Friday, 24 April 2015

Romantic Poets, Trends


The period from 1798 to 1824 is termed as ‘The Romantic Age’ of English Literature. In this period the writing was mostly poetry. A revolution was taking place in poetic language and its themes. Previously the head controlled the heart, now the heart controlled the head; for the previous poets feelings and imagination were dangerous, but for the Romantics reason and the intellect were dangerous.

The romantic period is the most fruitful period in the history of English literature. The revolt against the classical school which had been started by writers like Chatterton, Collins, Gray, Burne, Cowper etc. reached its climax during this period and some of the greatest and most popular English poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats belong to this period.

To have knowledge of the trends and characteristics of this age we are to discuss some of its prominent and representative figures.


These were Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Scott, etc. who belong to this generation. But they can be further divided into two groups.


The Lake Poets formed a school in the sense that they worked in close co-operation, and their lives were spent partly in the Lake District. Among these poets Wordsworth and Coleridge are quite prominent.

William Wordsworth

1. Wordsworth chose the language of the common people as the vehicle of his poetry. This was the first point of attack on the artificial and formal style of classical school of poetry.

2. The other point at which Wordsworth attacked the old school was its insistence on the town and artificial way of life which prevailed there. He wanted the poet to breathe fresh air of the hills and beautiful natural scenes and become interested in rural life and the simple folk living in the lap of nature. In his words

                                    One impulse from a vernal wood
                                    May teach you more of man
                                    Of moral evil and of good
                                    Than all the sages can.

S. T. Coleridge

Wordsworth’s naturalism and Coleridge’s supernaturalism became the two important spearhead of the Romantic Movement. Coleridge’s supernaturalism established the connection between the visible world and the other world which is unseen. He treated the supernatural in his masterly poem ‘The Ancient Mariner’ in such a manner that it looked quite natural.


The poets belonging to this group are Sir Walter Scott, Cambell, and Thomas Moore. Scott was the first to make romantic poetry popular among the masses. Most of his poems recapture the middle ages and breathe an air of supernaturalism and superstitions. Thomas Cambell and Thomas Moore were prominent among a host of minor poets who were followers of Sir Walter Scott.


Byron, Shelley, Keats, Leigh Hunt, and Hazlitt etc. belong to second generation of the romantic poets, who came to forefront after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.

The second generation came in conflict with the social environment with which their predecessors were in moral harmony.

Thus Romanticism in the second stage became a literature of social conflict. Both Byron and Shelley rebelled against society and had to leave England.

But basically the poets of the two generations of Romanticism shared the same literary beliefs and ideas. They were all innovators in the form as well as in the substance of their poetry.


Of all romantic poets Byron was the most egoistical in all his poems. He attached the greatest importance to his personality.

Of the romantic traits, he represented the revolutionary iconoclasm at its worst, and that is why he came in open conflict with the world around him.

P. B. Shelley

Whereas Byron was the greatest interpreter of revolutionary iconoclasm, Shelley was the revolutionary idealist, a prophet of hope and faith. He was a visionary who dreamed of the Golden Age.

            If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind.

Byron’s genius was destructive, Shelley’s was constructive. Byron’s motive impulse was pride, Shelley’s was love.

In the whole of English poetry there is no utterance as spontaneous as Shelley’s and no where does the thought flow with such irresistible melody.

John Keats

Of all the romantic poets, Keats was the pure romantic poet. He was not only the last but the most perfect of all Romantics. He was devoted to poetry and had no other interest.

          In ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ we see Keats’ love for Greek mythology and art. It is this ode which ends with the following unforgettable lines

                   Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty, that’s all
                        Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.


So having made this survey, we can summarize that Wordsworth’s naturalism, Coleridge’s supernaturalism, Scott’s medievalism, Byron’s iconoclasm, Shelley’s idealism, and Keats’ Hellenism brought a great revolution in English Literature. And this was the essence of Romanticism that literature must reflect all that is spontaneous and unaffected.

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