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In the Middle Ages ‘romance’ denoted the new vernacular languages derived from Latin, and works composed or translated in the vernacular. The term also signified a ‘popular book’. There are early suggestions that it was something new, different, divergent. It then acquired in turn connotations of fanciful, bizarre, exaggerated, chimerical, tender, gentle, sentimental, sad, melancholic. Friedrich Schlegel is generally thought to have first established the term ‘romantic’ in literary contexts, without being very clear as to what he meant by it, and romanticism was in turn defined as a sickness of the spirit and a disorganising irruption of subjectivism (Goethe) and a kind of renaissance, a rediscovery, a wholly beneficial movement, and a much-needed rejection of defunct standards and beliefs which resulted in a creative freedom of mind and spirit. Anything to do with the romantic and romanticism is to a large extent vague and formless, the general idea being that whatever is romantic depicts emotional matter in an imaginative form. Any study of the subject should begin with the recognition of the plurality of Romanticisms, of possibly quite distinct thought complexes, a number of which may appear in any one country. There is a movement which began in Germany in the seventeen-nineties – the only one which has an indisputable right to be called Romanticism, since it invented the term for its own use – and there are other movements that developed in England, France, etc., as well as numerous other things called Romanticism by various writers. The fact that the same name has been given by different scholars to all of these episodes is no evidence that they are identical in essentials. The Romantic period in Britain is usually taken to run between 1798, the year in which Coleridge and Wordsworth published the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads, and 1832, when Sir Walter Scott and Goethe died and the Reform Bill was passed. In spite of the multitude of different Romanticisms in European culture and the large number of dates suggested to mark the beginning and ending of the Romantic movement(s), it is important to note how closely the rather volatile limits of this literary ‘period’ coincide with crucial political events. The most significant of these are the outbreak of the Colonists’ rebellion in N. America, their successful defence and their achievement of independence (1775– 1783), and the equally dramatic events in France, culminating in the Fall of the Bastille (July the 14th 1789). [for the younger generation of Romantic writers the battle of Waterloo was as decisive a landmark as the Bastille had been for Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge.] The loss of the American colonies destroyed many of the old British certainties and the eruption of the French Revolution completed this trauma, to such an extent that at the end of the eighteenth century many Englishmen considered that the world had been turned upside down. It was indeed a period of profound change in the ways people lived, yet even though the American Revolutionary War represented a major blow to British economy and prestige, the same period saw the arrival of the force of industry, which conditioned for a long time British attitudes to the rest of the world and consolidated for a further century the central position which it had already achieved through colonialism and trade. The Industrial Revolution determined the development of large urban centres, a steady flow of population towards the new cities and an emptying of the countryside, and changed the whole pattern of labour and working life in Britain. It was a period of significant discoveries, including scientific developments which made the unthinkable possible (astronomical discoveries, the discovery of electricity, photography, telegraphy, the development of steam power) and technological developments which produced machines that were convenient but threatened to make many workers redundant, as well as developments in ideas. [A crucial myth of this age of improvement is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which bears a very close relation to the fears occupying the minds of British people during the early years of the nineteenth century.] The massive increase in industry resulted moreover in a growing range of relatively cheap consumer goods, including many new books and new ways of buying or borrowing them, and consequently in an enormous increase in literacy, as well as easier access to all arts. As regards the great names associated with this period, they include poets like Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth (the first generation of British Romantic poets), Byron, Shelley, Keats (the second generation), novelists like Scott, Austen and de Quincey, but also painters and visual artists, never truly prolific in Britain at other times: Blake, Constable, Turner. In Britain romanticism was considerably more diffused than on the continent and never really associated with a movement, which is hardly surprising considering how rare literary movements have been in that particular space. There was no British romantic campaign and the literary and cultural revolution was a much more gradual and informal affair than on the continent. However, many hold the theory that it was in Britain that the romantic movement really started. Quite early in the 18 th century one can identify a definite shift in sensibility and feeling, particularly in relation to the natural order and Nature. Looking back on the literature of the mid-eighteenth century, it is indeed quite easy to discern
Young. Indeed. For him. Characteristic features of the Romantics’ language were connected with their view of the poet as vates. mournful reflectiveness. often referred to as the last great religious poet in the English tradition. the poetry of the Romantics was marked by a revolt against the conventionality of the earlier poetic diction. its dull metaphors and pompous similes. social mores or popular taste. dungeons and torture chambers also contributed to the movement subsequently known as romantic. and later Byron. strong emphasis on the supernatural. Romanticism praised the virtues of innovation. especially its more untamed and disorderly manifestations d) an association of human moods with the ‘moods’ of Nature – and thus a subjective feeling for it and interpretation of it e) a considerable emphasis on natural religion f) a growing emphasis on freedom and on the need for spontaneity in thought and action and in the expression of thought g) increasing importance attached to natural genius and the power of the imagination h) a tendency to investigate states of the human sensibility. Blake did not. grieving melancholy. sentimentality. While classicism revered tradition and formal order. atmosphere of doom and gloom and its familiar topography of wild and desolate landscapes. and when he took to . One of the few features shared by most of the movements that occurred in European literature during the last quarter of the 18th century and the first two or three decades of the 19th century consisted in a rejection of the ideals and rules of classicism and neoclassicism and by an affirmation of the need for a freer. the subjugation of rhythm to metre. Throughout the age of the great (and greatly successful) Romantic writers – Wordsworth. the wilder recesses of the imagination and the difficulties faced by the lone artist than with the city. emphasised the artist’s responsibility to the maintenance of his own integrity. And Eternity in an hour. more concerned with the countryside. with its blood-chilling tales of mystery and horror. medieval castles. ruins and graveyards. characterised by a preoccupation with death and decay. and inciting. To show others the infinite in everything that they looked at was the chief aim of Blake’s poetry and art. its failure to record direct observation. looked forward into new ages. However. life was a struggle to make ends meet and although he occasionally enjoyed small success as an engraver or as a poet. Shelley and Keats – Blake tried and failed to get his work into print. and a great deal of its art deals to a point of oppression with victims and their state of mind. WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827) Over the years England has produced only a few of what may be called ‘visionary’ poets. seer and prophet. As far as changes in the language of literature are concerned. The period was also one of heroes and hero-worship. of which the most notable are William Blake. this period of unprecedented industrial and urban development and great scientific discoveries was also characterised by the existence of a rather different world. exalted the visionary impulse. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. to exalt the individual and his needs The most significant precursors of British Romanticism include the ‘Graveyard School of Poetry’ [Gray. and firmly believed in the importance of the artist’s public duty. psyche – and by the first glimpses of depths later referred to as the ‘unconscious’. as well as speaker and they believed in the poet’s function of illuminating. the literary productions of the various representatives were alternately characterised by the use of conversational and even prosaic idioms or by the profusion of less accessible archaic forms. The Gothic novel.‘pre-Romantic’ elements but the original authors would not have seen them so. However. and his great hero John Milton. his work usually failed to make an impact. revealing. whereas Milton enjoyed popular success and a literary and political career apart from his religious and metaphysical poetry. Romantic experience was characterised by a constant search for settings adequate as models of the human mind – or better. dark forests. ruined abbeys. more subjective expression of passion. explored the realms of chaos in human experience. while at the same time creating a different version of the past canon. Macpherson]. primitive and uncivilised way of life b) the cult of the Noble Savage c) a growing interest in scenery. the rigidity of the verse form. pathos and personal feelings. best summarised in the famous first lines of Auguries of Innocence: To see a World in a grain of sand. far from sharing a common language. The most significant such elements include: a) a growing interest in the natural. And a Heaven in a wild flower. as well as one of victimisation. Coleridge.
Blake claimed to see his ghost: he said that it was Robert’s spirit which suggested to him his technique of printing poems and illustrations together on single plates. Poetical Sketches. Blake was born on 28 November 1757. notably anger. and spent his youth and early adulthood sketching and copying the work of older artists. Blake and his wife established a cottage industry. The Book of Urizen (1794) and The Book of Los (1795). the world of angels. perhaps. condemned for immorality and seditious behaviour and afflicted by borderline madness and persistent visions for the majority of his adult life. The nakedness of woman is the work of God. published in 1783 as Poetic Sketches. * Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires. He was sent to a drawing school and later apprenticed to James Basire. The most revolutionary of the poets of the period. The poems in this volume indicate the direction of Blake’s thinking that is developed in prophetic books such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790). One thought fills immensity. He felt the significance of childhood experience. he accepted eagerly the glimpses he gained. he never managed to sell more than a handful of copies. unlike Milton he was unable to put himself at a literary distance from it. devils and an OldTestament-style God was always close at hand. It overturns orthodoxies of religion and morality with the startling oracular aphorisms known as the Proverbs of Hell: Prisons are built with stones of Law. in Broad Street. This was followed by a series of increasingly unprofitable ventures. He was influenced by the Ossianic poems and the revived interest in the ballad. Blake’s poetry is not a record of men and women studied and nature observed: it is a vision registered and affirmed and the idiom is that of a visionary. poverty and insensitively rigidified religion – intrudes into similar (and sometimes parallel) lyrical forms.engraving and publishing it himself. Blake set up a short-lived print-selling business. Blake appealed to a spirit of more generous vision which he believed to be latent in all human beings. After this spectral intervention. Rejecting the analytic mind which weighs one affirmation carefully against another. far from reassuring its followers by means of scientific truths and rational certainties must ultimately deliver them into a universe of despair and meaninglessness. under the stewardship of Joshua Reynolds. Coming at the beginning of a new period. For him. but left to sleep along with the imaginative powers which eighteenth-century art discouraged. Never one to conform. ill-equipped to make a success of himself in his own lifetime. In 1779 he was admitted to the Royal Society. and certainly the most successful during his lifetime. as the tool and weapon of a healthy mind. to no great acclaim. Blake was revolutionary over such a wide field – social. Locke and Newton. Brothels with bricks of Religion. and colouring the copies by hand. He was a difficult child. From an early stage Blake differed from his contemporaries. believing that the world of Bacon. sometimes in the form of hallucination. a master engraver. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was published by Blake’s own method of engraving the text and illustrations. The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction. He was a literary outsider. the boy clearly had a talent for both literature and art. In 1783. However. he lamented the lack of inspired poetry among many of his contemporaries and predecessors. of unconscious process. On the death of his father. London. One of the first of these was Songs of Innocence (1789): perhaps his best-known work nowadays. In his earliest poems. he valued strong emotion. artistic and philosophical – that he scarcely gained a public at all during his lifetime. but he was devoting more and more time to his poetical writings. meanwhile he began to write the poetry for which he is now famous. and soon became prone to religious visions that would so influence him in later life. Blake was soon able to make some kind of living as an engraver for novels and catalogues. and therefore. What is now proved was once only imagin’d. his first volume. but his innovations in the use of rhythms and symbolism separate him sharply from the central eighteenth-century literary tradition. simplicity and deep compassion are counterbalanced by the Songs of Experience. and only very precariously in the social context at all. he turned away from his contemporary culture’s dependence on the classical past to his own version of history and pre-history in order to draw on the dynamic resources of what seemed early and primitive. the son of a hosier. producing illuminated books and manuscripts. including Songs of Experience (1793) the contrary sequel to Songs of Innocence: Wonder and delight. Blake was to a great extent isolated. After his brother Robert died in 1787. The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God. the year after he married Catherine Boucher. and revealed characteristics of the period that was coming in other ways besides that of testing the conventional values. was published. Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793). misunderstood and derided by the artistic establishment of his time (if indeed he was noticed at all). appealing rather to earlier figures such as Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare. where a note of evil – especially the evil of selfishness. * .
but soon tired of that. Yet.’ He was put on trial for sedition. He was not a Romantic. [Although he was able to scrape a living by producing watercolours and occasional engraving for novels. if anything. but critical opinion is divided as to whether his work surpasses that of almost all English writers except the few greatest. readers came to appreciate the disarming originality and complexity of Blake’s not inconsiderable body of work. For a while he worked in Sussex under patronage. is perceptively diagnostic of the human condition. They seem. Very few other people have suffered the same illregard and obscurity during their own lifetimes. times were hard. The fascination the occult systems have for fervent disciples is undeniable. His rapturous sense of life’s wonder and delight is offset by harsh criticism of social institutions and human selfishness for their corruption of the spirit and for the cruelty of poverty. apparently ‘singing of the things he saw in Heaven’. In the end his convictions were not far removed from what many other people capable of living seriously have believed before and since Blake’s time. Although many of his simpler poems. The fabrication of this symbolic scheme reaches labyrinthine proportions as Blake works through to the last great poems in this vein. digging deeper. this realization drove him further into unexplored realms. uttering the words: ‘damn the king. he was not a Nature poet and the city of London always constituted his one favourite setting. Blake’s posthumous success is indeed remarkable. seem to idealise the natural world in a way reminiscent of Wordsworth or Keats. In 1803. He died in 1827. and yet managed subsequently to enter the canon of English literature. Blake’s oppositions between the native goodness of man and the corruption of society. and. like many visionaries. ahead of his time. to be little more than a collection of cradle-songs. especially his protest against the separation of the spiritual from the physical. with an emphasis on traditional notions of good and bad. Therefore. or whether his genius suffered. from the lack of ‘a framework of accepted and traditional ideas which would have prevented him from indulging in a philosophy of his own. . though he phrased them in forms that were then a violent challenge to conventional habits of thought. Even the seemingly simple Songs of Innocence and Experience contain a huge variety of different moods and levels of meaning. he did not care for the neo-Hellenism and Classicism of his period. but also to forces representative of current thinking and contemporary civilization. Blake allegedly drove a young soldier out of his garden.’ Blake began to realize that popular success (both artistic and literary) was eluding him. Milton (1804) and Jerusalem (1804). Blake emerges as one of the most wide-ranging and challenging of English poets.S. The Songs are shot through with grim social commentary and with disturbing sexual undertones. Blake’s resurrection is due to a large extent to his modernity. intensify familiar eighteenth-century drifts towards the cultivation of sensibility and feeling. and perhaps beginning to realize his work would live on after his death. Eliot’s words. and they are carefully written in a prophetic style which gives them a persuasive ring of Biblical authority. Blake is the great exemplar of the individual testing of standards in all directions. the energetic from the rational.] In his final years. His work became more and more obscure.Blake’s mystical insight coexists with a passion for freedom and a conviction of the sacredness of instinct. Readers of Blake are moreover likely to notice signs of manic extravagance and something very like paranoia from time to time. and who named him ‘The Interpreter’. Blake’s religion of the imagination cherishes a human wholeness comprehensive enough to embrace forces that reason and tradition have regarded as irreconcilable. The difficulty of Blake resides in his invention of a new symbolism by which he gave personification and voice not only to abstract concepts like energy and prophecy. and more strongly influenced by his idiosyncratic religious beliefs. but acquitted. unlike that commonly associated with mental patients. Blake began to be appreciated by a younger generation of artists and writers. The greater part of his writings bears witness to his individual testing of the wisdom. between the full range of imaginative and emotional expressiveness and the inhibiting effects of the rational and the institutional. to his being. on first inspection. in T. and to natural agencies like the spirit of water or of the earth. revealing the value and dangers of a consistent refusal to accept the ready-made. The combination in Blake himself of an extraordinary innocence and a fierce creative energy is closely related to that strain in his philosophy which determined him to link the beauty and purity of the heavenly with the dynamic power that is too readily associated with Hell. and returned to London. But Blake’s sense of man’s nature as being dismembered by conventional religious and social codes. such as the Songs of Innocence. who set great store by his visions. also has a remarkable degree of control. as the Romantic ideal slipped out of vogue. written in child-like language. morality and theology of his time. it becomes apparent that innocence and experience have a great deal in common. and that Blake is questioning many of our deeply-held assumptions about morality and behaviour. yet his work. where his mental condition worsened. With two hundred years’ worth of perspective. the soldiers are all slaves.
nevertheless.’ * preoccupation with unusual states of mind * poems recording and celebrating the lives of individuals (‘The Idiot Boy’. Wordsworth & S. and hope to bring out their special significance. Coleridge Coleridge was to recall in his work of philosophical and literary criticism. Wordsworth began by writing poetry in modes more readily recognizable by contemporary readers. humble people were presented with a dignity and tragic quality that made them emblematic for the rest of mankind * poems in ballad form [ballad . startlingly simple vocabulary] e. the countryside seen as the repository of eternal verities.T.the artist who remains in the city is not merely foolish but immoral. in spite of his unpretentious and accessible style. There is a closer relationship between the two poets than might at first appear. Biographia Literaria (1817). [the dignifying and validation of childhood and its experiences was an important part of the Romantic programme] . Wordsworth. dealing with familiar themes of sublimity and pathos. many following the pattern of contemporary verses as found in the magazines and journals of the time.influences: the impact of his sister Dorothy’s direct human feelings & Coleridge’s ideas → a series of distinctive poems. etc.Wordsworth believed that they must necessarily fade and that the art of being properly human consisted in learning how to live with that fact. Culture vs. but marked in each case by some further quality.Blake continued to affirm their importance. Southey. Wordsworth’s characteristic method was to describe simple incidents. . who notoriously strove to avoid the artificial poetic diction of his predecessors and to address his readers in ‘the very language of men’ is. the workings of nature are seen to play an important part in young years.WILLIAM WORDSWORTH At first sight Wordsworth’s achievement might appear diametrically opposed to that of Blake. * painting – the landscape becomes mainstream * poetry: The Lake School of Poetry: Wordsworth.) – reverence to even the humblest human existence in a deliberately simple style which often scandalised contemporary critics. for both had in their childhood enjoyed exceptional visionary powers. how the two poets decided to collaborate. ‘We Are Seven’ – recording a child’s inability to see her dead siblings as anything but part of the living family Paradoxically. who was not concerned with making his meanings explicit. the one to deal convincingly with incidents and agents ‘in part at least supernatural’. in providing a full human education. . nature: Blake’s London (the tumult of life and of change reminding the artist of social disorder) & the industrial towns of the North (practical businessmen and factory smoke) vs. the countryside – solid ground on which to stand. or even commonplace sentiments.connotations of folk song and populism. asserted that ‘all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’ and made the claim that ‘poetry is the breath and spirit of all knowledge… the first and last of all knowledge… immortal as the heart of man. Coleridge. Published in 1798 as Lyrical Ballads they were presented as having been written chiefly ‘to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure’ [LYRICAL BALLADS – joint production: W. Gradual transition from poems and plays with solitary figures at their centre to a way of writing which did not simply return him to isolation and despair. he is cutting himself off from all that is best in humanity. the other with subjects ‘chosen from ordinary life’] 1800 the famous PREFACE to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads in which Wordsworth attacked much current poetic diction. truths of the imagination which will survive in unchanged form.g. preferring often to speak in riddles and so produce writings whose obscurity defied contemporary canons of clarity. It is real mysticism which gives his nature poetry such profound power. His view of nature as having palpable moral significance sets Wordsworth apart not only from other poets who are though of as belonging to the Romantic movement but from earlier poets who praised the beauties of the natural world. . maintaining to the end that all human beings possessed them but they were lost by not being cultivated. each set against an appropriate landscape. insisted for the use in poetry of ‘a selection of the language really spoken by men’. surprisingly difficult for modern readers to get into: . Wordsworth – response to ‘the beautiful and permanent forms of nature’ + the dimension of the mythic.
in the second part such speculations are rejected as impious. .together with Robert Southey he planned to set up a small egalitarian society to be called ‘Pantisocracy’ . which imposed its stately rhythms on his experience.some state of excitement. was to provide much of the impetus for subsequent poems: ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ – mysticism + the sense of an almost platonic world of more perfect reality. . back to a time when mind and nature were so united that he could not be sure whether external objects has a separate existence at all. focusing his unhappiness at Cambridge. leading to addiction.the pleasures of boyhood and the young man’s passionately ambivalent relationship to nature are seen as both contributing to his psychic good & moral resources.he was much drawn to the new ideas of reform and renovation and influence not only by the writings of Voltaire.” .in spite of this simplicity. theological. his walking tour in the Alps. from the emotional days of youth to a more reflective pleasure in nature (the maturing of his feelings) + perceptions of the moral and philosophical lessons to be learned when “We see into the life of things. can leave the human open to unusually profound sensations. five years after his first visit.because he is so understandable. . moral. assured handling of verse forms (Pindaric ode. At other times he combined such activities with researches and writings in many fields – political. . The ‘Lucy’ poems – so apparently simple. where in the long first part nature at her most peaceful and harmonious is pictured as replicating the work of the creator. the time spent in France (the impact of the republican ideas of the French revolution & vague record of the love affair with Annette Vallon) . the very contradictions which were inherent in the new phase of civilisation were fully operative in his own psyche. where nature seemed to reveal the unity that lay at her centre and impress it permanently on one’s own being. As far as his poetry is concerned it informed some of his most delicate descriptions and vivid images.attempt to come to terms with the loss of the splendours of the world as seen through the eyes of childhood wonder.the existence in nature of spirits to which as a boy he had been particularly responsive . so that the work he left was often fractured or fragmentary. This set of beliefs.efforts to reconcile himself both with the workings of the imagination and with the moral and political requirements of society. offering a sense of the universality and indestructibility of life [there were disastrous reminders that even if life on a grand scale is immortal individual lives are not] SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE Although Coleridge wrote poetry throughout his life. the great and simple affections of humankind are celebrated together with the impact of the natural world. he was a sophisticated writer – accomplished prosody. scientific. The contrast between the current state of mind. mock heroic.g. explored at its height with Coleridge. What he termed his inquiring spirit was active in all these concerns. The Prelude (1805) – long autobiographical poem. one who ‘feels the riddle of the world and may help to unravel it’. . and the remembered passions of the past. reflections on the difference between his feelings during each visit. creating myriads of animated beings. without pausing to reflect on the significance of certain terms (e. Above all he thought of himself as a metaphysician. The Aeolian Harp – his first major poem.one of the most controversial aspects of his life – his prescribed use of opium. it was only for a few years that he could be regarded primarily as a poet. sonnet) ‘Lines written above Tintern Abbey’ – long meditative poem in blank verse recording his return to the already renowned beauty spot on the Wye.. and played a part in his emergence as a major literary critic of his time. “Resolution and Independence” – gives a new valuation to those who display simple endurance. could be exciting to poets who felt oppressed by the limitations of a mechanised universe. Rousseau and their followers. keeping him aware of the value of the old even as he found himself attracted to the new.his unusually wide-ranging consciousness was matched by an equally active conscience. particularly if suddenly arrested. yet containing some of his most enigmatic statements) . but also by the rediscovery of ancient vitalist ideas such as those of the neoplatonist philosophers . readers tend to dismiss him quickly. critical.
which continue to wreck vengeance upon him until he glimpses the depth and significance of what he has done. Wordsworth’s sister-in-law. it seems. but a lifetime’s penance periodically compels him by a renewal of his agony to retell his tale.on the intellectual plane he wished to reconcile the aesthetic with the moral. . poems which both carry some reference to the demonic forces that seem to be particularly involved in evil behaviour. Then the ice split and they steered through it.much of the poem’s power comes however from complex movements between opposites such as terror and peace . acting partly for Christabel’s good. where the problem of allowing innocence to survive and flourish in a world where nature’s energies act ambiguously and amorally is personified in the encounter between the innocent Christabel and the enigmatic Geraldine. a play of mind which liberated his poetic powers to perform at their finest The archaic and haunting mystery of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ are matched in Christabel (1816). and a terrible price was paid. [The old mariner detains a wedding guest at the very doors of the bridegroom’s home with a compulsive tale of how his ship was tossed towards the South Pole and locked in a desolation of ice until an Albatross came through the fog and ate at the sailors’ hands.tantalizing brevity and incompleteness Kubla Khan raised questions concerning the status of the visionary imagination that did not cease to agitate Coleridge’s mind. Similar forces play part in Christabel. [Wordsworth and Coleridge had been intent on exploring the idea that exposure to nature might be one of the most beneficient moral resources available to man. notable for the use of psychological comments on the actions of the characters and on the role of the audience. Becalmed on the Equator. after which they demand further penance. by his thoughtless act in shooting an albatross.a new way of writing poetry. on which his high poetic status very largely and justly depends. But Geraldine is an evil being in disguise and at night she takes Christabel in her arms to lay a spell on her. by suggesting that what was most deeply true of our emotional response to literature was a key to our appreciation of the moral universe. The plot is scarcely developed in the only two sections that Coleridge completed: the Lady Christabel finds in the forest one who claims to be a forlorn maiden and takes her home to the castle to help her. one after another of the crew died of thirst. .the divine supremacy of the imagination (he distinguishes between imagination and fancy.Coleridge’s feeling for the subtler energies of life was intensified by his friendship with William and Dorothy Wordsworth.at times the sense of a central harmony at the centre of creation is magically evoked . exotic flood of sensuous image and symbol . with Geraldine as an ambiguous demonic figure. How far drugs contributed to the calling up of a dreamlike and nightmarish atmosphere is a question brought sharply into focus by the remarkable opium-product. and between different levels within imaginative activity) . Back home after his ghastly adventure. . at the same time this brought them necessarily face to face with the intractable problem of evil.] Dejection: An Ode – an abridged version of his verse letter to Sara Hutchinson. Biographia Literaria (1817) – Coleridge endeavoured to set forth at length his principles as a critic and to provide some justification for his career so far. suggestive images. As far as Colerdige is concerned. partly exercising a subtly malign influence. combining hopeless love and fears about the continuance of his creativity.the poem contains lines with widely differing numbers of syllables and is characterised by the presence of repetitive rhetorical devices and bold. Kubla Khan is. the third ‘supernatural’ poem of that time. the results of the discussions appear most vividly in The Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan.] . the mariner is shriven. unleashes equally ambiguous daemonic forces. Kubla Khan. that give it a strange incantatory eeriness. ‘The Nightingale’ and ‘Frost at Midnight’ – “conversation poems” Coleridge’s contribution to Lyrical Ballads included The Ryme of the Ancyent Marinere. each one cursing the mariner.rich. but the mariner shot the bird that had brought them luck. His power for sensitive description is particularly evident in meditative poems such as ‘This Lime-tree Bower my Prison’. a man of commanding genius who does not understand the full destructive power of his own creative daemon. The best solution to the suspected decline of his poetic powers entailed resorting to his analytic powers and indeed Coleridge later became remarkable among his contemporaries not only for his poetry but for his literary criticism. in harmony with the gothic background. who hides a nameless horror under a beautiful appearance. the Ancient Mariner. his reputation in the field was first established by his Shakespearean lectures. a fragment which Coleridge claimed to have composed in a ‘dream’ or a ‘reverie’ and to have been pouring spontaneously onto paper when he was interrupted by a ‘person from Porlock’. .
Spenser 1807 Hours of Idleness .]. of challenging the hypocrisies of contemporary society. suppressing popular dissent and framing laws which left writers in fear of prosecution for treason (e. when his sense of the ‘one Life’ had not only stimulated the writing of his finest poems but had caused him to look at the stirrings of life in nature and human consciousness in a new way. Shelley was evidently encouraged by the link between natural description and metaphysical psychology to develop a similar mode in his Odes. who was particularly impressed by Kubla Khan. the idea that he was someone who dared to challenge authority . suspicions of incest with his half-sister. asserting the visionary importance of the poet. its presuppositions about respectability. Keats for example seems to have found in poems such as The Aeolian Harp and The Nightingale inspiration for his poetry of warm sensuousness. but rather as a living legend. developed Oriental tales of his own. fantasy. Lord Byron existed in an even more provocative relationship with his audience. the radical writer and activist Tom Paine and his works were outlawed). testing to the limits his power of appealing to his readers’ sentiments or sense of humour. LORD BYRON (1788-1824) During the last decade of the eighteenth century the French Revolution entered the phase of the Terror and the English government did its best to stamp out radicalism. the ruling personality of his age. along with this escape from direct social engagement went a sense of guilt.sexual freedoms in his poetry combined with a scandalous personal life: Contrasting points of view: ‘mad. ‘his eyes are really Portals of the Sun. pointing the way forward to those who found themselves in religious doubt & an elderly poet writing about his condition in old age.T. and both Byron and Shelley wrote savagely satiric critiques of him [The Vision of Judgement and Peter Bell the Third] While all the poets of the second generation found themselves moving against the fashionable currents of the age in working out their individual poetic visions. extravagant expenses. in spite of his outrageous behaviour. Byron. the first-generation Romantics. numerous affairs with members of both sexes. bad and dangerous to know’ (Lady Caroline Lamb) vs. betrayal and selfaccusation. some of whom developed particular aspects of themes well beyond the point he had reached. may here find life in death! Even here the seeking for eternal life in the Christian sense carries echoes of earlier thinking.from the first he spoke to certain kinds of Englishmen and Englishwomen. That he who many a year with toil of breath Found death in life. The final stages of his life saw Coleridge in a double role: increasingly looked up to as a Christian sage. retreated into various forms of self-justifying idealism. .The fact that he was a member of the aristocracy contributed to the excitement he created – public favour vs. Many representatives of the new generation felt betrayed by the increasing conservationism of the great writers they admired. particularly those who enjoyed the pleasures of sport. it could be argued that the germ of his greatest achievements had lain in the search for that elusive connection. George Gordon. Greece) and his aristocratic manners . Major influences: Pope – conversational style. gestures of disdain [bear kept as a pet in his Cambridge quarters.the theme of ‘life in death’ which had been at its most active when he wrote The Ancient Mariner survives even into his final ‘Epitaph’ (1833). As a result. More than anything else in the poetry of the period we sense physical energy governing the writing and influencing its movement. seeking out the relationship between them. this had little to do with his undoubted poetic gifts but with the search for excitement.Byron was important not only as a poet.[In later life Coleridge became a strangely haunted figure. many of whom like Wordsworth and Coleridge had been supporters of the French Revolution. GEORGE GORDON. turning increasingly to theological questions – those who looked deep into their own consciousness while also committing themselves to the Christian faith would find doubt disappearing in a new assurance of their truth. the subjective life. particularly Wordsworth. nature. etc. . creating. They turned to mythology.] The growing popularity of Coleridge’s poetry during his lifetime was partly due to its influence upon his immediate successors. the sense of charm which was in the end not darkly Satanic but brilliantly illuminating.g. things for light to go in and out of’ (S. . where he solicits a prayer for himself. contrast between his position as a democrat and supporter of the great cause of national liberation (e.g. Coleridge) – suggestion of what fascinated Byron’s contemporaries.
and prone to dangerous experiments involving electricity and explosives [his interest in experimental science continued throughout his life and in her famous novel Mary Shelley partly based her portrait of the obsessive Victor Frankenstein on her husband] . love of nature is associated with love of man. sophistication.in England the public infatuation with Byron was short-lived and two-faced.and Manfred (1817) and to win particular approval on the continent of Europe. where he became a typical example of the Etonian radical. Spain. PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY (1792-1822) The age in which Shelley grew up was one of significant contradictions and tensions with regard to the ardent optimism of earlier Romantic writing. characterised a by high level of intelligence and perception.the Byronic hero was to appear in several of his other poems.his eccentric behaviour continued when he went to Eton College. Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre Byron won most acclaim for his satirical later verses. disrespect of rank and privilege. a distaste for social institutions and norms.as a lonely noble individualist he was a figure comparable in his own way to Napoleon (one of his heroes) Such qualities did not endear him to his own countrymen.the verve of his writing. and rapidly turned to ridicule. The Corsair (1814). travelling through the world and reflecting on what he saw. Turkey.) . magnetism and charisma. the power of seduction and sexual attraction.his cynicism was redeemed by a grasp of reality superior to anything in his contemporaries or predecessors .the traditional European travel serving as an educational rite of passage undertaken by young men of means.the birth of the BYRONIC HERO. were likely to make him more readily available internationally than other great English poets of the time (he is the one translated in most languages and best known abroad. being an exile. . education.later occurrences of the Byronic hero: the heroes of 19th century Gothic fiction.Byron perfected this persona in canto iii. 1812 “I woke up one day and found myself famous” .The Giaour (1813). irrespective of the critics’ tendency to consider him the least remarkable of the six great Romantic poets) . Greece.the fascination with energy that was increasingly being felt in the culture meant that he would not be easily forgotten. but the death and the cause for which he was fighting at the time gave the final impetus to a reputation on the continent which has lasted to the present day. although his delight in energy may have aligned him more naturally with Milton’s Satan than with the angels. social and sexual dominance.this European ‘travelogue’ marked a new development.in the years before his death during the Greek War of Independence Byron explored more serious issues – still with his own poetic identity at the centre – in poems such as Cain and The Deformed Transformed. or an outlaw. corresponding to the growing fashion for travelling [The Grand Tour . a troubled past. a scathing satire on the currently popular poets and critics (Wordsworth. . but in a manner differing sharply from Wordsworth’s.fascinated from an early age by modern science. moodiness. Lara (1814) . In the conclusion.1809 English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. particularly the British nobility and wealthy gentry] . self-destructive behaviour. . arrogance. his feeling for action made him a natural patron for the emerging cult of chivalry. who might prefer Wordsworth’s appeal to the human heart and his values of duty and affection. Albania. particularly as he participated in the various contemporary movements for freedom. the poem in which he found a persona for himself as a lonely Romantic hero. etc. . . yet his own outlook was from the very beginning progressive and revolutionary. . . an outcast. such as the Oriental tales . strong emotions. . mystery.journey to the exotic countries of the east: Portugal. Rousseau. particularly physics and chemistry. with new cantos appearing regularly) and The Vision of Judgement. Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. the climax of his Oxford career came in his first year there. cynicism. including Don Juan (begun in 1818 and continued until his death. coupled with his cynicism concerning the ultimate value of human life.the first cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimages. [confusion between the real-life poet and his fictional protagonist] . . writing openly in the first person as a solitary and haughty exile who could find satisfaction only in the contemplation of sublime European scenery or in pilgrimages to the graves of great and independent figures ranging from ancient Romans to modern thinkers such as Gibbon. ‘dark’ attributes not normally associated with a hero. self-criticism and introspection. and later at Oxford University. both written in a new verse-form allowing him to conclude his stanzas with a couplet of disdain or ridicule.
death and decay. ardent concern for social improvement. – the symbolism of the wind does not simply indicate a harmony between mind and nature but is identified with his own aspiring spirit.his aim was to investigate the subtleties of nature along with the subtleties of the human mind in search of points where they might be in harmony . a liberator. and as the spirit of poetic inspiration. totally possessed by the ideal of freedom that had for a time captivated the previous generation. a passion for reforming the world . saw the creative artist like a figure who worked most surely in the interests of humanity. 1819 ‘The Mask of Annarchy’. unfinished poem. in this respect his poetry takes its point of departure from his immediate predecessors 1820 ‘Ode to the West Wind’ [like ‘To a Skylark’. an attack on organised religion that led to his expulsion.Shelley’s west wind is the embodiment of transformation. Hi famous assertion ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind’ takes eighteenth-century reliance on law and reinterprets it in the terms of an imaginative power that works for mankind. in doing so he lighted on various natural phenomena which conveyed to him elusive correspondences between nature and his own inner feelings 1820 Prometheus Unbound – Shelley’s longest and greatest experiment in showing the subtler forces of nature to be on the side of human benevolence .in March 1811. . like Bake.’ Shelley’s death at sea shortly afterwards can be thus regarded as a highly emblematic act and a reiteration of the questions that had dominated his later career.throughout his career he wrote in favour of the radical view. 1812 An Address to the Irish People – Shelley seemed certain he could liberate the Irish from their colonial subjection to the English single-handedly. innovative in its formal variety and bravely radical in content. the autumn wind which helps prepare the ground for new birth in the spring becomes the correlative of the poet’s work. religion.a rebel in politics from the very beginning.the mysterious forces of eternity and energy appear in their more familiar forms as light and fire. Shelley. embodying the contradictory forces of history. Adonais . the poem links these to the role of the poet as a breath of inspiration like the wind. each a sonnet in the terza-rima form of Dante’s The Divine Comedy .Shelley cultivated a condition of the mind in which he believed he could penetrate Nature and discover her secrets. when he published the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism. connecting natural and social change.Shelley’s feeling for nature had nothing of Wordsworth’s tentativeness.poem in five parts. . militarism. ‘The Triumph of Life’. but at the same time new life and growth out of destruction . ‘Ozymandias’ – an attack on tyranny and power. At the same time.the myth of Prometheus afforded Shelley the opportunity for his most complex treatment pf the interrelationships between the various forms of justice and oppression . law.double vision of the west wind: it heralds winter. In his Defence of Poetry (1821) he tried t vindicate the forces of love and imagination at a more direct level by showing how they acted in the mind of the true poet. this is only apparently a ‘nature’ poem] . The state of the mind however is the ultimate key: the price of physical resistance to tyranny is likely to be further tyranny of one kind or another. something he frequently returns to in later works (related political issues include attacks on aristocracy.alternated between a desire to influence current events and a more wary conviction that such an impact.his vision of the poet as a disregarded prophet who was in touch with the deepest profundities of human nature was constantly questioned by others and ultimately by himself – some of this uncertainty can be traced in his last.restoring to people a sense of their harmony with nature might encourage them to act from more benevolent motives. a prophet heralding a new dawn – the west wind is thus simultaneously seen as the spirit of revolutionary turmoil. needing to be complemented by illumination . poverty. the same point is made in his elegy on the death of Keats. with a fairy machinery thinly masking the attacks on monarchy. . throughout this drama the freedom of the human spirit is aligned with the freedom of nature. labour and money) . war and tyranny. which breaks of not in affirmation (as the title would suggest) but in a question: ‘Then what is life? I cried. to be effective. would come about only through a change in his contemporaries’ view of their own nature . making himself unpopular with the governing classes but protected by his own wealth from disaster 1813 Queen Mab – regarded as an astonishing debut for a twenty-year-old poet.
and all ye need to know] are regarded as constituting one of the most puzzling messages for future critics – a statement not about the nature of the universe at large but about the ideal to which human experience should aspire .born into a family with mixed social connections. the real life was more ambiguous and complex than the legend. far from assuming that the only possible response to the violent events in France was to return to older principles. 1817 his first volume of poetry – both favourable reviews and attacks on his ‘Cockney style’ . His poverty. it was one of his misgivings that this outgoing nature seemed at times to deprive him of his identity as a person .’ . Although wounded by the various attacks (including Byron’s) Keats continued to write with growing assurance. young Apollo]. However. ‘The Eve of Saint Agnes’.fascination with the relationship between stillness and movement. from their being in close relationship with Beauty & Truth…’. the experience in which the union of beauty and truth might be finally experienced . which now cried out to be fulfilled in other. activity and passivity. and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d. truth beauty’ – that is all / You know on earth. non-violent ways. capable of making all disagreeables evaporate. for the shepherd Endymion and his wandering search for her] 1820 – often called his ‘great year’ which. ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ and the GREAT ODES – ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. ‘I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination – What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth’ – the concepts of Beauty and Truth were for a time at the centre of his thought. his death in Rome and the widespread belief that it was hastened by virulent critical attacks on Endymion are known vaguely by numerous readers.his final reflections on human identity and the pressures laid on human beings by their circumstances led him to formulate his own version of identity by questioning the relationship between the human soul and the world in which it was forced to live. . received a good education. In 1820 he looked back over his brief career and remarked that: ‘I have left no immortal work behind me… but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things.’ . and modify the reader’s response. which by its rhythmic control of the bloodstream performs a function similar to that of the tides on a cosmic scale. as well as by the first intimations of the disease which was to kill him. including the first version of Hyperion [the dethronement of the old sun god by his successor. his difficult love for Fanny Brawne. supporting his belief that ‘Poetry should surprise by a fine excess’.his most notable early works include ‘Sleep and Poetry’ and ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’ 1818 Endymion [the love of Cynthia. they saw that calamity as a false departure from noble ideals.feeling for the intensity of experience: ‘the excellence of every Art is its intensity. and prophesised accurately in a letter to his brother George: ‘I think I shall be among the English poets after my death. ‘Ode on Melancholy’ and ‘To Autumn’. as is often the case. entitled to look for a new kind of art to meet the demands of a changing age. Keats exemplified the new kind of writer. .the concluding lines of ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ [‘Beauty is truth. was apprenticed to an apothecary-surgeon and gave up medicine to devote himself to writing.language characterised by great sensuousness. although plagued by money worries and his painful love.JOHN KEATS (1795-1821) The romantic mythology surrounding Keats’s short life and pitiful death tends to invest his work with an aura of sanctity. Keats’s object was not simply to dwell on the pleasure of the senses but to trace and try to capture in that pleasure what was ‘essential’ .belief in the importance of the human heart. saw the composition of what is generally regarded as his finest work. ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’. with death itself.the opening lines of Endymion: ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever…’ . with extremes. this sense of the heart as a centre gave him in turn both resting-place and a point of reference .ability to ‘intensify’ his consciousness to an extreme and to ‘extensify’ it by entering into the being of others. the moon goddess.