English Poetry in the Eighteenth Century

Start Free Trial

How did it affect post-eighteenth-century English poetry?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The dominant strain in English poetry in the eighteenth century was Neoclassicism. This type of poetry produced the backlash of the nineteenth-century Romantic movement.

The most admired and dominate type of eighteenth-century poetry, Neoclassicism, modeled itself on the forms and subject matter of the ancient Greeks and Romans. This poetry was most often written in heroic (rhyming) couplets and used very regular rhythms and cadences. It concerned itself with the great figures or mythic literature of the Greco-Roman world and was known for its emotional detachment and pithy wit.

The Romantics rebelled against what they understood as the sterility and elitism of this type of poetry. They sought to compose lyrical poetry: poetry that expressed emotions. As the Romantic poet William Wordsworth explained in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, the groundbreaking collection of poetry he wrote with Samuel Coleridge, the aim of poetry for the Romantics was to express spontaneous emotions recollected in tranquility. The Romantics wanted to write from the heart, producing a poetics of sentiment. They focused their poetry on exalting the common person rather than celebrating great men, showing the divine in nature, and exploring the fanciful and supernatural: all themes that flew in the face of Neoclassicism.

The Romantics radically altered the face of poetry in ways that are still with us today: we still embrace poetry that is lyrical, exalts nature, and describes ordinary, if emotionally charged, events.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial