Features of Romantic Poetry

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Background

Romanticism is the name given to a dominant movement in literature and the other arts – particularly music and painting – in the the period from the 1770s to the mid-nineteenth century:

  • It is regarded as having transformed artistic styles and practices
  • Like many other terms applied to movements in the arts, the word covers a wide and varied range of artists and practices
  • It is a retrospective term, applied by later literary, art and musical historians. None of the artists we refer to as Romantics would have described themselves as such
  • It was a European phenomenon, particularly powerful in Britain, France and Germany, but also affecting countries such as Italy, Spain and Poland. There was also, to some extent, an American version of the movement.

Reaction to earlier age

Like many other literary movements, it developed in reaction to the dominant style of the preceding period:

  • The eighteenth century is often described by literary historians as the Augustan Age because it sought to emulate the culture of the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE)
  • Classical standards of order, harmony, proportion and objectivity were preferred – the period saw a revival of interest in classical architecture, for instance
  • In literature, Greek and Roman authors were taken as models and many eighteenth century writers either translated or produced imitations of poetry in classical forms
  • In its early years, Romanticism was associated with radical and revolutionary political ideologies, again in reaction against the generally conservative mood of European society.

Main features

Central features of Romanticism include:

  • An emphasis on emotional and imaginative spontaneity
  • The importance of self-expression and individual feeling. Romantic poetry is one of the heart and the emotions, exploring the ‘truth of the imagination' rather than scientific truth. The ‘I' voice is central; it is the poet's perceptions and feelings that matter.
  • An almost religious response to nature. They were concerned that Nature should not just be seen scientifically but as a living force, either made by a Creator, or as in some way divine, to be neglected at humankind's peril. Some of them were no longer Christian in their beliefs. Shelley was an atheist, and for a while Wordsworth was a pantheist (the belief that god is in everything). Much of their poetry celebrated the beauty of nature, or protested the ugliness of the growing industrialization of the century: the machines, factories, slum conditions, pollution and so on.
  • A capacity for wonder and consequently a reverence for the freshness and innocence of the vision of childhood. 
  • Emphasis on the imagination as a positive and creative faculty
  • An interest in ‘primitive' forms of

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