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The Characteristics of Romantic Poetry

The Romantic Movement lasted from about 1750 to about 1870, is often
defined as second Renaissance. Romanticism cannot be identified with a single
style, technique, or attitude, but romantic writing is generally characterized by
a highly imaginative and subjective approach, emotional intensity, freedom of
thought and expression, an idealization of nature, and a dreamlike or visionary
quality.
The Romantic Movement is both a revolt and revival .This movement in
literature and the revolutionary idealism in European politics are both
generated by the same human craving for freedom from traditions and tyranny.
The Romantic Movement revives the poetic ideals of love, beauty, emotion,
imagination, romance and beauty of Nature. Keats celebrates beauty, Shelley
adores love, Wordsworth glorifies nature Byron idealizes humanism, Scott
revives the medieval lore and Coleridge amalgamates supernatural. As a result,
the Romantic Movement revolts against the ideals, principles, intellectualism,
aristocracy and technicality of Augustan period and smoothed the run of broad
emotional gallery of substance relinquishing the rigidity of form.

From sociological and political perspective it is not unfair to say that


Romanticism and French Revolution are synonymous. In fact, Rousseaus social
theory roughly embodies in the familiar phrase of the return to nature while
the battle cry of French Revolution liberty, equality and Fraternity are
influential on the youthful imagination of Romantic poets.
Rousseau establishes the cult of the individual and championed the freedom of
the human spirit. Rousseaus sentimental influence touches Blake, Wordsworth
and Coleridge; his intellectual influence Godwin, and through Godwin Shelly.
Byron and Shelley also share the champion of liberty and revolutionary
idealism. A wonderful humanitarian enthusiasm and gorgeous dream of progress
and perfection are thus kindled in ardent young souls. This is the central creed
of Romantic poetry. Here is the prophecy of a new day, forwarding immediately
into an era of realized democratic ideals
The trumpet of a prophecy! O wind,
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?
(Ode To The West Wind Shelley)

The other most important feature of Romantic poetry is emotionalism.


Here is effusion of feelings, emotions and heartfelt appreciation of beauty in
all form human or natural. It springs from the heart and makes an appeal to
the heart. It is spontaneous and natural, and no laboured exercise.
The preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800), by English poets
William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the prime importance as a
manifesto of literary romanticism, affirms the importance of feeling and
imagination to poetic creation and disclaimed conventional literary forms and
subjects. Thus imagination, emotions ,intuition rolls over to the literary output
of sensibility and passion.
Lyricism, rather than intellectual or satirical, is the basic preoccupation
of Romantic poetry. Here is the full expression of ones own personal feelings
and sentiments towards an object. As such there is an abundance of lyrics,
songs, sonnets, odes, and egotistical poems in Romantic poetry. Wordsworth,
Coleridge, Shelley, Keats and Byron are all famous lyrical poets. All these lyrics
favour subjectivity, emotionalism, impulse and free play of imagination. Such
intensity of feeling can be read in Shelleys To A Skylark:
We look before and after,
And pine for what is not;
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught
Our sweetest songs are those that tells of saddest thought.
In their choice of subject matter, the romantics showed an affinity for
nature, especially its wild and mysterious aspects, and for exotic, melancholic,
and melodramatic subjects likely to evoke awe or passion. Nature comes to the
new light in Romantic poetry. It takes the widest possible connotation. Nature,
for the Romantic poets, includes landscape, trees, plants, hills, rivers,
mountains as well as rural folks together with their cottages, sheep, goats and
rural festivals. Keats visualizes its nature; Shelley intellectualizes; Wordsworth
mystifies and Byron revolutionizes it. Wordsworth, the worshiper and high
priest of Nature, thus says
.. and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither come
Unwearied in that service; rather say
With warmer love Oh! With far deeper zeal
Of holier love ..
( Tintern Abbey- William Wordsworth )
The medieval age the magic of distance, spirit of adventure, knight
errant, duels, battles and tournaments and voyages over unchartared seas offer
a store-house of fascination for Romantic poets. Coleridge creates a make
believe world on the doctrine of willing suspension of disbelief. Keats explores

Hellenism as if a Greek born in England. This lure of exotic is everywhere in


their text.
Apart from these the pictorial quality, the subtle harmony of phrase,
extensive use of poetic imagery and simplicity of diction are the other
characteristics of Romantic poetry.
Thus both in manner and matter Romantic poetry are far different from
Augustan Age. Though the Romantic age and literature stops with the accession
of Queen Victoria to the throne of England in 1837, its spirit is still relevant in
present day literary production.
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