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Consider how Romantic Poetry engages with its socio-political contexts

The Romantic era was a thriving period for change. It follows the classical era where society was celebrated and artists produced images of symmetrical architecture and humans interacting – it was very much a time of man as the social animal. The Romantic period was its polar-opposite. The Romantics focused on the natural world, and often found solitary in isolation and the engagement with the unknown. This sense of restlessness is projected in the writing of the Romantic poets. Not only was the Romantic period a time for artistic change, but also political revolutions. The French Revolution, American War of Independence and the Enclosure Acts of 1803-1816 are all socio-political events that inspired some of the most revolutionary poems of the Romantic era. The British Industrial Revolution also inspired the Romantic poets to begin giving a voice to the poor, as they were being forced from the countryside into the industrialised cities.

The Female Vagrant by Wordsworth was published amongst his collection of poems Lyrical Ballads. This poem is written in Spenserian stanzas and is a women‟s narrative. The title of the poem is significant, the fact that the female character is not named emphasises the fact that it is a common story. Romantic poets often gave a voice to the poor. This poem was inspired by two social changes at the time, firstly the Enclosures Act and secondly the American War of Independence in 1775. The poem starts with Wordsworth describing the pastoral idyll, he describes the female living happily with her father in nature, making a living from their land – “One field, a flock, and what the neighbouring flood Supplied, to him were more than mines of gold.”1 Wordsworth engages within the lives of the Vagrant and her father describing them as living in harmony with nature – “A dizzy depth below! His boat and twinkling oar:” Wordsworth continues to describe the Vagrant‟s pious life, and describes her as a good Christian who prays everyday “he made me kneel beside my bed” and he also describes her as an educated figure “I read the book and loved the books in which I read”. The first socio-political change to affect the figure in this poem is the Enclosures Act of 1803-1816. The line “All, all was seized, and weeping side by side, We sought a home where we uninjured might abide” implies that the Vagrant and her father fell victim to the Enclosure Acts, this meant that landowners were able to seize land from smallholders, this caused farm

All quotes from the poem come from Wordsworth and Coleridge, Ed. Celia de Piro; “The Female Vagrant” Taken from Oxford Student Texts Lyrical Ballads (Oxford, Oxford Community Press, Revised 2006) P.49-58 (pp.49)

Beat round. through the voice of the Vagrant Wordsworth projects his views of War – “evil time was come”. was forced out of his Northamptonshire home and driven insane by his new home in the city. “the noisy drum. a poet who influenced Wordsworth.” The exploitation of the poor is something that is a reoccurring theme throughout the poem. Wordsworth was particularly affected by this act as John Clare. The language in the poem gradually changes from positive and naturalistic to a negative aggressive palette of words – “foul” “ravage” and “miserable” are just a few examples.“Ran mountains-high before the howling blast”. Like many of the other poems in the collection it is about social punishment. Revised 2006) P. especially the poor who are exploited to fight these wars. to sweep the streets of want and pain. The 1775 American War of Independence was something that Wordsworth felt very strongly about. the recruiting system described is aimed at the poor. The poem continues to tell the story of the Vagrant. Wordsworth wrote this poem in first person narrative and it starts with a light.2 labourers to go the city and join in the Industrial Revolution and fall into the hands of greedy factory owners. The socio-politics of this poem are what drive the story of the Vagrant forwards. like John Clare the Vagrant and her father are traumatised leaving their “hereditary nook”. Another sociopolitical event to occur is the end of the Cottage Industry – “The empty loom.115-116 . cold hearth. “The Convict” Taken from Oxford Student Texts Lyrical Ballads (Oxford. Wordsworth continues to tell the story of the Vagrant and her family following her husband to War in America. he also uses personification to increase the horror of her experience . and the once thriving Cottage Industry was replaced with large industrial factories. Ed. using different poetic techniques Wordsworth now uses naturalistic language to describe horror. and silent wheel”. The next stanza has moved onto the next socio-political issue approached in the poem. The Vagrant continues to state how she has been swept up into the folds of the war. Celia de Piro. Oxford Community Press. this also illustrates the cruelness of humanity and lack of insincerity for the poor during the Romantic period. Wordsworth continues to project his views of war through the poem as the stanzas progress with the story – “The pains and plagues that on our heads come down” states that War punishes everyone. but also focuses on the comfort of nature. This first stanza contrasts with the next that states the poet does not want to leave nature to visit the prison a contrasting 2 All quotes from the poem come from Wordsworth and Coleridge. The Convict by Wordsworth is also from Lyrical Ballads. upbeat rhythm – “While the joy that precedes the calm season of rest”2. With the Industrial Revolution taking place domestic poverty was strife.

252) . The poem is clearly one of horror and the poet often asks rhetorical questions suggesting that he is appalled – “Is this the only cure? Merciful God!” Like The Convict this poem is split into two stanzas. The disgust for this society is also portrayed using powerful images such as “savage faces” and “hopelessly deformed”. This is a very revolutionary idea that much of society would have frowned upon. The second stanza is a strong contrast. Oxford Community Press.” The poem continues to describe the convict. with the first line of it responding to the opening line of the poem with “With other ministrations thou. Oxford Community Press.” The Dungeon by Coleridge is a similar poem to The Convict. there are clear connotations of death.160 5 Claire Lamont. Pat Rogers. 1998) P. Oxford Student Texts Lyrical Ballad (Oxford. and Fraternity‟ was one that the poets adopted. There is an example of this fraternity is portrayed in this poem. but the Romantics believed it strongly. the words published in his text Social Contract (1763) “Man was born free. suffering and no hope – “his eyes are intent on the fetters that link him to death. Ed. it is also about human suffering. Ed. Equality.87 4 Wordsworth and Coleridge. “Is come as brother thy sorrows to share. The Romantic period also saw an eager shift from the city back to the countryside. The opening line of the poem talks about cruelty being inflicted.3 environment – “with a deep sadness I turned. Oxford University Press. Oh nature!” Coleridge now speaks of how nature is healer and would be more beneficial to convict rather than dungeons – “Healest thy wandering and distempered child: Thou pourest on him thy soft influences”. The critic Claire Lamont states that “For the Romantics society had become an evil force moulding and stunting its citizens”5 and this idea was something clearly reflected in the poetry. Revised 2006) P. yet everywhere he is in chains”4 In both The Convict and The Dungeon this philosophy has obviously been applied. William 3 All quotes from this poem come from Wordsworth and Coleridge. the first focusing on the unnatural man-made horrors of a dungeon he uses negative language such as “corrupt” and “groaning”. The famous cry of „Liberty. “Romantics and ‘the Romantic’” taken from An Outline of English Literature (Oxford/New York. They also both suggest that Nature is the most efficient healer which is a very Romantic idea. “And this place our forefathers made for man!3” Like the Dungeon there are references to fraternity – “To each poor brother who offends against us”. Both these poems are criticising society and using philosophical ideas of the time to inspire two very similar poems. to repair to the cell where the convict is laid. Revised 2006) P. and the reoccurring themes of brotherhood appear in many of the Romantic poems. “The Dungeon” Taken from Oxford Student Texts Lyrical Ballads (Oxford. The famous French philosopher Rousseau inspired the Romantic period. Celia de Piro.” The French Revolution was a socio-political event that inspired the Romantic poets. Ed.250-299 (pp. Celia de Piro.

portray three different approaches to the socio-political changes that emerged during the Romantic Period. “London by William Blake. The three different poets. American Civil War. The last stanza moves into the night time and London does not improve in the dark. marks of woe. Penguin Group.4 Blake‟s poem London is an example of the corruption in the city. Word Count: 1850 6 All quotes for this poem taken from Ed.”6 The use of the word „marks‟ suggests that the city has tainted its inhabitants with the sorrow and misery they feel. taken from English Romantic Verse” (Great Britain. this reflects back to the quote from Rousseau that the Romantics famously used for inspiration. Industrial Revolution and the many law changes that affected the poor. In this poem Blake uses buildings and architecture to symbolise the corruption of the cities society the “Chimney-sweeper‟s cry” is used to chastise the “black‟ning Church”. linking with the other repeated word “charter‟d”. William Blake starts the poem as a journey describing his own “charter‟d” trip. who have been explored in this essay. He also describes a soldier‟s blood being smeared upon the “palace walls”. with this Blake combines the notion of love and desire with death and destruction. highlighting the horror of War and corruption in Blake‟s London. finishing his second stanza with “The mind-forg‟d manacles I hear”. he progress to set the entire tone for the poem with the line “And marks in every face I meet Marks of weakness. The French Revolution. The line ends with the famous image “Marriage hearse”. it also parallels with the idea of mapping out his journey. David Wright. The poems that I have presented suggest that the Romantics took strong influence from the socio-political events at the time. it is also a statement of Blake‟s own philosophy. The industrial revolution evoked radical change with the move of the cottage industry and the factories and mass move to the city. 1968) . Blake continues to describe the bleak situation. The journey continues to contrast the screams of a prostitute with the cries of a child – “How the youthful Harlot‟s curse Blasts the new born Infant‟s tear”.

Celia de. Penguin Group. D. 1987) Piro. Clarendon Press.5 Bibliography Enright. English Critical Texts 16th Century – 20th Century (Oxford.edited with an introduction by David Wright (Great Britain. Oxford University Press. English Romantic Verse. Ernst de. 2006) Wright. 1968) .J and Chickera. David. Oxford Student Texts Wordsworth and Coleridge Lyrical Ballads (Oxford.

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