The Romantic Age (1798-1830)

The Romantic Age expressed itself powerfully through poetry.

Two generations of poets

- 1st generation – Lake Poets: W. Wordsworth and S. T. Coleridge
They decided to move from London to go to the lake district, a very wild place untainted by civilization.
- 2nd generation – Young Diers: P. B. Shelley (who died in a shipwreck), J. Keats (who died of consumption (ITA: tisi)) and G. BYRON (who died in a battle).
Theoretical contributions to re-definition of poetry and its funcion:
They brought poetry, but they also tried to compose theoretical works to define it.
One of these critical works is the Preface, another one is a defence of poetry by Shelley.  Both the generations had this tendence to theorize the nature of the romantic poetry.

First generation: Wordsworth - Coleridge

1798 Lyrical Ballads: collection of poems.
1800 Preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads: it contains the principles of the romantic poetry.
1817 Coleridge wrote Biographia Literaria explaining different tasks he and Wordsworth had given themselves in creating Lyrical Ballads.
These works are considered as laying the Principles of Rmanticism and its poetry.
Wordsworth preferred a lyrical attitude, in fact he produced the so-called (by him) song of the heart, therefore these lyrics express his introspection and subjectivism.
The very specific way through which he expresses his subjectivism is the lyric I – in fact the poem starts with I –, which is the expression of what he feels in nature, of his own sensation of nature produced by the beauty of landscape or by the feeling of living in God’s creation: the subject is confident in his lyrical ability to represent nature as a mirror of his soul’s condition.
Wordsworth chose the lyrical form, which means lyrics with no fixed form (we very frequently call them free compositions).
Coleridge chose the long narrative dramatic form, less subjectivistic, of the ballad, which has a moral lesson.
In the ballad love and death are fundamental dimensions of human journey.  Neoplatonic representation of non-reality.

Second generation: Shelley – Keats – Byron
1821 A Defence of Poetry by Shelley


These authors chose Ppetry because for them poetry was the best suited to express:
1.Emotional experience and subjective expression
2.Individual feeling and emotional utterance of the heart (ITA: sfogo del cuore)
Poetry is a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.

- This can rely only to a fundamental quality of the author: imagination – opposite to reason.
Employment of imagination.  Crucial event: introduction of the concept of imagination conceived as divine faculty. It’s a creative power because it operates on reality: it modify reality creating a new world of imagination.  This divine faculty allows poets to offer us a higher perception of reality in order to transport us into a totally different neoplatonic dimension of imagination.  Its primary role lies in the reorganization of the real world.

Fichte (1762-1814) depends on the shape of the world given by the vision of individual imagination.
- Introduction of some new concepts such as the EYE of imagination, which enables the poet to see beyond the surface of reality (Neoplatonism) and to understand a level of truth beyond the ability of reason: imagination modifies and recreates the external world.
According to Coleridge and Shelley, reality is a film of familiarity, therefore we cannot see the real substance of reality: we can access to another level of truth, which is the real truth and beauty of the picture.  The world outside us is realistic: we can describe the reality with the ability of reason, but we can reach a higher level of perception of it with imagination.
Imagination is our ability of perceiving.
This concept of imagination is a typical ability of romantic poets that represents the eye of mind and lets them recreate the world in a more beautiful dimension and pattern.
This higher level truth they can see beyond reality is a neoplatonic attitude.
- Reality as such is an obstacle to the perception of truth. This obstacle brings the poet to research for a deeper level of knowledge: reason cannot allow us to understand what reality is.
Objective reality is a barrier for the romantic poet to see the true substance of the idea of reality (beyond the reality).
- The poet is a prophet – that God wants to be a prophet – (thought that was common to both the generations of poet) with visionary faculties and whose art has the elevated aim of understanding the mystery beyond the real.  (The eye of) imagination is a sacred dimension and a heavenly gift, that makes a poet into a prophet.
The poet is a man among men (Preface): we are men among men, but we are endued with this higher perception make us prophets.
This being prophets means that they recognize their ability to see the (neoplatonic) truth beyond reality: they perceive a neoplatonic dimension.  Neoplatonic attitude: they are able to perceive the truth beyond the reality, to recognize the forms of truth that common people are no longer able to see.
They have a different task as poets of this new vogue: they are refounders of poetry, in fact their poetry is completely different from the 18th century poetry, therefore it must be for everybody to understand, showing, in this way, mankind the divine aspect of nature.  Prophets want to be so because they have a message for people: in the majority of cases people focus on evils of industrialization made on nature, but poets understood that they, as poets, should look beyond that and see that nature is no longer simply nature, but creation, that is a message and a gift by God.
Nature is no longer there to by transformed by man, but to be appreciated.
- Tension real - ideal = marvellous: imagination has the power to give the world a new, ideal and permanent order.  The natural world is seen as expression of the marvellous dimension of creation (different meanings, according to each author).
In his research for the marvellous – in his imaginary condition – the poet starts from reality, from what he sees.
Wordsworth and Coleridge start from the lake district: it is from reality that they tend to an ideal dimension.  They tend to see the divine message in the natural reality, that makes the research into marvellous.
This flight to the marvellous is possible thanks to imagination and faith.
This imaginary world is more beautiful: this permanent order becomes a source of consolation, a moral uplifter, because of the poet’s knowledge of being part of a divine order set by God.
He becomes one with nature.
- All these elements cannot do without the involvement of feelings and subjective sensations that create an exclusive relationship between poet – poet’s consciousness – and nature, from which reason is banned, because it could calculate and give a scientific recognition, but it’s not what the poet wants. Feelings are seen as opposed to reason and more powerful; on the contrary, reasoning cannot enter the flow of poetry because it is seen as a limitation to poetic expression, that instead must be recognised as free and unrestrained (they in fact employ the blank verse and very frequently the ode too). Any form of poetry must be free and unrestrained.

- Research of new poetic technique: free from restrains; search for new or individual styles
- Poetic diction: poetic code of rules
They break free from the previous poetic diction and start using their new own.
This new poetic diction is a central issue for discussion in critical terms: romantic poetry relies on a vivid language to reflect vivid images and true feelings, thus it must break free from classical balance, which means artificial language and fixed rhyme schemes, of the 18th century.  Experimentation and return to earlier verse forms (sonnet, 3a rima, 8a rima): ballad and blank verse ( total freedom from stiff sound patterns and intellectual associations).
When they started, they were not aware they were forming a new school, they were simply using a simple language.  In this employing a new language they formed a new powerful poetic diction, which will last till the next century, without knowing it.
Coleridge specifically chose the ballad because in it there are no barriers/ boundaries between reality and non-reality, or human and supernatural: they must be overcome.

These barriers became a symbol and a moral message in Coleridge.
Very frequently in the previous age images employed in poetry were very decorative, but now the image is no longer decorative: it loses this dimension and acquires a new meaning. It becomes a vehicle of meaning and sense, therefore it becomes the echo for profound human meanings.
Poetry is the utterance of the heart – opposite to novel, the leading genre of the 18th century which developed around the event –: it’s the heart that needs expression!  They make up a new trend.  The food and core of poetry is a new dimension of the human, which is around human being and not only made up with reason.

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Romantic Age