English Romantic poets like Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge and others seemed to have built up a strong resistence against the Neo-Classical/ Augustan literary tradition. By opposing the despotism of the senses, the rationalism and scientism, decency and decorum, and by prioritising emotion over intellect, Nature over Art, the country over the city, Romanticism broke away from the disciplinary rigour of Neo-Classicism. It emphasised spontaneity, a mystical-spiritual attitude to life, great interest in the Past, and an a-priori knowledge of the universe.
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Neo-Classicism emphasized wit over imagination and restraint over emotion. It was conservative in its approach: Order and logic were lauded, balance and form were of more importance than content; elegance of diction, clarity, dignity, and decorum were of paramount importance. Satire and didactic literature were prevalent as well as the essay, the parody, and burlesque. The heroic couplet was an essential in poetry.
In Victor Hugo's words, Romanticism is "liberalism in literature": freedom of expression, subjectivism, capriciousness; solitude and emphasis on the individual. Lyricism and devotion to beauty are characteristic of Romantic poetry.
I think kc4u is correct. Romanticism isn't necessarily a "break" from Neo-Classicism, rather a complete rejection of it and movement to an opposite extreme which is characterised by a rejection of reason and a return to nature and a focus on man's emotion. I think this is a case of the pendulum swining to the other extreme rather than just a mere "break".
Literary critics consider 1798, the year when Wordsworth and Coleridge published their "Lyrical Ballads," to mark the beginning of the English Romantic Movement. However, its actual beginnings date back to the poetry of Gray, Collins, Blake and Burns who are regaded as 'Transition Poets' who lived and wrote at the end of the Neo-Classical Age. Critical opinion is divided as to when the Romantic Movement actually came to an end; infact, some critics consider the Victorian age to be a continuation of the Romantic Age and that the English Romantic Age extended till the beginning of the Modern Age in the twentieth century. The characteristic features of English Romantic poetry are:
1. Love and worship of Nature and dislike for the urban life was the mostimportant feature of the Romantic Age, whereas the Neo Classical Age was urban centric.
2. Love for the Medieval Age was another important aspect of the Romantic Age, whereas the Neo Classical Age authors preferred anything and everything Greek and Latin.
3. Love for the supernatural and the mystical was an important feature of the Romantic Age, whereas the Neo Classical Age authors were suspicious of the same.
4. Poetry, for the Romantics poets, came to be regarded as the spontaneous expression of the poet's own subjective feelings and did not conform to the poetic conventions of classical doctrines. Poetry according to the Neo Classical poets was a logical and reasoned activity guided by the rules of the ancient Greek and Latin poets and theorists.
5. The Romantic poets Completely abandoned the 'Heroic Couplet' which was the standard line of verse of the Neo Classical poets and substituted it with simpler verse forms like the ballads which belonged to the English rural Folk. In fact the 'Ballad Revival' is said to have sparked off the English Romantic Movememnt.
6. The 'poetic diction' of the Neo-Classical Age was completely done away with during the Romantic Age and the language of the ordinary people became the language of Romantic poetry.
7. The subjects of Romantic poetry were often ordinary people:"The Idiot Boy," unlike the subjects of Neo Classical poetry which were always about classical subjects.
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