Thursday, December 10, 2009

ENGLISH ROMANTICISM (1798-1837)


Romanticism started in Germany and was strongly influenced by the political climate of the era (like the French Revolution in 1789). In England Romanticism represented a return to the old Elizabethan passionate way of writing (and to the Germanic roots) as opposed to the neoclassical period (and its French influence). It is traditionally considered to have started in 1798 with the publication of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads. Some of its main features were the importance given to imagination, emotion and passion as opposed to reason, a celebration of nature (as opposed to civilization), an interest in the past and remote settings, and a spirit of idealism, individualism and political liberalism. If drama is the dominant genre of the Renaissance and prose becomes the most important form of the 18th century, poetry is the quintessential Romantic literary form.

William Blake (1757-1827) was a precursor of Romanticism. He is one of the most original English poets as well as a pictorial artist, and he was able to combine both talents in his Songs of Innocence. Blake wrote highly personal poetry, in which he expressed his ideas that mankind can only be fulfilled through the senses and the imagination.

William Wordsworth (1770-1885) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) were part of a group known as the Lake Poets (who sang the beauty of the Lake District in England) and published the Lyrical Ballads with a Preface that acted as the Romantic Manifesto. Wordsworth’s poetry shows a spirit of pantheism and a return to imagination and the human heart. Coleridge’s contribution to the Romantic Movement lay in a return to the magical and mysterious. Coleridge wanted poetry to fly into the regions of the marvellous and choose themes that, though fantastic, should be acceptable through “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith”. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Kahn (a poem inspired by an opium-induced dream”) are famous poems by Coleridge.

The second generation of Romantic poets included Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and John Keats. Lord Byron (1788-1824) was famous not only as a writer but also as a romantic character, with a life full of excess (huge debts, love affairs, exile, died fighting for the Greeks against the Ottoman Empire). Percy B. Shelley (1792-1822) declared openly his atheism, as well as his ideals of free love and anarchism and is one of the finest lyric poets in the English language (“Ode to the West Wind”). He was married to Mary Shelley (1797-1851), author of Frankestein. John Keats (1795-1821) was an excellent poet, although his death at 26 stopped his career short too soon. The feeling in his poems comes from his awareness that beauty dies (“Ode to a Nightingale”, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “Ode to Autumn”).

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