What are the similiarities and differences between Victorian and Romantic poetry.

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aquirk27 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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These two periods contrast more than they favor, specifically when analyzing the social and cultural perspectives. The Romantics saw a great shift from their actions being governed by God, piety, and the church to a more personal reality. The Romantics focused on the individual, particularly relative to the dream world and beauty that could be discovered all around man. There was a great literary and poetic influx on the topic of nature and the beauty of one’s self, one’s environment and even the splendor that could be found in a drug-induced state. As a matter of fact, the term “sublime” was coined during the Renaissance as people were paying great attention to feelings and emotions that could be evoked during a single experience—one that most often was not related to a religious occurrence. Additionally, the Romantics believed that mediocre minds worked logically or analytically. Rather, true Romantics found that discovering feelings and emotions were more desirable, particularly when those feelings are evoked by the wonders of nature. Take this excerpt from John Keats’s poem, “Bright Star” for example:

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--/Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night/A nd watching, with eternal lids apart,/Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,/The moving waters at their priestlike task/Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,/Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask/Of snow upon the mountains and the moors/

In contrast, the Victorian perspective was framed around the ideals set forth by Queen Victoria. These were: propriety, duty, restraint, and morality. Queen Victoria expected her subjects to behave in a way that was dignified and proper; one who was believed to have their “head in the clouds” would not have been engaged in venerable behavior. These expectations are in direct contrast to the ideals found within the Romantic’s society. This excerpt from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem, “To The Queen” demonstrates such a state of propriety and admiration to her majesty.

O loyal to the royal in thyself,/ And loyal to thy land, as this to thee--/ Bear witness, that rememberable day,/ When, pale as yet, and fever-worn, the Prince/ Who scarce had plucked his flickering life again/ From halfway down the shadow of the grave,/ Past with thee through thy people and their love,/ And London rolled one tide of joy through all/ Her trebled millions, and loud leagues of man/ And welcome! witness, too, the silent cry,/ The prayer of many a race and creed, and clime--/ Thunderless lightnings striking under sea/ From sunset and sunrise of all thy realm,/ And that true North, whereof we lately heard A strain to shame us 'keep you to yourselves;/So loyal is too costly! friends--your love/ Is but a burthen: loose the bond, and go.'

You will notice the imagery used with Keats to emphasize the beauty and splendor around him is nowhere to be found in Tennyson's poem. Instead, the poet speaker actually dismisses human feelings and praises the steadfast work ethic for which Queen Victoria was so celebrated.

There is also great contrast in these two eras when considering nature itself.  The Romantics praised the beauty of their natural environment, whereas the Victorians saw the onset of the Industrial Revolution; a movement that encouraged commerce, destruction of serene landscapes and introduced socioeconomic classification.

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