While there was some overlapping of the Neoclassicism of the 18th century into the Romanticism of the 19th century, and the Romantic movement into the Victorian Age, there are distinct differences in these periods such as the rejection of 18th century rationalism and control of nature to the 19th century Romantic exaltation of feeling, the supernatural, and the beauty of nature. Then, although the Victorian Age embraced some Romantic ideals, it later gravitated toward Realistic and Naturalistic perspectives.
- Eighteenth century poetry
The Restoration period is not generally known for great poetry as it adhered to a classical form, and verse was employed to display intelligence, education, and a sense of discipline in the works. Early eighteenth century poetry was highly influenced by the classic Greek and Roman authors. But a gradual move away from the formal adherence to classical poetry came with Alexander Pope, who parodied the great literary works of the past with his poem "The Rape of the Lock." In this mock epic, in which Pope uses elevated diction and style, he also provides a moving appraisal of human behavior as well as the social manners of the time.
In the latter part of the century, poets such as Thomas Gray, although writing formal poems such as elegies, turned from the formal style to those that were more typical of the free form of the Romantics. Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," for example, illustrates the lofty tone of eighteenth century poems with the Neoclassical iambic pentameter and heroic quatrains, but at the same time there is the beautiful imagery and importance placed upon Nature, which characterizes the Romantics.
- Nineteenth century poetry
The poets of the Romantic Age "turned the tables" on the previous century's thinking as they insisted that the world be viewed through the heart rather than the intellect. Thus, classical and rationalist thought was changed dramatically; part of this major change was effected by the radical social and political changes of this era, such as the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror, along with the crackdown after these events by conservative Britons in England.
Rejecting Classicism and Rationalism, the Romantic poets examined inner feelings instead of using logic, and rejected the Greek and Roman literature for that of the Middle Ages. Rather than displaying interest in the traditional, the Romantics poets were intrigued by the supernatural and mysterious; instead of following classical and standard forms, they developed new forms of expression; rather than exalting the elegance of English aristocratic life, the Romantics appreciated folk traditions. In a complete turn from eighteenth century thinking, instead of holding with the concept of control over society and nature, the Romantics believed in democracy and the common people, and they felt that nature should be untamed.
Examples of Romantic poetry are Lord Byron's long narrative poems, such as Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, which feature brooding, passionate, rebellious figures. Also rebellious is Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Song to the Men of England," which urged the country's lower classes to rebel. Another Romantic is Shelley, who is well remembered for his fervor in such lyric poetry as "To a Skylark." Certainly, one poet who epitomizes the Romantic thinker is William Wordsworth, whose poems such as "Lines Composed a few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," "It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free," and "The Solitary Reaper" are fine examples. Of course, John Keats is a paragon of the Romantic: his verses such as "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode to a Nightingale," and the others are filled with lyricism, imagery, and the celebration of Romantic ideals.
- Victorian poetry
During the Victorian Age Britain grappled with the many social and economic problems that industrialization had caused, and it became embroiled in its policies of imperialism; as a consequence, the poetry shed many of its Romantic ideals, but there was little, if anything, of the Neoclassical Age of the eighteenth century. In the Victorian Age, there remained a prevailing optimism, so the Romantic movement continued to influence Victorian writers. Later, though, there were new styles that began to emerge, such as Realism and Naturalism.
The most popular poet of this era, Alfred Lord Tennyson, was clearly a Romantic since his verse always displays a keen sense of the musicality of language. Another poet who demonstrated Romantic thinking is Robert Browning. However, in other poems, Browning portrays characters in very un-Romantic attitudes, such as "My Last Duchess." Of course, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's beautiful love poems are certainly Romantic in nature as are those of Christina Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, her brother.
Probably the first Victorian poet to depict the "bewildering confusion" of the industrial age was Matthew Arnold. Many of his poems depict the alienation and separation from nature effected by industrialization. Also, his poem "Dover Beach" breaks from poetic tradition through the employment of blank verse used to portray the abandonment of faith in life and the social confusion in the early nineteenth century.
Later in the Victorian Age, Naturalism entered into the literary thought with the theories of Charles Darwin and the plight of workers overwhelmed with the forces of nature and history, and the disappointments of urban life and industrialization. A.E. Housman's quiet lyrics bespeak personal loss and rural change. Thus, in the Victorian poetry of the latter part of the century, there were significant changes in thought and style. As the century drew to a close, poets such as Gerald Manley Hopkins, who was influenced by the philosopher Duns Scotus, emerged. Hopkins also employed a rhythmic pattern that came to be called sprung rhythm, which abandoned traditional metric feet. A pessimism emerged in the writings of the "good gray poet," Thomas Hardy, and sentimentality in the poetry of others such as Emily Bronte, who often wrote of settings and characters from the imaginative world of her childhood.