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What is the contribution (importance) of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats and Shelley to the Romanticism?

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Thanh Munoz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Each of these poets had a distinctive style expressive of his own brand of Romanticism. We can discuss them separately, and you might then draw conclusions as to the common threads among them and how each one in his own way was a part of the Zeitgeist—the spirit of the time.

Wordsworth laid out his aesthetic in the preface he wrote for his and Coleridge's collection Lyrical Ballads. For Wordsworth, the most important requirement of the new kind of poetry he aimed to write was that its language should be simple and direct, avoiding artificial "poetic diction" and essentially being the same as prose apart from meter and rhyme. Though Wordsworth did not identify it as such, this was a kind of "democratization" of poetry, an expression of the new egalitarian ideals of his era of revolution and social change. The degree to which personal emotion is expressed in his verse was also a change from the past. Wordsworth's The Prelude is a long autobiographical poem written in direct language and inwardly focused. In Wordsworth's work overall, we see the prime Romantic traits of naturalness in language and self-expression.

Coleridge's work is expressive of a side of Romanticism that is, oddly enough, in some ways the opposite of Wordsworth's. His focus, in his best-known poems, is on the exotic, fantastic world of legend and the past. In "Kublai Khan," he relates a kind of fairy-tale of "the Orient," inspired by an opium dream. As with his "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the emphasis is on the supernatural and on ideas usually buried in the subconscious, in which there is no clear division between reality and illusion.

Shelley and Keats were a generation younger than Wordsworth and Coleridge. Their work thus represents a second phase of the Romantic movement, in which the aim was no longer self-consciously to produce groundbreaking works in a new form, but rather to express (and to place the reader in) a heightened state of emotion, an exalted artistic experience in which there is an immediacy of expression not seen before in literature. In both poets, the language becomes an almost musical tapestry, with rich, startling word choices and uninhibited emotion. These two writers developed further the features of the earlier generation's work which we have described, adding their own idiosyncratic expression and the force of their own personalities to create their unique styles.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In their own way, each thinker contributed something unique to the Romantic movement.  Wordsworth's primary contribution was the fact that he became so closely associated with the movement in his assertion of the basic ideas such as subjective expression, love of nature, and reverence of the individual experience.  In a similar vein, Coleridge was able to explore the emotional and supernatural side of the creative experience.  For Keats and Shelley, the Romantic movement became an exploration of the poet's desire to achieve immortality through their work.  It also became a movement where  a philosophical analysis of what people know and how they will be perceived as time passes became critical points of discussion.

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Wordworth and Coleridge set the ball rolling as far as Romanticism was concerned by publishing Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Wordsworth's articulations in the 1800 Preface to the collection, contained the important Romantic definition of poetry as "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" born out of "emotions recollected in tranquility", de-elitized the language of poetry and the poet too, as a 'man talking to men'.

Wordsworth is primarily known for his metaphysical figurations of nature, development of Romantic sensibility and imagination and a kind of philosophical poetry of love, man and god.

Coleridge is more in tune with the macabre and the Gothic as in Kubla Khan or Christabel and so on. His is also a divine, transcendental quest, but one that is bound to end in frustration and impossibility.

Shelley is a mythic prophet of the indestructible powers of nature from the West Wind to the clouds in the sky. He is the most radical revolutionary thinkers among the Romantics, who has the faith that poetry can change the shape of the world.

Keats is the most private, the most serene and the most lyrically and sensually Romantic of the lot, perhaps the most tragically existential too. A grinding feeling about transience, the stasis of eternity, the impossible quest for the transcendental at the edge of imagination and an inimitable mysticism are the Keatsian markers in poetry.