiographical epic
narrative poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
conflicting emotions, bipolar tendencies, or moodiness
a distaste for social institutions and social norms
being an exile, an outcast, or an outlaw
has "dark" attributes not normally associated with heroes
Nevertheless charismatic and sexually attractive
struggle with sexual identity (homosexual, sleeps with
many women, etc.)
a lack of respect for rank and privilege
a troubled past
being cynical, demanding, and/or arrogant
often self-destructive
loner, often rejected from society
 The stock character has been often featured in many
literary genres since, either as a genuine anti-hero or a
parody, from:
Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
Heatcliff in Wuthering Heights
Rochester in Jane Eyre
Dorian Grey in The Picture of Dorian Grey …to:
Darcy in Bridget Jones’ Diary
Mr Big in Sex and the City
Edward Cullen in The Twilight Saga
• Byron left England because of the scandal surrounding
his private life (incestuous relationship with his halfsister Augusta) in his late days he became a great
sneerer at the laws and conventions of his country, and
the spirit of satire came out strongly in his
masterpiece, satirical epic Don Juan (laughter, social
criticism, portrayal of contemporary human
character). A Spanish youth going from one love affair
into another, from one adventure into another – result:
criticism of men and women.
• Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) – revolt against
existing laws, customs, religion. Saw goodness in
nature, wanted all men to be free. Lived an
unconventional life, left England for Italy to be rid of
strict social rules. Died very young (30), a tragic death.
• Ode to the West Wind, Adonais.
 John Keats (1795-1821) – sensuous gift, flood of rich
language; might have become the greatest of them had
he not died at 26. Themes: beauty in art and nature;
the wish to die; happy and unhappy love; most of all –
pleasure of the senses: wine, love and sights and
sounds of nature. Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on
Melancholy, Ode to a Grecian Urn.
 Poetry rich in detail: La Belle Dame Sans Merci
the style and themes of Romanticism to their height;
popularized poetry; lived their lives in the Romantic
fashion as well
• Frankenstein – published anonymously in 1818. The story: a
scientist who managed to create in his laboratory a humanlike monster. Disgusted by what he created he banished the
monster, who becomes embittered and wants to destroy
everyone the scientist loves. The scientist decides to
destroy the monster and the pursuit begins. They meet in
the Alps – we hear the monster’s side of the story – he is
unhappy because of his loneliness, and that’s why he
turned evil. They even reach the North Pole, the scientist
dies, and the monster kills himself – he cannot live without
his creator and enemy.
• The theme of horror is taken from the popular gothic
novel, but she also introduced a new theme –
forerunner of science fiction.
• Mary Shelley created one of the most familiar
characters of the horror genre – the man-made
• SIGNIFICANCE: creation of a new genre – science
fiction; ethical question of using living beings for
scientific purposes; creation of a unique character
• JANE AUSTEN (1775-1817)
• The first important woman novelist. Novels: Sense and
Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma,
Northanger Abbey, Persuasion
• Though she wrote her novels in the turbulent years that
include the French revolution and Napoleonic wars
England also fought, there is no trace of it all in her works.
• She brought the novel of family life to perfection;
untouched by the ugliness of the outside world; the plot
and events are always familiar to her.
• Excellent plot and scenes, extraordinary characters
• She attempts no more than to show a small corner of
English society as it was in her day – the sedate little
world of the moderately well-to-do country families.
Her interest is in people; meticulously exact
presentation of human situations; the delineation of
characters with faults and virtues (as opposed to
types). Humour; comic portraits, e.g. Mrs. Bennet.
• Mr Darcy – pride; Elizabeth Bennet – prejudice.
• SIGNIFICANCE: renewed interest in novel; new
themes- everyday life; depiction of an era and country
life of ordinary people; focus is on characters, not on
plot; characters true-to-life, not typical.