What are some traits of romanticism in poetry?

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“Romanticism” is usually described as having emerged in English poetry at the end of the eighteenth century and to have become especially influential in English poetry in the early decades of the nineteenth century. “Romantic” poetry is often associated with a number of traits, including the following:

  • Emphasis on an appealing past or an appealing future, in contrast with a sometimes unappealing here and now.
  • Emphasis on emotion and subconscious feelings rather than on mere reason.
  • Emphasis on the poet as a highly imaginative person who brings a kind of new light into the world rather than merely reflecting some already-codified traditional truth (hence the title of M. H. Abram’s famous book on romanticism, The Mirror and the Lamp).
  • Emphasis on political democracy.
  • Emphasis on the individual self and on political liberty.
  • Emphasis on freedom of choice in religious matters rather than on adherence to a strict religious orthodoxy.
  • Emphasis on imagination and intuition rather than on strict scientific rationality.
  • An interest in the medieval past, in the so-called “orient,” in the so-called “primitive world,” and also in the idea that humanity and human society can become better and better.
  • Emphasis on sympathetic emotions, including a concern for other people, especially people who had previously been neglected, disregarded, or marginalized.
  • Emphasis on being original and creative.
  • Emphasis on expressing one’s own personal ideas, ideals, and emotions rather than adhering to any strict, prescribed set of emotions or ideas.
  • Emphasis on the power of art to reflect and promote the moral transformation of the individual.
  • Emphasis on the beauty of nature and suspicion of large urban, industrial places.
  • Distrust of mere materialism and greed.
  • Emphasis on children as persons who tend to be innately good and innocent but whose goodness and innocence are threatened by adults and adulthood.
  • Contrast between the world as it often is (dark and loveless) and the world as it might be (bright and full of love), as in William Blake’s description of mistreated children in his ironically named poem “Holy Thursday”:

And their sun does never shine,

And their fields are bleak & bare,

And their ways are fill’d with thorns;

It is eternal winter there. (9-12)


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