What were the characteristic features of poetry during the Romantic movement?   

The characteristic feature of poetry during the Romantic movement was an emphasis on passion, emotion, and nature. These themes are apparent in the works of major Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Burns.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the most important features of poetry during the Romantic movement was its focus on the lives of ordinary people.

In the eighteenth century, when the Neoclassical movement was at its height, poets concentrated on the lives of great men and women, heroes, aristocrats, and figures drawn from ancient mythology.

The very idea that poems should in some way reflect the lives of ordinary folk was anathema; it simply wasn't in keeping with the overriding Neoclassical principle of decorum. Therefore, common people were ignored by poets, who wrote about and for people from the social elite.

All that changed with the birth of Romanticism. In his famous "Preface to Lyrical Ballads," the arch-Romantic poet William Wordsworth set out a kind of manifesto for the new poetry and how it would differ from the existing paradigm.

As part of that manifesto, he stipulated that poetry should be written in “the real language of men” and should concern itself with ordinary people, including those living a “low and rustic life,” such as Lucy Gray and the title character of “The Idiot Boy.”

Other poems in the collection, such as “The Female Vagrant” and “We Are Seven,” show a similar sensitivity to the plight of ordinary folk, who for so long were systematically excluded from works of poetry.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The characteristic features of poetry during the Romantic movement included a celebration of the natural world, a critical attitude towards organized religion, and a celebration of childhood.

William Wordsworth's "Lines composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey" is a good example of a Romantic poem which celebrates the natural world. In this poem, the speaker is resting beneath a "dark sycamore" tree and looks admiringly upon "groves and copses" and "little lines / Of sportive wood run wild." He comments on the pleasing "deep seclusion" of the setting and is especially appreciative of the quiet and calm of the countryside because he has become accustomed to the oppressive "din / Of towns and cities."

Romantic poets like Wordsworth celebrated nature in part because the countryside offered a refuge from the burgeoning, industrializing cities. Romantic poets like Wordsworth also celebrated the beauty and wonder of the natural world because they believed that God existed not in sanctified buildings like churches and chapels, but in the trees, lakes, fields, and flowers of nature.

In William Blake's "Garden of Love," we can see how and why Romantic poets were critical of organized, orthodox religion. In this poem, the speaker returns to "the green" that he used to play on as a child, only to find that a "Chapel" has since been built "in the midst" of this green. The speaker notices that "the gates of this Chapel were shut," and that where there had once been "so many sweet flowers," there were now only "graves, / And tomb-stones." The point here is that the natural beauty created by God has been replaced with and destroyed by a "Chapel," representing organized religion.

Romantic poetry also typically celebrates childhood. In Wordsworth's "Ode on Imitations of Immortality from Early Childhood," for example, childhood is celebrated as a time of innocence and purity. The child, in Romantic poetry, is pure and innocent because he or she has been newly created by God and has not yet been spoiled by the world of men. Indeed, Wordsworth writes that the child comes from God "trailing clouds of glory."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Characteristics of Romantic poetry include lyricism, an emphasis on nature and the common person, and simple language.

Lyricism is emotion, and almost all Romantic poetry is trying to convey deeply felt feeling. This separates it from occasional poems, which were written to commemorate important events, such as coronations or the death of great leader. Romantics, in contrast, convey the emotions felt in ordinary life, such as the joy of seeing daffodils swaying in the breeze.

The Romantics believed that the divine could reach people through nature, which they felt was uncorrupted by civilization. They put a great emphasis on the beauty and awe that could be experienced in the natural world, finding in it a path to solace and a way to grow closer to God.

The Romantics were groundbreaking in their emphasis on the common person. Unlike much former poetry, which used such figures as farmers and shepherds as scenic background or as comic clowns, Romantics exalted and foregrounded common people, finding wisdom and dignity in their simple lives of love and labor. They wanted readers to see that scorned "others," such as gypsies or poor leech gathers, could teach life lessons and elevate the souls of a higher class of people.

The Romantics also wanted their poetry to be as accessible to as broad an audience as possible. Unlike the Neoclassic poets of the eighteenth century, Romantics often (but not always) avoided relying on allusions to the classical literature of Greece and Rome. Instead, they referenced folk ballads and used simple words that an ordinary person would understand.

While this often seems to us simply what poetry is, it represented a radical change in its time period.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Romantic movement began somewhere near the end of the 18th century in Western Europe and lasted well into the first half of the 19th century.  In part, the movement was a rebellion in response to the Enlightenment of the century prior, which focused on the more scientific and rational thought.  Characteristics of Romantic literature emphasize passion, emotion, and nature.  Romantic poetry was often written in common everyday language for all to relate, not just the upper class.  Nature was a focus of many famous poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge.  Wordsworth was known as the "father of English Romanticism."  Any of his works can support the focus of nature.  Robert Burns uses his Scottish dialect to support the "common everyday language" of the era.  William Blake supports the emphasis of emotion in his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial