Romantic Poets

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What are the main features of poetry of the Romantic revival?

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Romanticism was launched by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge with their collaboration on The Lyrical Ballads as a reaction to the poetry of the Enlightenment. While the poetry of the Enlightenment featured structured heroic couplets that relied on reason and wit, Romantic poetry featured lyrics that relied on common language and feeling. In his introduction to The Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth defined the tenets of this new movement. He described his intention that poetry express people's common feelings and experiences in a simple language that all could understand. He also emphasized human beings' connection to nature as a spiritual one.

In "Tintern Abbey" from The Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth describes a visit to ruins the speaker has visited in his past. The speaker explains that he enjoyed the scenery in the past in a physical way, while now, older and more experienced, he senses a "presence that disturbs him with the joy of elevated thought." It is this spiritual connection to nature, and his ability to share it with his sister, that lifts the spirit of the speaker.

Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," also in The Lyrical Ballads, is a narrative poem that tells the story of a mysterious mariner who has broken his connection to nature by killing an innocent albatross. While this poem appeals to a wilder and darker side of humanity, like "Tintern Abbey" it emphasizes the importance of that connection to nature to our very souls.

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The Romantic revival refers to a period from the late eighteenth century through 1832 in which poets, writers, and artists across Europe, but particularly in Germany and England, reacted against the Neoclassicism that preceded them. Neoclassical poetry was rooted in Greek and Roman models and used strict forms, such as carefully metered rhyming couplets in poetry. It valued balance and emotional restraint and tended to concentrate on the deeds of great men. The Romantics rebelled against all this, seeking a greater emphasis on emotions, experimenting with freer verse (or artistic) forms, and focusing attention on common people and nature. In poetry, the movement is most strongly associated with Goethe in Germany and Wordsworth and Coleridge in England. While the preface to Lyrical Ballads is most often, and rightfully so, used as a guide to the tenets of Romanticism, especially the emphasis on "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings ... emotion recollected in tranquillity," Wordsworth gives other insights into his motivations for writing in "The Prelude," a long poem published after his death but first drafted in 1805. In it, he speaks of his insight and conviction that as poet-prophet he could describe the common person in a sympathetic light, a task important to him after he witnessed the French Revolution turn into a bloodbath. He was one of many artists of his period who felt a surge of interest in and sympathy for the common person and for nature as solace in a corrupt civilization. Of course, nothing occurs in a vacuum, and the seeds of the Romantic revival were sown throughout the eighteenth century.

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