Romantic poetry is the poetry of the Romantic era, an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. It involved a reaction against prevailing Enlightenment ideas of the 18th century, and lasted from 1800 to 1850, approximately,
English Romantic poetry
In England the poet William Wordsworth was actively engaged in trying to create a new kind of poetry that emphasized intuition over reason and the pastoral over the urban, often eschewing consciously poetic language in an effort to use more colloquial language. Wordsworth himself in the Preface to his and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads (1798) defined good poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings", though in the same sentence he goes on to clarify this statement by asserting that nonetheless any poem of value must still be composed by a man “possessed of more than usual organic sensibility [who has] also thought long and deeply;” he also emphasizes the importance of the use of meter in poetry (which he views as one of the key features that differentiates poetry from prose). Although many stress the notion of spontaneity in Romantic poetry, the movement was still greatly concerned with the difficulty of composition, and of translating these emotions into poetic form. Indeed, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, another prominent English Romantic poet and critic, in his On Poesy or Art sees art as “the mediatress between, and reconciler of nature and man”. Such an attitude reflects what might be called the dominant theme of English Romantic poetry: the filtering of natural emotion through the human mind in order to create art, coupled with an awareness of the duality created by such a process.
Characteristics of English Romantic poetry
Reaction against Neoclassicism
Romantic poetry contrast with neoclassical poetry, which is poetry of intellect and reason, while romantic poetry is the product of emotions, sentiments and the heart. Romantic poetry is a reaction against the set standards, conventions, and the traditional rules of poetry. According to William J. Long, “The Romantic Movement was marked, and is always marked, by a strong reaction and protest against the bondage of rule and custom which in science and theology as well as literature, generally tend to fetter the free human spirit.”
Belief in the importance of the imagination is a distinctive feature of romantic poets such as John Keats, Samuel Coleridge and P. B. Shelley. Unlike neoclassical poets, who shunned imagination in their poetry, romantic poets laid stress on imagination. Keats said, “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination- What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.” Spirituality in both Wordsworth and William Blake, as well as Victor Hugo and Alessandro Manzoni, the imagination is related to morality, and they believed that literature, especially poetry, could improve the world. The secret of great art, Blake claimed, is the capacity to imagine. To define imagination, in his poem "Auguries of Innocence", Blake said:
- To see a world in a grain of sand,
- And heaven in a wild flower,
- Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
- And eternity in an hour.
Love for nature is another important feature of romantic poetry, a wellspring of inspiration, satisfaction and happiness. This poetry involves a relationship with external nature and places, and a belief in pantheism. However, the romantic poets differed in their views about nature. Wordsworth recognized nature as a living thing, teacher, god and everything. These feelings are fully developed and expressed in his epic poem The Prelude. In his poem "The Tables Turn" he writes:
- One impulse from the vernal wood
- Can teach you more of man,
- Of moral evil and good,
- Than all sages can.
Shelley was another nature poet, who believed that nature is a living thing and there is a union between nature and man. Wordsworth approaches nature philosophically, while Shelley emphasises the intellect. John Keats is another a lover of nature, but Coleridge differs from other romantic poets of his age, in that he has a realistic perspective on nature. He believes that nature is not the source of joy and pleasure, but rather that people's reactions to it depends on their mood and disposition. Coleridge believed that joy does not come from external nature, but that it emanates from the human heart.
Melancholy occupies a prominent place in romantic poetry, because it is a major source of inspiration for the Romantic poets. In '"Ode to a Nightingale", Keats wrote:
- ..........for many a time
- I have been half in love with easeful Death,
- Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
- To take into the air my quiet breath;
- Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
- To cease upon the midnight with no pain.
Medievalism is another important characteristic of romantic poetry, especially in the works of John Keats and Coleridge. They were attracted to exotic, remote and obscure places, and so were they were more attracted to Middle Ages than to their own age. Romantic poetry was also attracted to nostalgia.
Most of the romantic poets used supernatural elements in their poetry. They used supernaturalism not just for the creation of horror and awe, but rather for the pleasure of the reader. Samuel Coleridge is the leading romantic poet in this regard. His poem "Kubla Khan" is completely the product of his imagination, and is full of supernatural elements.
Romantic poetry is the poetry of sentiments, emotions and imagination. Romantic poetry opposed the objectivity of neoclassical poetry. Neoclassical poets avoided describing their personal emotions in their poetry, not like the Romantics.
German Romanticism was the dominant intellectual movement in the philosophy, the arts, and the culture of German-speaking countries in the late-18th and early 19th centuries. Compared to English Romanticism, German Romanticism developed relatively late, and, in the early years, coincided with Weimar Classicism (1772–1805); in contrast to the seriousness of English Romanticism, the German variety of Romanticism notably valued wit, humour, and beauty.
Sturm und Drang, literally "Storm and Drive", "Storm and Urge", though conventionally translated as "Storm and Stress") is a proto-Romantic movement in German literature and music that took place from the late 1760s to the early 1780s, in which individual subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in reaction to the perceived constraints of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements. The period is named for Friedrich Maximilian Klinger's play Sturm und Drang, which was first performed in 1777.
The philosopher Johann Georg Hamann is considered to be the ideologue of Sturm und Drang, with Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, H. L. Wagner and Friedrich Maximilian Klinger also significant figures. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was also a notable proponent of the movement, though he and Friedrich Schiller ended their period of association with it by initiating what would become Weimar Classicism.
Jena Romanticism – also the Jena Romantics or Early Romanticism (Frühromantik)) – is the first phase of Romanticism in German literature represented by the work of a group centred in Jena from about 1798 to 1804.
Heidelberg was the centre of the epoch of Romantik ((Romanticism) in Germany. The phase after Jena Romanticism is often called Heidelberg Romanticism (see also Berlin Romanticism). There was a famous circle of poets, the Heidelberg Romantics, such as Joseph von Eichendorff, Johann Joseph von Görres, Ludwig Achim von Arnim, and Clemens Brentano. A relic of Romanticism is the Philosophers' Walk (German: Philosophenweg), a scenic walking path on the nearby Heiligenberg, overlooking Heidelberg.
The Romantik epoch of German philosophy and literature, was described as a movement against classical and realistic theories of literature, a contrast to the rationality of the Age of Enlightenment. It elevated medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived to be from the medieval period. It also emphasized folk art, nature and an epistemology based on nature, which included human activity conditioned by nature in the form of language, custom and usage.
French literature from the first half of the century was dominated by Romanticism, which is associated with such authors as Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, père, François-René de Chateaubriand, Alphonse de Lamartine, Gérard de Nerval, Charles Nodier, Alfred de Musset, Théophile Gautier and Alfred de Vigny. Their influence was felt in theatre, poetry, prose fiction. The effect of the romantic movement would continue to be felt in the latter half of the century in diverse literary developments, such as "realism", "symbolism", and the so-called fin de siècle "decadent" movement.
'Romanticism in Poland was a literary, artistic and intellectual period in the evolution of Polish culture, which began around 1820, coinciding with the publication of Adam Mickiewicz's first poems in 1822. It ended with the suppression of the Polish-Lithuanian January 1863 Uprising against the Russian Empire in 1864. The latter event ushered in a new era in Polish culture known as Positivism.
The 19th century is traditionally referred to as the "Golden Era" of Russian literature. Romanticism permitted a flowering of especially poetic talent: the names of Vasily Zhukovsky and later that of his protégé Alexander Pushkin came to the fore. Pushkin is credited with both crystallizing the literary Russian language and introducing a new level of artistry to Russian literature. His best-known work is a novel in verse, Eugene Onegin. An entire new generation of poets including Mikhail Lermontov, Yevgeny Baratynsky, Konstantin Batyushkov, Nikolay Nekrasov, Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Fyodor Tyutchev and Afanasy Fet followed in Pushkin's steps.
Pushkin is considered by many to be the central representative of Romanticism in Russian literature; however, he can't be labelled unequivocally as a Romantic. Russian critics have traditionally argued that his works represent a path from neo-Classicism through Romanticism to Realism. An alternative assessment suggests that "he had an ability to entertain contrarities [sic] which may seem Romantic in origin, but are ultimately subversive of all fixed points of view, all single outlooks, including the Romantic" and that "he is simultaneously Romantic and not Romantic".
Influence of British Romantic poetry
Scottish poet Robert Burns became a "people’s poet" in Russia. In Imperial times the Russian aristocracy were so out of touch with the peasantry that Burns, translated into Russian, became a symbol for the ordinary Russian people. In Soviet Russia Burns was elevated as the archetypical poet of the people – not least since the Soviet regime slaughtered and silenced its own poets. A new translation of Burns, begun in 1924 by Samuil Marshak, proved enormously popular selling over 600,000 copies. In 1956, the Soviet Union became the first country in the world to honour Burns with a commemorative stamp. The poetry of Burns is taught in Russian schools alongside their own national poets. Burns was a great admirer of the egalitarian ethos behind the French Revolution. Whether Burns would have recognised the same principles at work in the Soviet State at its most repressive is moot. This didn’t stop the Communists from claiming Burns as one of their own and incorporating his work into their state propaganda. The post communist years of rampant capitalism in Russia have not tarnished Burns' reputation.
Lord Byron was a major influence on almost all Russian poets of the Golden Era, including Pushkin, Vyazemsky, Zhukovsky, Batyushkov, Baratynsky, Delvig and, especially, Lermontov.
Transcendentalism was a philosophical movement that developed in the late 1820s and 1830s in the eastern region of the United States, rooted in English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, the skepticism of Hume, and the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant and of German Idealism. It was also influenced by Indian religions, especially the Upanishads.
The movement was a reaction to or protest against the general state of intellectualism and spirituality. The doctrine of the Unitarian church as taught at Harvard Divinity School was of particular interest.
Poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892), whose major work Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855, was influenced by transcendentalism. Influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement, itself an offshoot of Romanticism, Whitman's poetry praises nature and the individual human's role in it. However, much like Emerson, Whitman does not diminish the role of the mind or the spirit; rather, he elevates the human form and the human mind, deeming both worthy of poetic praise.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) is best known for his poetry and short stories, and is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States and American literature as a whole. Poe, however, strongly disliked transcendentalism.
Another American Romantic poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) was the most popular poet of his day. He was one of the first American celebrities and was also popular in Europe, and it was reported that 10,000 copies of The Courtship of Miles Standish sold in London in a single day. However, Longfellow's popularity rapidly declined, beginning shortly after his death and into the twentieth century as academics began to appreciate poets like Walt Whitman, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Robert Frost. In the twentieth century, literary scholar Kermit Vanderbilt noted, "Increasingly rare is the scholar who braves ridicule to justify the art of Longfellow's popular rhymings." 20th-century poet Lewis Putnam Turco concluded "Longfellow was minor and derivative in every way throughout his career [...] nothing more than a hack imitator of the English Romantics."
In Swedish literature the Romantic period is between 1809 and 1830, while In Europe, the period is usually seen as running between 1800–1850. The Swedish version was very much influenced by German literature. During this relatively short period, there were so many great Swedish poets, that the era is called the Golden Age. The period started around when several periodicals were published that criticised the literature of the 18th century. The important periodical Iduna, published by the Gothic Society (1811), presented a romanticised version of Gothicismus, a 17th-century cultural movement in Sweden that had centered on the belief in the glory of the Swedish Geats or Goths. The early 19th-century Romantic nationalist version emphasised the Vikings as heroic figures.
Germany and England were major influences on Romantic Spanish poetry. During the late 18th century to the late 19th century, Romanticism spread in the form of philosophy and art throughout Western societies, and the earlier period of this movement overlapped with the Age of Revolutions. The idea of the creative imagination was stressed above the idea of reason, and minute elements of nature, including as insects and pebbles, were now considered divine. Nature was perceived in many different ways by the Spanish Romantics, and Instead of employing allegory, as earlier poets had done, these poets tended to use myth and symbol. The power of human emotion furthermore is emphasised during this period. Leading Romantic poets include Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (considered the most important), Manuel José Quintana, José Zorrilla, Rosalía de Castro (in Galician and Spanish), and José de Espronceda.
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- Croatian literature (section Romanticism and the Croatian National Revival)
- Serbian literature (section Pre-Romanticism)
- Rhine romanticism
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