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English 5B Characteristics of British Romantic Poetry

What does Romantic mean?

The word romantic first became current in 18thcentury English and originally meant romancelike, that is, resembling the strange, fanciful, mythical character of medieval romances. The word came to be associated with interest in the Middle Ages, the emerging taste for wild scenery, ruins and other sublime locations, a tendency reflected in the increasing emphasis in aesthetic theory on the sublime as opposed to the beautiful.


In Europe, Romanticism flourished in England, Germany, and France It elevated the individual, the passions, and the inner life, embracing a more dramatic, personal, and emotional style--even to the point of melancholic emotion Romanticism followed a period we call the Enlightenment. During the 18th century, in a reaction against Enlightenment ideas, feeling began to be considered more important than reason, both in literature and in ethics

What was the Enlightenment?

A broad intellectual movement in eighteenthcentury Europe, particularly Britain, France and Germany, characterized by a rejection of superstition and mystery and an optimism concerning the power of human reasoning and scientific endeavor. It is also referred to as The Age of Reason. It was both within and against Enlightenment thought that Romanticism can be said to have been conceived.

What is Neoclassicism?
An 18th-century artistic movement, associated with the Enlightenment, drawing on classical models and emphasizing reason, harmony, and restraint. Literally, new classicism, it marked a renewed interest in the literary and artistic theories of ancient Greece and Rome and an attempt to reformulate them for contemporary society.

British Romanticism

The Romantic period in British Literature (roughly 1780-1832) stands between and connects the Enlightenments promotion of commerce, reason, and liberty and the Victorian experience of industrialization and empire. Romanticism in both artistic production and cultural reception elevated aesthetic practice to an almost divine activity, a realm wherein the individual might forge his or her very self as an ethical, political, and creative being.

German Precursors
Sturm und Drang, conventionally translated as "Storm and Stress, was a proto-Romantic movement in German literature and music It took place from the late 1760s through the early 1780s

Sturm und Drang

Individual subjectivity, and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in reaction to the perceived constraints of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements

German Romanticism

German Romanticism was the dominant movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the philosophy, art, and culture of German-speaking countries It developed relatively late compared to its English counterpart, coinciding in its early years with the movement known as German Classicism or Weimar Classicism, which it opposed

German Romanticism

The early German romantics tried to create a new synthesis of art, philosophy, and science, looking to the Middle Ages as a simpler, more integrated period. Later German Romanticism emphasized the tension between the everyday world and the seemingly irrational and supernatural projections of creative genius.

German Romanticism: Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) said that classical meant health, and romantic meant illness Goethe was one of the key figures of German literature and the movement of Weimar Classicism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; this movement coincides with the Enlightenment and Romanticism

German Romanticism: Goethe

The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) is a novel that was the first popular success of Goethe. It was very important in establishing the image of the introspective, self-pitying, melancholic Romantic hero It is about a sensitive and intelligent young man who is tormented by his own intellectual speculations and love for a girl who is engaged to someone else

German Romanticism: Goethe

Ultimately, Werther shoots himself The novel was credited with causing a wave of suicides among young romantics throughout Europe

German Romantic Composers

Carl Maria von Weber Franz Schubert Robert Schumann Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Franz Liszt Johannes Brahms Richard Wagner Ludwig van Beethoven

French Romanticism

French literature from the first half of the 19th century was dominated by Romanticism English and German influences were important in defining the interests of the French Romantics They include Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Goethe, and Friedrich Schiller

English and German influences on French Romanticism encouraged interests in. . .

The historical novel The Medieval Romance Traditional myths Nationalism The "roman noir" (Gothic novel)

English and German influences on French Romanticism encouraged interests in. . .

Lyricism Sentimentalism Descriptions of the natural world The common man Exoticism and orientalism The myth of the romantic hero

Impact and Authors (France)

The effect of the romantic movement would continue to be felt in the latter half of the century in wildly diverse literary developments, such as realism, symbolism, and the so-called fin de sicle decadent movement Authors of prose, poetry, and drama include Victor Hugo; Alexandre Dumas, pre; FranoisRen de Chateaubriand; Alphonse de Lamartine; Grard de Nerval; Charles Nodier; Alfred de Musset; Thophile Gautier; and Alfred de Vigny

A key concept in Romanticism is the sublime

While the beautiful is calm and harmonious, the sublime is majestic, wild, and sometimes savage. Viewers are moved and often made happy by the beautiful, but they are overwhelmed, awe-struck, and sometimes terrified by the sublime.

What is the sublime?

Often associated with huge, overpowering natural phenomena like mountains, waterfalls, turbulent seas, and thunderstorms, the delightful terror inspired by sublime visions was supposed both to remind viewers of their own insignificance in the face of nature and divinity and to inspire them with a sense of transcendence.

How did the sublime relate to the beautiful?

Mere beauty was thought by the Romantics to be inferior to the concept of the sublime. The British writer and statesman Edmund Burke, who was interested in categorizing aesthetic responses, identified beauty with delicacy and harmony, and he identified the sublime with vastness, obscurity, and a capacity to inspire terror.

The Falls of the Rhine at Schaffhausen

Philippe Jacques De Loutherbourg

Caspar David Friedrich Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

What shaped Romanticism?

At the turn of the century, fired by ideas of personal and political liberty and of the energy and sublimity of the natural world, artists, writers, and intellectuals sought to break the bonds of 18th-century convention. Although the philosophers Jean Jacques Rousseau (France) and William Godwin (England) had great influence, the French Revolution and its aftermath had the strongest impact.

What shaped Romanticism?

In England, initial support for the French Revolution was primarily utopian and idealistic When the French failed to live up to expectations, most English intellectuals renounced the Revolution However, the Romantic vision had taken forms other than the political, and these continued to develop

Romanticism emphasized. . .

Individualism Creativity Revolutionary political ideas The use of the imagination over reason Reverence for nature Mystery Transcendence Synthesis Universality

The beginnings of Romantic Poetry

In Lyrical Ballads (1798 and 1800), William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge presented and illustrated a liberating aesthetic: poetry should express, in genuine language, experience as filtered through personal emotion and imagination; the truest experience was to be found in nature. The concept of the sublime strengthened this turn to nature; in wild country sides, the power of the sublime could be felt most immediately.

The beginnings of Romantic Poetry

In search of sublime moments, romantic poets wrote about the marvelous and supernatural, the exotic, and the medieval. But they also found beauty in the lives of simple rural people and aspects of the everyday world. Another important subject of the Romantics was memory. Wordsworths romanticism and originality is most evident in his lengthy autobiographical poem, The Prelude (180550).

British Romantic poets tend to. . .

Show exuberance and optimism--at times revolutionary optimism--about the prospects for changing the individual and society Explore divisions within the human psyche (between self and others and self and nature) Strive after the infinite, not after limited perfection

British Romantic poets tend to. . .

Emphasize individual expression, not imitation and obedience to formal rules, in art Emphasize the concrete, the sensuous, and the particular in poetry Treat poetry as an organic, living entity or whole Valorize engagement with or return to nature as the regenerator of imagination and guide for all that is best in humankind

British Romantic poets tend to. . .

See the poet as the rock of defense for human nature (Wordsworth); the poet has the power reunite a fragmented self and society Stress creative imagination as the source of art; the mind at least partially creates what we call the world Cultivate theories of poetic genius Revere and explore the subjective nature of memory

British Romantic poets tend to. . .

Emphasize the emotional, or passionate, element in human beings Reject the neoclassical emphasis on decorum, restraint, imitation of general nature, and previous poets Are obsessed with originality and authority: they must create a system, or be enslav'd by another mans (Blake)

British Romantic poets tend to. . .

Treat poetry as an organic, living entity or whole May replace the neatly rounded poem with a fragment; to complete a poem is to kill it, to destroy its growth as an organic, living entity (Nature is profoundly an engine of process; it never finishes anything)

British Romantic poets tend to. . .

Defy the moral codes of ordinary society Believe that poetry does not so much delight and teach (neoclassical requirements) as help the reader undergo a poetic/spiritual experience Attempt to forge a secular scripture, to overcome fallen or alienated language Favor the lyric over other types of poem (when a Romantic poet writes an ode, he or she refers to a state of mind, not so much to the poetic genre)

Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Shelley (from A Defnce of Poetry)

Who were the British Romantic poets?

There were many men and women we can categorize as British Romantic poets Today, we tend to focus on a canon of six British Romantic Poets These six were not all particularly popular in their own time, however Other men and women whose names are largely forgotten were much more popular

The canon of British Romantic poets:

William Blake (1757-1827) William Wordsworth (1770-1850) Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) John Keats (1795-1821)

William Blake (1757-1827)

A printmaker and painter as well as a poet Relatively unknown during his own time Considered a madman by some A mystic and a visionary A believer in racial and sexual equality A critic of conventional religion

Blake's "A Negro Hung Alive by the Ribs to a Gallows"

Blakes illustration for his poem The Grave

Blakes illustration for his poem London

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

With Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their 1798 joint publication, Lyrical Ballads Revolutionary as a young man Was England's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Wordsworths Preface to the Lyrical Ballads is considered a central work of Romantic literary theory. In it, he discusses what he sees as the elements of a new type of poetry, one based on the "real language of men" and which avoids the poetic diction of much eighteenth-century poetry. Wordsworth also gives his famous definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility."

What is a Poet? . . .
He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true,

endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them.

. . . poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. . . .

. . .In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment. (from the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Poet, critic, philosopher With William Wordsworth, one of the founders of the Romantic Movement in England and one of the Lake Poets Best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as his major prose work, Biographia Literaria Attacked for political radicalism

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (17721834)

Coleridge was influenced by the philosopher William Godwin Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Godwins daughter, recalled hiding behind the sofa as a child to hear Coleridge recite The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Mary Godwin eventually became Mary Shelley, wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley She mentions The Rime of the Ancient Mariner twice in her novel Frankenstein Some of the descriptions in the novel echo the poem indirectly

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Lady Caroline Lamb called him mad, bad, and dangerous to know Of the six poets, he was the only best seller during his lifetime, mainly because he was a celebrity He was famous for his sexual attractiveness, charisma, extravagant living, numerous and scandalous love affairs, debts, separation from his wife, and allegations of incest and what was then called sodomy He was a national hero to the Greeks because he fought in their War of Independence

George Gordon, the sixth Lord Byron

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Byron falls into the period of Romantic poetry, but much of his work looks back to the satiric tradition of Pope and Dryden. In Canto III of Don Juan, he expresses his detestation for poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, who disappointed the younger generation of Romantic poets.

Byron was known for his creation of the Byronic Hero, whose attributes include

Great talent Great passion Sexual attractiveness Contempt for society and social institutions Contempt for rank and privilege Being thwarted in love by social constraint or death

Rebellion Exile An unsavory and hidden past Arrogance Overconfidence Lack of foresight Self-destruction

In short, a man much like Lord Byron himself.

Byron trivia:
His mother and his daughter were both mathematicians His daughter, Ada Lovelace, collaborated with Charles Babbage on the analytical engine, a predecessor of modern computers Though famous for his good looks and sex appeal, he had a club foot

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

An idealist and advocate for social justice A strong skeptic A notorious and denigrated figure in his life (he was a political radical, and he abandoned his pregnant wife and his child) The idol of the next two or three generations of poets Famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron His writing significantly influenced the American Revolution

John Keats (1795-1821)

His work was critical attacked in the periodicals of the day His posthumous influence on poets such as Alfred Tennyson was immense His poetry is characterized by elaborate word choice and sensual imagery Keats's letters, which expound on his aesthetic theory of negative capability, are almost as famous today as his poetry

Negative Capability
In a letter he wrote in December of 1817, Keats stated, . . . it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously--I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.

Important Terms
The Enlightenment Neoclassicism Romanticism Sublime Utopian Fin de sicle

Important Terms
Transcendence Synthesis Lyric Lyrical Ballads The Preface [to the Lyrical Ballads] Orientalism

Important Terms
Sturm and Drang Gothic Byronic