Compare and contrast between Neoclassical Age and Romantic Age in English literature.

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wordprof eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Neoclassical” era refers to a literary revisiting of Greek and Roman culture; the  ideals of order,  restraint, accuracy, decorum, reason, while Romanticism found inspiration in Nature, human emotions, and personal inspiration. A good representative of neo-classical literature is Alexander Pope (but there can be found example much earlier, even before the Restoration–for example, Ben Jonson). With Romanticism (ushered in by the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge, but Blake came earlier), order and reason gave way to intuition, a connection to Nature, and concentration on emotion: subjective, spontaneous, nonconformist utterances demonstrating an interest in the connections between Man and Nature.

The most telling differences are mental attitudes vs. subjective emotions; and finding ideals in the past vs. finding perfection in Nature.  Look at Alexander Pope–rhymed couplets–irony, political satire, aphorisms, intellectual wit, etc.   

                    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing;             

                    Drink deep, or taste not of the Pierian spring”


                            vs. William Wordsworth’s


                     My heart leaps up when I behold/A rainbow in the sky

                     So was it when I first began; so is it now I am a man”  


The essential difference is here.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In one sense, both Neoclassical and Romantic literature return to the Greco-Roman classics, albeit different aspects of classical literature. The Neoclassical or Augustan writers of the eighteenth century greatly admired Horace, whose "Art of Poetry" tended to strongly influence their poetic theories. They tended to admire Virgil as well and also Homer, but a version of Homer that, as one sees in Pope's translations, tends to be made more elegant and decorous than the original. Neoclassical writers admire reason, and see nature, humanity, and God as sharing in a divine and rational order. Perhaps this sense of the harmony among the three is best expressed in Pope's "Epitaph on Sir Isaac Newton":

NATURE and Nature’s Laws lay hid in Night:

God said, “Let Newton be!” and all was light.

The Romantics trusted less in reason and the social norms of shared taste and instead emphasized the individual, emotion, and self-reflection. They were more influenced by Greek (rather than Roman) poetry and sought in both ancient and medieval works folk traditions and expressions of individualism. They tended to admire nature as something wild and irregular rather than as an expression of natural law. They also tended to be more interested in British folk traditions than the Augustans.