What are some salient features of Romantic poetry and where do they appear in Wordsworth's The Prelude (Book I), Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," and Coleridge's "Dejection: An Ode"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The Romantic movement in English poetry is often associated with a number of typical characteristics, and many of these characteristics appear in William Wordsworth’s The Prelude and in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and Dejection: An Ode.” Among the typical Romantic traits that appear in all three poems are the following:

  1. An emphasis on humanity’s relationship with nature.
  2. A emphasis on the frequent beauty of nature.
  3. An emphasis on nature’s beneficent influence on humanity.
  4. An emphasis on strong personal emotion.

The opening lines of Book I of Wordsworth’s The Prelude reveal a number of these common features of English Romanticism:

O there is a blessing in the gentle breeze,

A visitant that, while he fans my cheek,

Doth seem half-conscious of the joy he brings

From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.

In this passage, the exclamation “O” implies strong personal emotions (emotions of joy and pleasure, to mention just two). The words “blessing” and “gentle” imply that nature is beneficent, as do the words “fans” and “joy.” Meanwhile, the fourth line stresses nature’s beauty.

In Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” many of the same traits are also visible.  Thus, an emphasis on natural beauty is implied when Coleridge mentions

. . . gardens bright with sinuous rills

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree . . . (8-9)

Strong emotion is suggested by the exclamation “But oh!” (12), while nature’s beneficence is suggested by the reference to “sunny spots of greenery” (11).

Finally, in Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode,” the speaker almost looks forward to the coming of a storm since the storm may help relieve his current depression. He refers to the sounds of storms by saying,

Those sounds which oft have raised me, whilst they awed,

And sent my soul abroad,

Might now perhaps their wonted [that is, accustomed] impulse give

Might startle this dull pain, and make it move and live! (17-20)

Here, nature is shown to have had a beneficent influence (it “sent my soul abroad”), and, even in its darker aspects, is shown to have a kind of beauty that makes it preferable to the speaker’s present mental “pain.” Finally, the exclamation mark at the end of the quoted passage reveals the speaker’s strong emotion.

Thus, all three quoted passages illustrate the strong and often positive relationship that the Romantics stressed between humanity and nature.