What was the nature of the Romantic poets? 

What was the nature of the Romantic poets?


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The Romantic Era of English language literature spanned the years 1785-1830. Key poets during that time included William Blake, Anna Letitia Barbauld, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, George Gordon Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Romanticism was a reaction to the previous era, namely the Age of Enlightenment. During that time many advances had been achieved in the sciences; knowledge had increased dramatically, and rationalism ruled. The Romantics reacted to having too much knowledge without enough emotion; they wanted to focus on things of the heart rather than things of the head. Additionally, the American Revolution had just taken place, with its emphasis on individual rights and freedom, and the French Revolution for a time caused many to envision the dawning of a new golden age. These were the historical and cultural influences that fed the Romantic poets. 

To understand Romantic poetry, familiarize yourself with the "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" by William Wordsworth, in which he delineates a new type of poetry that he and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wanted to introduce to the world. They proposed poetry that spoke in the language of real people rather than in elevated diction and that featured the common man rather than people in high positions. Even poets from the time who did not deliberately espouse the concept of "lyrical ballads" nevertheless shared many of Wordsworth and Coleridge's tenets. 

Five tenets of Romanticism encompass the nature of the Romantic poets. They are

1. Awe of nature

2. Focus on freedom and individual rights

3. Appreciation of childhood

4. Strong senses and emotions

5. Importance of imagination

While not every poem written by every Romantic poet brings in all five tenets, one can often notice at least three of these five tenets in any given Romantic poem. For example, "The Tables Turned" by Wordsworth, in an obvious backlash against the Enlightenment, exhibits awe of nature, focus on freedom, and strong senses and emotions as it urges students to "quit your books" and retreat into nature, which can teach one more "than all the sages can." Keats' odes are characterized by awe of nature, strong senses and emotions, and imagination. Byron's "Don Juan" shows  a focus on freedom, strong senses and emotions, and imagination as the wild Don Juan pursues his own way through his humorous yet scandalous escapades. These five tenets that capture the essential nature of the Romantic poets.