Discuss the following statements with references to work from Romantic poets:  "Poetry is the criticism of life, while Romanticism poetry is not."

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The two periods which preceded Romanticism (1785-1860) In America were the Puritan/Colonial (1650-1750) and The Age of Reason (1750-1800). In England, the two periods which preceded Romanticism were the Renaissance (1500-1600) and the Neoclassical (1660-1785).

The validity of the quote refers to the characteristics and information presented in the preceding periods. Much of the literature (poetry included) during the periods prior to the Romantic period depicted works which tended to inform, preach to, or persuade the reader. The ideology of the Romantics was quite different.

The Romantics valued the individual over the society, nature over the man-made, and imagination over rational thought. Therefore, the poetry of the preceding periods criticized life as it was (offering superficial advice or sarcasm about what needed to change). The Romantics, on the other hand, did not wish to criticize life. Instead, they wished to praise life (the exact opposite of what the preceding periods did).

Examples of poetry which did not criticize life.

William Blake's "The Lamb": Here, the poem examines the creation of life, nothing more. No criticism exists, only curiosity in life itself.

William Wordsworth's "I Wandered As Lonely As a Cloud": This poem, also called "Daffodils," examines the power of nature over the speaker's life. Without the power of nature, the speaker would not be able to pull himself out of his "vacant and pensive moods."

Neither of the poems criticize life; instead, they both celebrate life and nature's impact on life.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I believe I understand the nature of the statement and its connection to Romanticism.  In Romanticism's "carpe diem" sentimentality and its passion towards the emotions in life, the idea is that Romantic poetry is a celebration of consciousness and not a criticism of it.  For example, in the poetry of Wordsworth, specifically poems such as "I Wandered as Lonely as a Cloud" or "The Solitary Reaper," there is a celebration of life, a worship at the joy of being and not a critical assessment of it.

Yet, I do believe that there are plenty of examples of Romantic poetry that critiques being in the world.  It must be noted here that Romanticism was a response to Neoclassicism and the growing industrialized compartmentalization that was taking over in Europe, specifically England.  In this mode, Romantic poetry served as a "criticism" of this way of life.  In Wordsworth's "The World is Too Much With Us" or "London, 1802," there is a clear critique being offered on a conformist and industrialized method of being that denies the true role of emotions and individuality in being.  Other poets offer the same type of criticism.  In Byron's "When We Two Parted," there is a criticism of a life that is lived without love and romance, while Percy Shelley offers a critique in "Ozymandias" of a life lived for only superficial gain and conquest.  Romantic poetry was a celebration and not criticism of life that was galvanized by a lauding of the subjective and a desire to externalize the personal.  Yet, when it felt that this sentiment was not embraced by the social order, Romantic poetry was a criticism of this form of life.


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