Of course, Candy just came right out and hit some of the high points of Romantic Poetry and Poets: “not about mushy, gushy love” but an interpretation of surroundings through imagination.
Harold Bloom and Lionel Trilling have this to say about Romanticism:
“Romanticism resists its definers, who can fix neither its characteristics nor its dates. It is a broad movement [and] whether it represented a genuine change in consciousness we still cannot know.” (Romantic Poetry and Prose, 3)
Of course, we must go against Bloom and Trilling’s unwillingness to contain the Romantic Period so that this blog is not amorphous. Many scholars have for many years studied this period and tried to define it. I am not a scholar. I will not be spending years on this blog–probably. For all practical learning purposes we will come up with our own definition.
Out of the smoke of the French Revolution of 1798 blew a Spirit that would fill the hearts of men who were waiting for these sparks of social change. As Keats would say later, “The Great Spirits of the earth are now sojourning … these will give the world another heart / And other pulses.” As the French revolted against a way of life that no longer worked for their good, the Poets lifted up their pens in literary battle against the stuffiness of the Enlightenment. Where the Enlightenment suppressed emotion, these poets would free it; where the Enlightenment shackled lines to strict meter, these same poets would release the fetters. It’s crazy how often this type of rebellion happens. I mean, look at the Hipsters. Aren’t they the perfect example of the constant rebellion against social norms and standards?
Allow me to demonstrate how these guys did it:
“Wit is like faith by such warm Fools profest
Who to be saved by one, must damn the rest.”
(Alexander Pope, of the Enlightenment, “Couplets on Wit”)
“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite…”
(John Keats, a Romantic, “[Bright Star]”)
The difference is obvious. Both are fit examples of their literary periods: Pope of the Enlightenment, Keats of Romanticism. They differ in subject matter, style, meter, and well, just about everything.
Keats is, in a sense, being mushy, gushy, and all that, but he’s not like that guy or girl that left weird notes in your locker in 8th grade.
It’s been said that all true art is born from the suffering soul. In Keats’s poem “Bright Star,” he is agonizing over how he wishes his love could be eternal, like the moon is in the sky. Read this acronym; then read “Bright Star.”
P: Primitivism– The Romantic poet will deal with the rustic man, the noble savage, the pastoral life, and Mother Nature herself. Wordsworth especially taps into this idea and proclaims to write in the language of man (cf. “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads“)
A: Art/Artist– The Romantic poet will explore the connection between art and the artist, answering such questions as “Which came first?” and “Which is more important?” Along with this each poet explores the creative process in his own way, finding it in the imagination, blowing in the West Wind, or in many other places.
I: The Individual– As Candy said, these poets will concentrate on the individual–not only the writer alone as an individual or his own importance, but also man’s individuality in self-worth and sometimes alienation.
N: Nature– The Romantics will write on Nature, its divine attributes and man’s relation to it. This theme will often tie in with that of the primitive and in some cases the individual, as well (cf. The Lucy Poems, Forgive my Wiki Link. It was too handy.)
See what I’m talking about? We’re going to put the Romantics in a box of P.A.I.N. from now on, but to make sure we’ve got this right, we’ll look at what the poets themselves had to say, starting out with William Wordsworth.
Wordsworth handles most of these themes in his Preface to his Lyrical Ballads. If you want to be awesome, go read the whole thing. To help you out, I’ll hit some of the high points (all of these come from The Oxford Anthology of English Literature: Romantic Poetry and Prose):
“The principal object, then, which I proposed to myself in these poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life…in a language really used by men.” (595)
“Low and rustic life was generally chosen, because in that condition the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language…” (596)
“For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…” (596)
“I hope that there is in these poems little falsehood of description…” (599)
“[Poetry’s] object is truth.” (603)