The related terms “Romantic,” “Romance,” and “Romanticism” are often used very loosely, and need some definition. First, the terms are used with a capital letter, to distinguish them from “romance” and “romantic,” terms that are usually applied to love stories or erotically heightened situations. Although Romances often contain a love interest, that is not what defines them. Likewise, Romantic poets deal with the whole gamut of human experience, not just love affairs or the experience of being in love.
The British Romantic poets of this period never used the term “Romantics” to describe themselves. It was the next generation, the Victorians, who applied the term to them. They used, in certain situations, the term “Romance,” to designate a certain traditional genre of literature that can be traced back to medieval times. This genre deals with tales of wonder and adventure, often involving the marvellous and the supernatural. It can be written as either prose fiction or as verse. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) wrote his famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) as such a Romance, part of a long tradition of magical voyages.
However, it is best to set this genre aside in thinking of the terms “Romantic” and “Romanticism.” Although generalizations are difficult, the best way to come to an understanding of the terms is by seeing how Romanticism differs from the cultural movement against which it reacted in the first place, and the cultural movement that succeeded it, in which contemporary poetry finds its place.