Romantic Poetry

History of Romanticism

The essential ideas behind the Romantic era resulted from newly formed beliefs that humans were responsible for their own achievements and actions and that emotions should be focused on an expressed through various mediums of art. In particular, fear and horror were expressed often, for these emotions were considered fascinating and extremely powerful by people of the times. Various aspects of civilzation made up the whole of the Romantic belief, from folklore, nationalism, medievalism, and emotion, to exoticism, religion, individualism, and nature. It is also important to note that the poetry, music, and art of the Romantic era followed similar ideals and philosophies of said time period.
Several poets of the British Romantic Era had a severe impact on literature of the time and present day. Said poets are William Blake, George Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Percy B. Shelly, John Keats, Matthew Arnold, and John Clare.


Interest in Folklore during the Romantic movement can be traced back to the mid-18th century. It was during this period that people's views of tradition began to change, and the belief that a commoner could possess an exquisite storytelling ability formed. For the first time, people began to recognize the literary merit of stories told by the uneducated, rather than focusing solely on scholarly works. This belief followed in the folk tradition of passing stories down orally and focusing on the more simplistic and natural elements in life. Following this idea, Romantic poets often incorporated vivid descriptions of nature throughout their works, making this a key element to Romantic poetry.


In the wake of numerous civil wars and revolutions, people began to develop a strong sense of nationalism, and this was often depicted within their writing. Poems of the time often describe an epic battle or war, while others deal with less tangible concepts such as liberty, freedom, and death. This charcteristic was often used in conjunction with the folklore idea, as epic, historical battles were often alluded to so as to act as a comparison for the current political struggles the poets were facing.


The Romantic movement brought back aspects of history that, until that point, had been of little significance in society. Focusing on some of the more taboo beliefs and radical actions of the medieval era, Romantic poets were exposed to an entirely new world of which they could write about. As people from the Medieval times were quite superstitious and blamed everything they could not explain on the supernatural, a resurging interest in the mystic and unearthly realms took place. Writers began incorporating fairies, angels, demons, witches, and other sorts of mythological creatures into their poems, all for the sake of regenerating interest in a lost time.


As the use of strong emotions was one of the main characteristics of the Romantic movement, it is only logical that poets would have employed these feelings throughout their poems. While the use of powerful, often irrational emotions was quite common, one of the most common emotions depicted was horror. Romantics had a fascination with anything frightening, as relates back to their attraction to all things supernatural. Since the emotion was so powerful, some of the best horror stories were written during this time period, including Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Polidori's The Vampyre. It is, however, interesting to note that while authors and poets were obsessed with the idea of horror, they also valued emotions of the heart, including love, sorrow and longing.


At the same time that this movement was taking place, many explorers were discovering new lands and building new colonies all throughout the world. As industry was improving, people now had the capability and means to travel to distant and exotic lands. With these possibilities came the amazement with anything remotely exotic or new. Writers often set their stories in far-off lands, and poets would vividly describe a scene of a distance place so that those who were unable to visit the lands could get a sense of what it was like. Although these descriptions were intense, they in no way substituted for seeing the lands in person, and therefore they often inspired people to seek ways to visit the lands so that they may see the magnificent beauty that was described to them.


Although the Romantic era saw the reinstitution of religious piety and faith, after the Enlightenment it was taken in a different form. While previously poets either explicitly told religous stories through their work or related a story back to a religious text, now poets took many more liberties with the use of religion. Rather than being used purely to teach a lesson, religion was often simply alluded to in a poem to emphasize the overall theme. Feeling free to relate everyday occurrences to biblical stories gave writers a greater sense of freedom, another key characteristic of the period. While religion began to once again play a key role in the arts, this form allowed for artistic expression without the limitations of previous beliefs.


As the focus on emotions and nationalism increased, so did one's value of his own self-worth. Rather than following Rousseau's belief that one must do what is best for the general will of the people, Romantics believed that each person was responsible for his own actions and self-improvement, and that by acting accordingly one could improve the whole of society. In accordance with this belief, many poets often wrote about self-discovery, or wrote autobiographical poems to influence anyone who might read them, believing that they were bettering society in this way.


Nature in the Romantic Age ultimately laid the groundwork for how Europeans view nature today. Previous to this period, writers wrote dramatic portrayals of unrealistic scenes; within this time period, they began to describe nature more realistically and using it to symbolically represent their emotions and thoughts. For the first time nature was not seen as a mere backdrop for society, but it was viewed as a world unto itself and was thus treated as such, described as intricately and accurately as previous poets had described an event or person. Nature, for many Romantics, represented the truest form of divinity. A key spiritual aspect of Romanticism was that God was no longer seen as a "man-like" being seperate from humanity, but was seen as a ubiquitous being that encompassed all life. Many Romantics saw the "light of God" within nature itself, frequently referencing in their works, as it represented a place of logical compared to the complex world of humans (whereas Science represented logic for Neo-Classicists). The Neo-Classicists associated more with urban values, as Europe's cities, in all their grandeur, represented man's great achievements in art and in the taming of nature. The Romantic era focused more on the natural surroundings as John Keats wrote "...For what has made the sage or poet write, but the fair paradise of Nature's light."


William Blake william-blake-3.jpg

He was born November 28, 1757 in London, England. He died August 12, 1827 in London also. Blake was recognized for his talents in "painting, printmaking and poetry". During the time period that Blake was writing in, he was unappreciated. Although in the beginning of his career, there were quotes of people claiming that Blake was mad as well as irrational for his idiosyncratic views; these views had not lasted the test of time as well as the general consensious of his works being sheer brillance and quite individualistic.
The life of William Blake is filled with romantic concepts and ideals of that time period. For example; Blake was a man with great devotion to the Christian faith; however, Blake applied a different twist to the religion, one which was common in that age. Most romantics that believed in God or another divine creator did not feel the need to seek God through the corrupt churches of the time, nor the pastors and preachers that resided at those holy places. Those romantics felt that God could be reached by going out in nature. Blake especially believed God was all around the world of man. In other words, they all believed that the existence of God is evident and found in any and all forms of life. Romantics, such as Blake, would seek God in a field or in a forest completely cubmerged by the celestial power and divine beauty of nature.
In addition to Blake's religious views, Blake's fatehr influenced more or less all of Blake's beliefs. Both William and his father based beliefs on mystical inspiration rather then on reason and logic. Also, they both followed the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg.
Swedenborg was a man of great respect in his life time. His education included Cartesianism, classics, natural sciences, and mathematics. One of his favorite subjects to study about was the difference between the brain and the mind. Through his research on Cartesianism, Swedenborg felt that the mind is more spiritual and possesses intelligence. Swedenborg was responsible for the link between Christian ideologies, ancient philosophies, 17th century rationalism, and sciences.
Because Blake's beliefs were influenced by Swedenborg and his father, he wrote allegories of the fall of man and the expolsion from the Garden of Eden. He also wrote about how reason and logic took control of mortal man's mind. He believed that reason and logic is powerless in complete understanding of the spiritual and physical universe; although it was believed to have all the answers. He taught the world that understanding can only occur when reason, imaginatiopn, and love combined. If the unification of those essientals in life occurs, then man will be linked with God again and redeemed of the first sin. His religious views are evident in his art and music.
William Blake is considered a genius by many for the following reasons: mystical vision, impatience with limits of reason, imagination, his romantic emotions, and his extraordinary talent. His beliefs really reflected the aesthetic and intellectual culture of the enlightenment and his time period.
William Blake is considered a genius by many for the following reasons: mystical vision, impatience with limits of reason, imagination, his romantic emotions, and his extraordinary talent. His beliefs really reflected the aesthetic and intellectual culture of the enlightenment and his time period.


Tyger as well as the Little Lamb were some of Blake's most famous works. The poem that we will be analysis is called The Tyger. The analysis can be found here.

Tyger! Tyger! burning brighttyger.jpg
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

John Keats

John Keats was born at the end of October in 1795. At this time, people looked to profound and creative poetry for spiritual fulfillment (Colvin 1), though Keats did not have this feeling towards poetry until some years after he entered school. He was sent to study at Enfield, where he was instructed in literature by the highly respected schoolmaster, John Clarke (Colvin 4). Despite his intelligence, and his skills in literature, Keats was not an avid reader as a child (Colvin 6). Instead, his defining trait was considered his devotion to his family; the loyalty to his parents, especially when his mother began to die of consumption (Colvin 7). During his later years in school Keat's schoolmate and friend,Cowden Clarke introduced him to literature and imagination which became more appealing to Keats, and he was presented to Elizabethan and Jacobean Era poetry, which inspired his poem "On Death." Upon hearing his friend read the Epithalamion, by Spenser, Keats found himself drawn to works such as these and felt captivated by their imagery (Colvin 9). john-keats.gif

Although he originally began a career in medicine, John Keats found his studies to be unfulfilling. During his years in medical school, he chose to devote his attention to more the creative matters of his daydreams rather than to lecture material. Keats had long held respect for famous poets such as Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton, and took his inspiration from them. Just like many poets of the Romantic Era, Keats based his work around elements of Greek Mythology and folklore during and based upon the Middle Ages. Poems that influenced his work include Lai d'Aristote; a french poem which tells of John Keats Aristotle's student Alexander the Great, and Morte d'Arthure; an old English love story. Keeping with the Romantic tradition of imagination as opposed to science, Keats considered poetry to be 'the only thing worthy of the attention of superior minds' (Colvin, 3). Indeed, he was extraordinarily openminded towards any expression of creativity. While the topic of love was central in poetry involving surreal matters, Keats used his own feelings for his lover Fanny Brawne as inspiration for his work. Combining the subject their love with surreal elements, he expresses his love in poems such as "Ode to Fanny".
The poem by John Keats that has been analyzed is "On Death."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

One of Coleridge's most famous works was "Kubla Kahn" because of its rich visual imagery. Because he was using opium at the same time he was writing "Kubla Kahn", much of this work is what he felt and envisioned during his psychedelic journey. He was disturbed in the midst of writing and forgot to go back and complete his work, therefore it is considered to be and unfinished poem.

"Kubla Kahn" (1797)
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Mark Akenside[[Mark Akenside|]] (classical poet)

Click on Mark Akenside for the Analysis of his poem "For a Column at Runnymede"
Romanticism vs Neo-Classicism
(Emotion vs Reason)

Born in 1721 in Newcastle, Mark Akenside was one of England's few poets from that of the Neo-Classical period. At eighteen, Akenside originally planned to a minister and traveled to Edinburgh. This experience, however, caused Akenside to be caught up in the new age of Enlightenment and thus pursued a career in the sciences. Studying at the Dutch Universities, Akenside became a doctor in medicine and became a practicing physician in London, England. As a man of the Enlightenment, he had strong personal beliefs pertaining to the widespread movement dealing with the freedom of the individual and the concept of liberty and while his main occupation was dealt with the medical field, Akenside quickly became one of London's more famous poets.

While the Neo-Classical era is considered to be one of the more dormant time periods in terms of English poetry, Mark Akenside certainly symbolizes many of the characters associated with this social and ideaological movement. By studying his poem "For a Column at Runnymede," one can see many of the Neo-Classical views on religion & nationalism and a literary style remaniscent of the epic poems of ancient Greece and Rome. Ironically, though, many of themes found within this poem can also be found in that of Romantic period, exemplifying the crucial concept that the Romantic period was not a rebellion against the views of the Neo-Classical period. Neo-Classicism was simply a precursor to the changes in societal values that would be caused by Romanticism. Akenside is perhaps the best example of English, Neo-Classical poetry as he seems to bridge the two time periods.

For some general background information of Mark Akenside, go to wikipedia by clicking here.

Works Cited

Brians, Paul. "Romanticism". Romanticism: October 1, 2004;; May 4, 2007.
Colvin, Sidney. "John Keats: His Life and Poetry, His Friends, Critics and After-Fame." January 2006. 4 May 2007.
"William Blake." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 15 May 2007, 21:13 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 16 May 2007 .
"Mark Akenside."<> May 12, 2007