The Romantic period
The period which extends from 1798 to 1837 is known as “Romantic Age”. The term “romantic“ was used in England for the first time in the 16th century to indicate the unreal and fanciful elements. During the 18th century it was used with a negative connotation to indicate something in contrast with reason but linked with emotions. It was used for the first time with a positive connotation in Germany.
The Romantic Age is marked by three important historical events:
- the American Revolution (1775 – 1783);
- the French Revolution (1789 – 1799);
- the Napoleonic War (1796 – 1815).
The first literary movement in Europe was known as the “Strum und Drang” and was conceived in Germany. Imagination became the source of knowledge and the Romantic poet escapes from reality and looks for something new. The Romantic poet recognize the great modification occurred after the Industrial Revolution (discovery and development of the steam engine), they realize their inadequacy in representing the society to which they belong and so they become aware of man’s unhappiness.
The Romantic Movement in Britain started in 1798 when the Lyrical Ballads(by Wordsworth and Coleridge) appeared. The most important British poets of this period are Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats. The most important character in the Romantic Age is landscape both in art and poetry. The most important romantic painters are Turner and Constable.
William Wordsworth was born in the English Lake District in 1770 and he was educated in Cambridge. In 1790 he went on a walking tour of France and the Alps where he had been influenced by the ideas of French Revolution. The development of the Revolution and the war between France and England brought him to the edge of a nervous breakdown. In 1795 he went to live with his sister, his most faithful friend. Then he moved to Somerset to be near to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The development of their friendship brought them to write a collection of poems called Lyrical Ballads, published in 1798 anonymously and in 1800 containing Wordsworth’s Preface (the Manifesto of English Romanticism). In 1799 he went to live in the Lake District and he got married. In 1805 he had finished The Prelude, a long autobiographical poem in 14 books. His reputation grew in 1843 he was made Poet Laureate. He died in 1850.
The main topic of Wordsworth’s poetry are everyday situations and common people. He uses simple language. The most important theme of his poetry is nature, he shared Rousseau’s faith in the goodness of nature and he believed in a deep link between man and nature. He thought the man and nature are inseparable, nature comforts man in sorrow and helps him to love, so he had a pantheistic view. Wordsworth believed that memory was very important because it allows the poet to give poetry its life and power. The importance of memory influences poetry because it take origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. The poet is a teacher who shows men how to understand their feelings and improve their moral being.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Devonshire in 1772, he was sent first to Christ’s Hospital School and then to Cambridge were he never graduated. He was influenced by French revolutionary ideals but after the disillusionment, he and the poet Southey planned to establish a utopian community in Pennsylvania under the name of “Pantisocracy”, but the project came to nothing.
In 1797 he met William Wordsworth and he settled in Somerset. In these year he wrote: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (first poem of the Lyrical Ballads), Christabel (unfinished) and Kubla Khan (unfinished). In 1799 he moved to the Lake District and then he spent a period of solitude in Malta. In 1817 he settled in London were he produced Biographia Literaria. He died in 1834.
Imagination for Coleridge is very important and he divided it in two kinds:
- Primary imagination: everybody use it unconsciously and is connected with human perception;
- Secondary imagination: it is voluntary and used consciously, with that men perceive the world around them and have the faculty to use the data of reality to build new worlds.
Fancy is the mechanical ability the poet have to use device in order to express his ideas, it is the way the poet can communicate his ideas and vision to everybody.
Coleridge didn’t view nature as a moral guide or a source of consolation and happiness. He saw nature and the material world as the reflection of the perfect world of “ideas” (neoplatonic interpretation). In his poems Coleridge used archaic language, alliteration, repetition and onomatopoeias.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem is made up of 7 parts and is set in a boundless sea. It is introduced by an “Argument” containing a short summary of the poem. The atmosphere is full of mystery, due to the presence of the supernatural and the common place. The characters are the mariner, who is both a spectator and an actor, and his mates whose sorrow represent the human one. The poem contains many of the feature associated to ballads as the use of dialogue and narration, the four-line stanzas, the repetitions, the alliterations and the internal rhyme and the themes of travel, wandering and supernatural elements. There are different interpretation of the poem:
- Description of a dream;
- Allegory of the life of the soul;
- Description of the poetic journey of Romanticism (the mariner is the poet who feels guilty for the loss of innocence caused by the industrial revolution and tries to fill it with poetry).
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Shelley was born in 1792 by a wealthy family. In 1810 he was expelled from Oxford University because of his pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism. At the age of 19 he got marry and he moved to Ireland. He was a free spirit, refused social conventions and tyranny and he believed in a better future. He died in Italy in 1822. His best works are: Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, Prometheus Unbound, Adonais and A Defence of Poetry.
The main themes of Shelley’s poetry are freedom and love because they are the solution to the evils of society. The poetry is the expression of imagination and it is able to change the material world unable to change, in this way the poet can only suffer isolate from the world, finding comfort in hope. The poet is both a prophet and a hero who has to help mankind to reach an ideal world full of freedom, love and beauty. The nature is the place where to escape from the ordinary world, it is a veil that hides the eternal truth of the Divine Spirit. Shelley, in his poetry, used a wide range of styles but he is remembered for his short lyric poem.