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Nail Kala

Dr. Rossman Palfrey

ELT 216 English Literature II

20 July 2017

Three pillars of British Romanticism

Romanticism was a movement in philosophy and literature that reshaped the

world of Western European societies in the late 18th and early 19th century. Its beginning

is tied to the French Revolution and it introduced novel ideas to the industrial world,

shifting from the foundations of neo-classicism, which were comprised of reason and

order, towards a highly subjective approach in epistemology and poetry. This subjective

approach stood for imaginative power of human beings in comprehending the Nature,

which represented the source of reason and inspiration, and it fought against organised

society that was distracting the people from their natural being towards materialism.

Therefore, the Romantics placed great emphasis on imagination and natural environment,

as the means for human liberation from the shackles of oppressive order. The most

influential Romantics in Britain were William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Samuel

Taylor Coleridge. Their poetic expression and revolutionary spirit formed the core of

British Romanticism and set groundwork for the late Romantics. However, even though

these authors belong to the same movement and they employ similar themes in their

poems, their poetic focus varies; Blake was more concerned with political authority and

abandonment of organised society, compared to Wordsworth and Coleridge who were

more preoccupied with the relationship between man and the Nature. Amongst these
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three pillars of British Romanticism, William Blake was the first poet to initiate a shift in

poetic and philosophical thought of the time, introducing imagination and anarchy as the

foundations for revolutionary ideas.

William Blake is known as one of the first Romantic poets in Britain, and even

though he belonged to the era that preceded Romanticism, his emphasis on imagination

and individual feeling makes him an early Romantic (Frye, 65). His popularity is due to

the ability to speak to all classes of men (56), for in his poetry he praises imaginative

power and individual feelings, confronting them against brute force and authority;

Blakes poetry is concerned with the prophetic feelings of the poet rather than the

dominion of the powerful. The first concept in his philosophy is the imaginative power of

man in shaping the reality: The Nature of my Work is Visionary or Imaginative; it is an

Endeavour to Restore what the Ancients calld the Golden Age (qtd. in Frye, 60). This

imaginative power allows men to perceive true reality, as it really is when it is seen by

human consciousness at its greatest height and intensity (60). Therefore, Blake perceives

the poet as the prophet; and the poet is to show us what kind of world is actually in front

of us, with all its glowing splendours and horrifying evils (60.) This view of the poet as

the prophet is present in Blakes Introduction, from Songs of Experience:

Hear the voice of the Bard, /

Who present, past, and future, sees; /

Whose ears have heard /

The Holy Word /

That walked among the ancient trees. (First stanza, 1-5)

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This imaginative power of the poet represents a criterion between right and wrong; Blake

used this subjective moral to condemn authority and unjust organised society. Despite

him being an artist, Blake was highly political and his sympathy towards the American

and French revolution enhanced his refutation of organised society (64). In his poem

London, emotionally wounded Blake sees the government and the church, the main

representatives of firm order and authority, as the sources of woe and despair:

How the chimney-sweepers cry /

Every blackening church appals, /

And the hapless soldiers sigh /

Runs in blood down palace-walls. (Third stanza, 1-4)

He sees A mark in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe (First stanza, 3-

4), and the terrible state of the people is caused by the ruthless authority; his liberated

human feelings rage against the powerful, and protest against all institutional radicalism

(Frye, 64). In his poetry, Blake combines Romantic ideas of imagination with

revolutionary protest against authority, which he expressed through courage and

simplicity (67), and this poetic freedom made him one of the most popular authors in

recent history. However, two other British poets, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor

Coleridge, are also famous for their immensely profound poetic expression, which is

manifested in their collaborative writing, Lyrical Ballads.

William Wordsworth was one of the most influential English poets of all time; his

poetry is highly sensational and appealing, as he arouses a sense of the unity of individual

and universal life, of man and nature (Williams, 110 - 111). This unity is established by

two elements that are paramount to Wordsworths poetic philosophy: imagination and
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simple poetic expression. His collaborative work with Samuel Taylor Coleridge proved

to be fruitful; however, his poetry differs from Coleridges in the manner he forms a

relationship with the Nature. Wordsworth disregards the use of imaginary and fancy

elements, but employs imagination in creating a spiritual bond with the universe (Willey,

88). This spiritual bond is dependent on the poets feelings about the natural elements that

he describes, and beliefs are made of poetry rather than poetry out of beliefs (86).

Therefore, when Wordsworth, in the fifth stanza of Ode: Intimations to Immortality,

expresses a belief that Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: / The Soul that rises with

us, our lifes Star, / Hath had elsewhere its setting (1-3), it is because he sees intimations

of a past glory in the Nature: The sunshine is a glorious birth; / But yet I know, wereer I

go, / That there hath past away a glory from the earth (Second stanza, 7-9). This bond

that he creates with the Nature is purely imaginative; Wordsworth is concerned with the

reality, and disregards the uses of myths and fables, which would produce a lower level

of truth (91). Willey comments on the distinction between fancy and imagination and

states that imaginative approach to poetry presupposes poets colouring of external

objects (88). Furthermore, Wordsworth was also famous for his use of simple poetic

expression, which was his primary artistic intention, as he states in Observations Prefixed

to Lyrical Ballads:

The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose

incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them,

throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by

men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of
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imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in

an unusual aspect.

This simplicity of poetry, however, does not make his poems less powerful, for

Wordsworth, with his imaginative genius, transforms rudimentary feelings of his fellow

human beings into spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; such refined emotions

as sympathy and love he expresses in She Dwelt Among Untrodden Ways, where he

praises a common, yet lovely girl, who passed away from the memory of men:

She lived unknown, and few could know /

When Lucy ceased to be; /

But she is in her grave, and, oh, /

The difference to me. (Third stanza, 1-4)

This use of simple poetic expression brings the poet closer to the common men, and

makes his poetry universal and timeless. These characteristics of Wordsworths

expression, imagination and simple diction, makes him the pillar of British Romanticism.

However, Wordsworth alone is not sufficient to encapsulate the spirit of early

Romanticism. Another poet, a close friend and associate with Wordsworth, also helped in

creating the groundwork of the British Romantic movement. He is known as Samuel

Taylor Coleridge.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to those who know him well, exists in three modes, as

Philosopher, Poet, Friend(Harper, 144). The Friend, even though he may have been

great in the role, is not the Coleridge that is widely known across the literary world; his

main strength lies in his transcendental poetry and usage of supernatural symbols. That

Coleridge was influenced by the leading German transcendentalist, Immanuel Kant, is an

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undeniable fact (Simons, 148). However, despite being hugely overwhelmed with Kants

ideas of natures sublimity, Coleridge rejected Kants view that in the relation between

mind and nature, the mind is superior; Coleridge emphasised the interdependent

connection between the observer and the thing that is observed in order to achieve

transcendental effects (Simons, 150). From this symbiosis of man and nature Coleridge

derives his poetic truths and thus confirms Wordsworths stance that beliefs are made of

poetry. This is apparent in his poem To Nature, where Coleridge admires natural

environment and deems it as the source for moral values:

It may be indeed fantasy when I /

Essay to draw from all created things /

Deep, heartfelt, inward joy that closely clings; /

And trace in leaves and flowers that round me lie /

Lessons of love and earnest piety. (1-5)

For Coleridge, the mind itself is not sufficient to trace lessons of love and earnest piety;

natures sublimity is essential in contemplating the reality. However, even though

Coleridges poetic beliefs resemble those of Wordsworths, his poetic expression is

different, as he relied on the use of supernatural elements, and Coleridge himself testified

to this: my endeavors would be directed to persons and characters supernatural Mr.

Wordsworth, on the other hand, wasto give charm of novelty to things of everyday

(qtd. in "Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Contrast to William Wordsworth.", 2011). This

employment of supernatural motifs in his poetry is best observed in one of his most

celebrated poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose, /

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Nor spake, nor moved their eyes; /

It had been strange, even in a dream, /

To have seen those dead men rise. (Part V, Tenth stanza, 1-4)

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a best representative of Coleridges transcendental

poetry, for it relates natural environment to moral struggles of a fallen mariner (Simons,

173). However, the reason that Coleridge uses the supernatural goes deeper than to

induce a sense of awe and fear, for it should alter our common method of perception and

create a suspension of disbelief that would disrupt the readers reality; only in this

fantastic state is a man capable of reassessing moral values and attitudes (201). Therefore,

when Coleridge writes of a bodily Death, living dead men, and hovering angels, he does

so in order to deepen our understanding of sin and repentance, and to force the readers to

escape from common reasoning, which is a destroying force for the faculty of mind. The

Poet and the Philosopher Coleridge certainly was, as he beautifully connected

transcendentalism with the supernatural to form a poetry that is transformative and

appealing to the very core of our senses, and which earned him the right to be recognised

as one of the main figures in British Romanticism.

British Romanticism owes a huge gratitude to three pillars of the early Romantic

thought: William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Their

similar contemplations on man and reality and different poetic expressions made them

one of the most influential poets in the history of English literature, and helped their

fellow human beings to reassess the way by which they comprehend this worldly stage.
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Works cited

Frye, Northrop. Blake After Two Centuries. English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays

in Criticism. Ed. M.H.Abrams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960. Print.

Blake, William. "Introduction to the Songs of Experience." Poetry Foundation. Poetry

Foundation. Web. 4 Apr. 2015.<http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172922>.

Williams, Charles. Wordsworth. English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays in Criticism.

Ed. M.H.Abrams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960. Print.

Willie, Basil. On Wordsworth and the Locke Tradition. English Romantic Poets:

Modern Essays in Criticism. Ed. M.H.Abrams. New York: Oxford University

Press, 1960. Print.

Wordsworth, William. "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early

Childhood." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. 4 Apr. 2015.


Wordsworth, William. "Observations Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads (1800)." Poetry Foundation.

Poetry Foundation, 13 Oct. 2009. Web. 4 Apr. 2015.


Wordsworth, William. "She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways." Poetry Foundation. Poetry

Foundation. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174818>.

Harper, George McLean. Coleridges Conversation Poems. English Romantic Poets:

Modern Essays in Criticism. Ed. M.H.Abrams. New York: Oxford University

Press, 1960. Print.

Simons, Karen Elaine. "To Rescue This Enlightened Age: The Supernatural

and Coleridge's Divine Poetics." Diss. The U of Waterloo, 1999. Print.

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Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "Samuel Taylor Coleridge To Nature." Genius. Web. 4 Apr. 2015.


"Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Contrast to William Wordsworth." InfoRefuge. 14 July 2011.

Web. 4 Apr. 2015. <http://www.inforefuge.com/compare-contrast-coleridge-


Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (text of 1834)." Poetry

Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. 4 Apr. 2015.