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English Romanticism

Romantic poetry

William Wordsworth
S.T. Coleridge
G.G. Byron
P.B. Shelley
John Keats

English Romanticism begins in 1798
with the publication of Wordsworth and
Coleridges The Lyrical Ballads and
ends in 1832 with Walter Scotts death.
William Blake and Robert Burns also
belong to this literary genre, though they
live prior to the Romantic period.

English Romanticism is a revolt of the English

imagination against the neoclassical reason. The
French Revolution of 1789-1794 and the English
Industrial Revolution exert great influence on
English Romanticism. The romanticists express a
negative attitude towards the existing social or
political conditions. They place the individual at
the center of art, as can be seen from Lord Byrons
Byronic Hero. The key words of English
Romanticism are nature and imagination. English
Romantic tend to be nationalistic, defending the
greatest English writers. They argue that poetry
should be free from all rules.

Overview of Romantic literature

The romantic period is an age of poetry.
Wordsworth and Coleridge are the most
representative writers. They explore new
theories and innovate new techniques in
versification. They believe that poetry could
purify individual souls and society.
For further study of their literary theory,
please refer to Wordsworths Preface to The
Lyrical Ballads & Coleridges Biographia

Lake poets
Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey were
known as Lake Poets because they lived and
knew one another in the last few years of the
18th century in the district of the great lakes in
Northwestern England. The former two
published The Lyrical Ballads together in
1798, while all three of them had radical
inclinations in their youth but later turned
conservative and received pensions and poet
laureateships from the aristocracy.

Other greatest Romantic poets are: John

Keats, P.B. Shelley and G. G. Byron.
Karl Marx likes Byron and Shelley very much.
MU Dan / a renowned
Chinese poet and translator , did splendid
work to popularize Byron and Shelley in China.
Years ago, Wordsworth and Coleridge were
labeled negative romantic poets while Byron
and Shelley were hailed as positive
(revolutionary) Romantic poets. Wordsworth
and Coleridges literary achievements were
underestimated for a long time.

Feminist works
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the
Rights of Woman in 1792.
Gothic novel is a type of romantic fiction that
predominates in the late 18th century and continues
to show its influence in early 19th century. Its
principal elements are violence, horror, and the
supernatural. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary
Shelley and The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by
Ann Radcliffe are masterpieces of English gothic

English fiction gropes its way amidst the

overwhelming Romantic poetry. It revives its
popularity in the hands of Jane Austen & Walter
Walter Scott is noted for his historical novel based
on Scottish history and legends. He exerted great
influence on European literature of his time.
Jane Austen is the first and foremost English
women novelist. Following the neoclassical
tradition, she is unsurpassed in the description of
uneventful everyday life.

Essayists in English Romanticism


Representative works

William Hazlitt

Familiar essays

Charles Lamb

Essays of Elia; Tales

from Shakespeare


Biographia Literaria

William Wordsworth
Wordsworth is the
most representative
poet of English
Romanticism. He was
born into a lawyers
family in 1770 at
Cumberland. His
parents died when he
was very young.

He was taken care of by his relatives. He got his

education at the Grammar School of Hawkshead
and then at St. Johns College, Cambridge.
He was a worshipper of nature from his childhood.
He frequently visited places of beautiful scenery. A
walking tour of the Swiss Alps heightened his
addiction to nature.
He had great sympathy with the French Revolution.
He paid 2 visits to France, during the second visit
he fell in love with Annette Vallon, who bore him a

Wordsworth was totally disillusioned by the

Jacobin dictatorship and the French invasion of
other European countries. He became conservative
in politics. He was labeled as negative Romantic
poet by Karl Marx and was severely criticized by
In 1795 he and his sister Dorothy Wordsworth
settled down in Racedown, Dorsetshire. In 1797 he
made friends with Coleridge. The three persons
became three people with one soul in literary

Legend has it that Wordsorth and his sister lived a

kind of incestuous life during this period. Dorothy
helped Wordsworth turn his eyes to the face of
nature and preserved the poet in him. She
served as Wordsworths confidante and inspirer.
As Wordsworth put it in his poem:
She gave me eyes, she gave me ears;
And humble cares, and delicate fears;

A heart, the fountain of sweet tears;

And love, and thought, and joy.

In 1798, Wordsworth and Coleridge published

their Lyrical Ballads. In 1798 and 1799, he made a
tour around Germany. Upon his return to England,
he and his sister moved to Dove Cottage in
Grasmere, the most beautiful place in the Lake
District. Coleridge & Robert Southey lived a
stones throw from their dwelling place. The three
poets came to be known as Lake Poets.
In 1802, Wordsworth got married to Mary
Hutchingson. In 1813, he got a sinecure job as
distributor of stamps.

In 1842, he received the government

pension and in the following year, he
succeeded Southey as Poet Laureate.
He died at Rydal Mount in 1850 and was
buried in the Grasmere churchyard.

His major works

Wordsworths fame lies chiefly in his
short poems. His short poems fall into
2 categories: poems about nature and
poems about human life.
He is a worshipper of nature. It is
nature that gives him strength and
knowledge full of grace.

His best known poems of nature include: The

Daffodils (I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud),
Tintern Abbey, To the Cuckoo, My Heart
Leaps up, To a Butterfly, An Evening Walk, &
The Sparrows Nest.
His best known poems about human life
include: Lucy Poems, The Solitary Reaper
and The Old Cumberland Beggar, Michael, &
To a Highland Girl.

Wordsworth wrote many sonnets. His famous

sonnets are: Earth Has Not Anything to Show More
Fair (Written Upon Westminster Bridge), On the
Extinction of the Venetian Republic, & Thought of
a Briton on the Subjugation of Switzerland.
His best known long poem is The Prelude. In this
poem Wordsworth analyses the growth of his
poetic genius during his childhood and youth, and
recalls the lessons he owes to nature.

Wordsworths greatest contribution to English

literature is his poems and his Preface to The
Lyrical Ballads.
Though The Lyrical Ballads is known as the
collaborated work of Wordsworth and Coleridge,
all the poems but one (The Rime of The Ancient
Mariner) are written by Wordsworth. Most of his
most quoted poem are taken from this collection.

Preface to Lyrical Ballads

Wordsworths Preface (1800) to Lyrical Ballads is
the manifesto of English Romanticism. It is one
of the revolutionary works of criticism, helping
usher in the Romantic Age in literature (Dutton,
He is primarily concerned to justify the kinds of
his poems which he had contributed to Lyrical

Key points in his Preface

Definition of a poet
He ( poet) is a man speaking to men: a
man, it is true, endowed with more lively
sensibility, more enthusiasm and
tenderness, who has a greater knowledge
of human nature, and a more
comprehensive soul, than are supposed to
be common among mankind.
Norton Anthology of English Literature;

Creative process of authentic poetry

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful
feeling: it takes its origin from emotion
recollected in tranquility: the emotion is
contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the
tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion,
kindred (similar) to that which before was the
subject of contemplation, is gradually produced,
and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this
mood successful composition generally

Subject matter & poetic language

The principal objectwas 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
coloring of imagination, whereby ordinary things
should be presented in an unusual aspect
(cf. Liu Yong in Song Dynasty.

Humble and rustic life was generally chosen,

because, in that condition, the essential passions of
the heart find a better soil in which they can attain
their maturity
The language, too, of these men has been adopted
(purified indeed from what appear to be its real
defects, from all lasting and rational causes of
dislike or disgust) because such men hourly
communicate with the best objects from which the
best part of language is originally derived.

Brief Comments
Wordsworth is the representative poet
of English romanticism
Wordsworths poetry is distinguished by
the simplicity and purity of his language.
Wordsworths theory on versification
has exerted profound influence on later
poets. (mimesis--imaginative

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge was born into a clergymans
family in 1772. He was a great genius.
At the age of six, he had read the Bible,
Robinson Crusoe and Arabian Nights.
He was a mentally precocious boy, full
of fantasy and dreams in his mind.
During his Cambridge years, he made
friends with Charles Lamb, the great
essayist of English Romanticism.

But the campus life bored him. He ran away

from the university and enlisted in the army
but discharged after a few months and he
returned to Cambridge. He joined Robert
Southey in a utopian plan of establishing an
ideal democratic community (named
Pantisocracy) in America. The plan resulted in
nothing but his marriage to Sara Fricker,
which turned out to be an unhappy marriage.
In 1797 he began his friendship with
Wordsworth. In 1798 they published The
Lyrical Ballads.

In 1798 he traveled to Germany with Wordsworth

and began to take to Germany philosophy. Upon
his return to England, he became addicted to
opium with a view to relieving his headache. He
quarreled seriously with Wordsworth in 1810.
Though they were reconciled to each other later,
their friendship had never reached its former
In his later years, he turned conservative and
resorted to theology for his spiritual support.

Major works
Demonic poems
The Rime of
the Ancient
Kubla Khan

Frost at Morning
Dejection: An
Ode (

Biographia Literaria
Lectures on

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

It is Coleridges contribution to The
Lyrical Ballads. It tells us a strange
story in ballad meter. Three guests are
on their way to a wedding party when
an ancient mariner stopped one of them.
The mariner tells of his adventures on
the sea. When his ship sails towards the
South Pole, an albatross (
comes through the snow-fog and alights
on the rigging.

The mariner shoots at it quite thoughtlessly.

Then misfortune befalls. The whole crew, with
the only exception of the old mariner, die of
thirst as punishment for the act of
inhospitality. The spell breaks only when the
mariner repents his cruelty.
The poem is famous for its beautiful cadence

and wonderful imagery. The
combination of the natural and supernatural,
the ordinary and extraordinary makes it one
of the masterpieces of Romantic poetry.

Kubla Khan
During an illness in 1797 Coleridge retired to
a lonely farmhouse. One day he fell asleep as
he was reading a passage about Kubla Khan
from Pilgrimage by Purchas. While dreaming
he composed a poem about 200 or 300 lines.
On waking he began to write down the poem.
But he was interrupted by a person on
business from Porlock and the vision faded.
He left a fragment of only 54 lines and never
finished the poem.

It tells a story of a sorcerer ( who
casts a spell over a pure young girl. It is
written in ballad meter. Its mysterious
atmosphere and the Gothic horror may
freeze our blood. It is not wholesome to
read the poem.

Biographia Literaria
It is Coleridges most influential book of
literary essays. The main ideas can be
summed up as follows.
A poem should not be judged as a
mirror of truthas we judge science-but as a thing in itself, almost as a living

Poets are born and not made. Poems should be

judged only according to their own lights and not
according to any established precept or precedent.
Coleridge envisages that the poet as a man of great
integrity as well as of special gifts, producing
poems which would offer profound insights into
mans imaginative, psychological, and ultimately,
moral being.

Coleridge is a great Romantic poet. His
poetic imagination is unique. He is fond of
unusual and supernatural things.
Coleridge is one of the first critics to pay
close attention to language of poetry. He
maintains that the true end of poetry is to
give pleasure through the medium of

George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

Biographical Introduction
Byron was born into an aristocratic
family. His father is a profligate. His
mother was a passionate Scotswoman.
He was born with a clubfoot, which
made him feel sore and unhappy all his
He was a radical supporter of workers

In 1811, Byron took seat in the House of

Lords. He made vehement speeches to attack
English governments policy for the Luddites
(workers who destroy machinery).

Byron left England for ever in 1816.

He first visited Switzerland, where he made
acquaintance with Shelley. He wrote Sonnet on
Chillon in Switzerland.
Then he moved to Italy, where he finished Childe
Harolds Pilgrimage and wrote his masterpiece
Don Juan.

Upon hearing the news of the Greek revolt against

the Turks, Byron plunged himself into the struggle.
The Greeks made him commander in chief of their
forces in 1824. Due to months hard work under
bad weather, he fell ill and died. The Greek people
mourned over his premature death.
Byron was regarded as the satanic poet by the
English government when he died. It was not until
1969 that a white marble memorial to Byron was
erected in Westminster Abbey.
Nowadays his name is put in the Poets Corner.

Major works
Long Poems or
Hours of Idleness
English Bards and
Scotch Reviewers
Childe Harolds
Don Juan

Best known single

poems in China
When We Two
She Walks in Beauty
The Isles of Greece
(from Don Juan)
Sonnet on Chillon

Brief comments
Byrons poetry is based upon his own
experience. His heroes are more or less
pictures of himself. His hero is known as
Byronic Hero, a proud, mysterious
rebel figure of noble origin. For such a
hero, the conflict is usually one of
rebellious individual against outworn
social systems and conventions.

The figure is, to some extent, modeled

on the life and personality of Byron.
Byrons poetry exerts great influence
on the Romantic Movement. He stands
with Shakespeare and Scott among the
British writers who exert great influence
over the mainland of Europe.

P. B. SHELLEY (1792-1822)

Life story
Shelley was born into an affluent family
at Sussex. He got a very good school
education, first at Eton and then at
In 1811, while he was still a student at
Oxford, he wrote a pamphlet The
Necessity of Atheism, repudiating the
existence of God.

He was expelled from Oxford for his seditious

pamphlet. Then he eloped with Harriet Westbrook
to Edinburgh.
When he returned to London, he became a disciple
of William Godwin, a radical social philosopher.
He fell in love with Godwins daughter. Harriets
drowning enabled him to marry Godwins daughter,
but left him a bad reputation as an immoralist.
He left England and went to the Continent.

He made friends with Byron while they were in

Geneva, Switzerland. He wrote his best poems
during this period.
On July 8, 1822, while he was sailing in a small
boat along the coast of Italy, a tempest struck her
boat and he was drowned. He was buried in Rome.
The inscription on his tombstone reads: Percy
Bysshe Shelley, COR CORDIUM. ( meaning
heart of hearts)

Upon his untimely death, one of his opponents

writes, Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry,
has been drowned; now he knows whether there is
a God or not.
Engels thinks highly of Shelley and Byron, He
writes, Shelley, the genius, the prophet, Shelley,
and Byron, with his glowing sensuality and his
bitter satire upon our existing society, find most of
their readers in the proletariat.

Major works
Ode to the West Wind
To a Skylark
The Cloud
Prometheus Unbound
Queen Mab
The Masque of Anarchy
The Necessity of Atheism
A Defence of Poetry

Brief Comments
Shelley grew up with revolutionary ideas
under the influence of Hume and
Godwin. He held a life long aversion to
cruelty, injustice, authority and
institutional religion.
Shelley is one of the greatest English
lyrical poets. He expresses his love for
freedom and his hatred towards tyranny.

His poems abound with personification, metaphor

and other figures of speech.
Shelley is one of the most important dramatists of
English Romanticism. His greatest achievement in
theater lies in his poetic drama Prometheus

Keats life story

Keats was born into a stable keepers family.
He got little school education. He was
apprenticed to a surgeon though his interest
was in poetry.
With the aid of Shelley, Keats first collection
of poems was published in 1817.
He was severely criticized by leading literary
magazines such as Blackwoods Magazine
and Quarterly Review.

Keats contracted consumption (pneumonia)

while he was taking care of his brother. He
died in 1821 in Rome, Italy. His grave in
Rome bears the the epitaph: Here lies one
whose name is writ in water.
Shelley and Byron wrote elegies for his
premature death. (cf. Liu Bingshan 293)

Major Works

Major Works
Long poems

Eve of St.

Odes and sonnets

Ode to Autumn
Ode to a Nightingale
Ode on Melancholy
Ode on a Grecian
Bright Star
When I Have Fear
The Grasshopper and
The Cricket.

Keatss poetry is always sensuous, colorful
and rich in imagery, which expresses the
acuteness of his senses.
He draws diction, style and imagery from
works of Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton and
Dante. With vivid and rich images, he
paints poetic pictures full of wonderful

Comments 2
Keats produced a variety of works, including epic,
lyric and narrative poems. The mythic world of
the ancient Greece and the English poetry of
Renaissance period provide Keats with the most
imaginative resources.
Keats poems present us with an everlasting
poetic beauty. His motto is Beauty is truth, truth