English RomanticismIntroductionRomantic poetry William Wordsworth S.T. Coleridge G.G. Byron P.B. Shelley John Keats
IntroductionEnglish Romanticism begins in 1798with the publication of Wordsworth andColeridge’s The Lyrical Ballads andends in 1832 with Walter Scott’s death.William Blake and Robert Burns alsobelong to this literary genre, thoughthey live prior to the Romantic period.
English Romanticism is a revolt of the Englishimagination against the neoclassical reason. TheFrench Revolution of 1789-1794 and the EnglishIndustrial Revolution exert great influence onEnglish Romanticism. The romanticists express anegative attitude towards the existing social orpolitical conditions. They place the individual atthe center of art, as can be seen from Lord Byron’sByronic Hero. The key words of EnglishRomanticism are nature and imagination. EnglishRomantic tend to be nationalistic, defending thegreatest English writers. They argue that poetryshould be free from all rules.
Overview of Romantic literatureThe romantic period is an age of poetry.Wordsworth and Coleridge are the mostrepresentative writers. They explore newtheories and innovate new techniques inversification. They believe that poetry couldpurify individual souls and society.For further study of their literary theory,please refer to Wordsworth’s Preface to TheLyrical Ballads & Coleridge’s BiographiaLiteraria.
Lake poetsWordsworth, Coleridge and Southey wereknown as Lake Poets because they lived andknew one another in the last few years of the18th century in the district of the great lakes inNorthwestern England. The former twopublished The Lyrical Ballads together in1798, while all three of them had radicalinclinations in their youth but later turnedconservative and received pensions and poetlaureateships from the aristocracy.
Other greatest Romantic poets are: JohnKeats, P.B. Shelley and G. G. Byron. Karl Marx likes Byron and Shelley very much.MU Dan （ 穆 旦 / 查 良 铮 ） ， a renownedChinese poet and translator , did splendidwork to popularize Byron and Shelley inChina. Years ago, Wordsworth and Coleridge werelabeled “negative romantic poets” while Byronand Shelley were hailed as “positive(revolutionary) Romantic poets”. Wordsworthand Coleridge’s literary achievements wereunderestimated for a long time.
Feminist worksMary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of theRights of Woman in 1792. Gothic novel is a type of romantic fiction thatpredominates in the late 18th century and continuesto show its influence in early 19 th century. Itsprincipal elements are violence, horror, and thesupernatural. Frankenstein (1818) by MaryShelley and The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) byAnn Radcliffe are masterpieces of English gothicnovel.
English fiction gropes its way amidst theoverwhelming Romantic poetry. It revives itspopularity in the hands of Jane Austen & WaltScott.Walt Scott is noted for his historical novel basedon Scottish history and legends. He exerted greatinfluence on European literature of his time.Jane Austen is the first and foremost Englishwomen novelist. Following the neoclassicaltradition, she is unsurpassed in the description ofuneventful everyday life.
Essayists in English RomanticismEssayists Representative worksWilliam Hazlitt Familiar essaysCharles Lamb Essays of Elia; Tales from ShakespeareColeridge Biographia Literaria
William WordsworthWordsworth is themost representativepoet of EnglishRomanticism. He wasborn into a lawyer’sfamily in 1770 atCockmouth,Cumberland. Hisparents died when hewas very young.
He was taken care of by his relatives. He got hiseducation at the Grammar School of Hawksheadand then at St. John’s College, Cambridge.He was a worshipper of nature from his childhood.He frequently visited places of beautiful scenery.A walking tour of the Swiss Alps heightened hisaddiction to nature.He had great sympathy with the FrenchRevolution. He paid 2 visits to France, during thesecond visit he fell in love with Annette Vallon,who bore him a daughter.
Wordsworth was totally disillusioned by theJacobin dictatorship and the French invasion ofother European countries. He became conservativein politics. He was labeled as “negative Romanticpoet” by Karl Marx and was severely criticized byByron.In 1795 he and his sister Dorothy Wordsworthsettled down in Racedown, Dorsetshire. In 1797 hemade friends with Coleridge. The three personsbecame “three people with one soul” in literaryhistory.
Legend has it that Wordsorth and his sister lived akind of incestuous life during this period. Dorothyhelped Wordsworth turn his eyes to “the face ofnature” and “preserved the poet in him”. Sheserved as Wordsworth’s confidante and inspirer.As Wordsworth put it in his poem: She gave me eyes, she gave me ears; And humble cares, and delicate fears; A heart, the fountain of sweet tears; And love, and thought, and joy.
In 1798, Wordsworth and Coleridge publishedtheir Lyrical Ballads. !n 1798 and 1799, he made atour around Germany. Upon his return to England,he and his sister moved to Dove Cottage inGrasmere, the most beautiful place in the LakeDistrict. Coleridge & Robert Southey lived astone’s throw from their dwelling place. The threepoets came to be known as Lake Poets.In 1802, Wordsworth got married to MaryHutchingson. In 1813, he got a sinecure job asdistributor of stamps.
In 1842, he received the governmentpension and in the following year, hesucceeded Southey as Poet Laureate.He died at Rydal Mount in 1850 and wasburied in the Grasmere churchyard.
His major worksWordsworth’s fame lies chiefly in hisshort poems. His short poems fall into 2categories: poems about nature andpoems about human life.He is a “worshipper of nature”. It isnature that gives him “strength andknowledge full of grace”.
His best known poems of nature include: IWandered Lonely as a Cloud, Tintern Abbey,To the Cuckoo, My Heart Leaps up, To aButterfly, An Evening Walk, & The Sparrow’sNest.His best known poems about human lifeinclude: Lucy Poems, The Solitary Reaperand The Old Cumberland Beggar, Michael, &To a Highland Girl.
Wordsworth wrote many sonnets. His famoussonnets are: Earth Has Not Anything to ShowMore Fair, On the Extinction of the VenetianRepublic, & Thought of a Briton on theSubjugation of Switzerland.His best known long poem is The Prelude. In thispoem Wordsworth analyses the growth of hispoetic genius during his childhood and youth, andrecalls the lessons he owes to nature.
Wordsworth’s greatest contribution to Englishliterature is his poems and his Preface to TheLyrical Ballads.Though The Lyrical Ballads is known as thecollaborated work of Wordsworth and Coleridge,all the poems but one (The Rime of The AncientMariner) are written by Wordsworth. Most of hismost quoted poem are taken from this collection.
Preface to Lyrical BalladsWordsworth’s Preface (1800) to LyricalBallads is the manifesto of EnglishRomanticism. It is “one of the revolutionaryworks of criticism, helping usher in theRomantic Age in literature” (Dutton,1984:50).He is primarily concerned to justify thekinds of his poems which he hadcontributed to Lyrical Ballads.
Key points in his PrefaceDefinition of a poet He ( poet) is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind.
Creative process of authentic poetryPoetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerfulfeeling: it takes its origin from emotionrecollected in tranquility: the emotion iscontemplated till, by a species of reaction, thetranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion,kindred (similar) to that which before was thesubject of contemplation, is gradually produced,and does itself actually exist in the mind. In thismood successful composition generallybegins……
Subject matter & poetic languageThe principal object…was to choose incidents andsituations from common life, and to relate ordescribe them, throughout, as far as was possiblein a selection of language really used by men , andat the same time, to throw over them a certaincoloring of imagination, whereby ordinary thingsshould be presented in an unusual aspect……(cf. Liu Yong in Song Dynasty. 凡有井水处，即能歌柳词）
Humble and rustic life was generally chosen,because, in that condition, the essential passions ofthe heart find a better soil in which they can attaintheir maturity……The language, too, of these men has been adopted(purified indeed from what appear to be its realdefects, from all lasting and rational causes ofdislike or disgust) because such men hourlycommunicate with the best objects from which thebest part of language is originally derived.
Brief CommentsWordsworth is the representative poetof English romanticismWordsworth’s poetry is distinguished bythe simplicity and purity of his language.Wordsworth’s theory on versificationhas exerted profound influence on laterpoets. (mimesis--imaginativerecreation)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor ColeridgeColeridge was born into a clergyman’sfamily in 1772. He was a great genius.At the age of six, he had read the Bible,Robinson Crusoe and Arabian Nights.He was a mentally precocious boy, fullof fantasy and dreams in his mind.During his Cambridge years, he madefriends with Charles Lamb, the greatessayist of English Romanticism.
But the campus life bored him. He ran awayfrom the university and enlisted in the armybut discharged after a few months and hereturned to Cambridge. He joined RobertSouthey in a utopian plan of establishing anideal democratic community (namedPantisocracy) in America. The plan resulted innothing but his marriage to Sara Fricker,which turned out to be an unhappy marriage. In 1797 he began his friendship withWordsworth. In 1798 they published TheLyrical Ballads.
In 1798 he traveled to Germany with Wordsworthand began to take to Germany philosophy. Uponhis return to England, he became addicted toopium with a view to relieving his headache. Hequarreled seriously with Wordsworth in 1810.Though they were reconciled to each other later,their friendship had never reached its formerintimacy.In his later years, he turned conservative andresorted to theology for his spiritual support.
Major worksDemonic poems Conversational poemsThe Rime of Frost at Morning the Ancient Dejection: An Mariner Ode ( 沮丧）Kubla Khan Essays Biographia LiterariaChtristabel Lectures on Shakespeare.
The Rime of the Ancient MarinerIt is Coleridge’s contribution to TheLyrical Ballads. It tells us a strangestory in ballad meter. Three guests areon their way to a wedding party whenan ancient mariner stopped one ofthem. The mariner tells of hisadventures on the sea. When his shipsails towards the South Pole, analbatross ( 信天翁） comes through thesnow-fog and alights on the rigging.
The mariner shoots at it quite thoughtlessly.Then misfortune befalls. The whole crew, withthe only exception of the old mariner, die ofthirst as punishment for the act ofinhospitality. The spell breaks only when themariner repents his cruelty. The poem is famous for its beautifulcadence （音韵） and wonderful imagery. Thecombination of the natural and supernatural,the ordinary and extraordinary makes it oneof the masterpieces of Romantic poetry.
Kubla KhanDuring an illness in 1797 Coleridge retired toa lonely farmhouse. One day he fell asleep ashe was reading a passage about Kubla Khanfrom Pilgrimage by Purchas. While dreaminghe composed a poem about 200 or 300 lines.On waking he began to write down the poem.But he was interrupted by a person onbusiness from Porlock and the vision faded.He left a fragment of only 54 lines and neverfinished the poem.
ChristabelIt tells a story of a sorcerer ( 男巫） whocasts a spell over a pure young girl. It iswritten in ballad meter. Its mysteriousatmosphere and the Gothic horror mayfreeze our blood. It is not wholesome toread the poem.
Biographia LiterariaIt is Coleridge’s most influential book ofliterary essays. The main ideas can besummed up as follows.A poem should not be judged as amirror of truth—as we judge science--but as a thing in itself, almost as a livingorganism.
Poets are born and not made. Poems should bejudged only according to their own lights and notaccording to any established precept or precedent.Coleridge envisages that the poet as a man of greatintegrity as well as of special gifts, producingpoems which would offer profound insights intoman’s imaginative, psychological, and ultimately,moral being.
CommentsColeridge is a great Romantic poet. Hispoetic imagination is unique. He is fond ofunusual and supernatural things.Coleridge is one of the first critics to payclose attention to language of poetry. Hemaintains that the true end of poetry is togive pleasure “through the medium ofbeauty”.
George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)
Biographical IntroductionByron was born into an aristocraticfamily. His father is a profligate. Hismother was a passionate Scotswoman.He was born with a clubfoot, whichmade him feel sore and unhappy all hislife.He was a radical supporter of worker’smovement.
In 1811, Byron took seat in the House ofLords. He made vehement speeches to attackEnglish government’s policy for the Luddites(workers who destroy machinery). Byron left England for ever in 1816. He first visited Switzerland, where he madeacquaintance with Shelley. He wrote Sonnet onChillon in Switzerland. Then he moved to Italy, where he finishedChilde Harold’s Pilgrimage and wrote hismasterpiece Don Juan.
Upon hearing the news of the Greek revolt againstthe Turks, Byron plunged himself into the struggle.The Greeks made him commander in chief of theirforces in 1824. Due to months’ hard work underbad weather, he fell ill and died. The Greek peoplemourned over his premature death.Byron was regarded as the “satanic poet” by theEnglish government when he died. It was not until1969 that a white marble memorial to Byron waserected in Westminster Abbey.Nowadays his name is put in the Poets’ Corner.
Major worksLong Poems or Best known single Collections poems in China Hours of Idleness When We Two English Bards and Parted Scotch Reviewers She Walks in Childe Harold’s Beauty Pilgrimage The Isles of Greece Don Juan (from Don Juan) Sonnet on Chillon
Brief commentsByron’s poetry is based upon his ownexperience. His heroes are more or lesspictures of himself. His hero is knownas “Byronic Hero”, a proud, mysteriousrebel figure of noble origin. For such ahero, the conflict is usually one ofrebellious individual against outwornsocial systems and conventions.
The figure is, to some extent, modeledon the life and personality of Byron. Byron’s poetry exerts great influenceon the Romantic Movement. He standswith Shakespeare and Scott among theBritish writers who exert great influenceover the mainland of Europe.
P. B. SHELLEY (1792-1822)
Life storyShelley was born into an affluent familyat Sussex. He got a very good schooleducation, first at Eton and then atOxford.In 1811, while he was still a student atOxford, he wrote a pamphlet TheNecessity of Atheism, repudiating theexistence of God.
He was expelled from Oxford for his seditiouspamphlet. Then he eloped with Harriet Westbrookto Edinburgh.When he returned to London, he became a discipleof William Godwin, a radical social philosopher.He fell in love with Godwin’s daughter. Harriet’sdrowning enabled him to marry Godwin’sdaughter, but left him a bad reputation as animmoralist.He left England and went to the Continent.
He made friends with Byron while they were inGeneva, Switzerland. He wrote his best poemsduring this period.On July 8, 1822, while he was sailing in a smallboat along the coast of Italy, a tempest struck herboat and he was drowned. He was buried in Rome.The inscription on his tombstone reads: “PercyBysshe Shelley, COR CORDIUM”. ( meaningheart of hearts)
Upon his untimely death, one of his opponentswrites, “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry,has been drowned; now he knows whether there isa God or not.”Engels thinks highly of Shelley and Byron, Hewrites, “Shelley, the genius, the prophet, Shelley,and Byron, with his glowing sensuality and hisbitter satire upon our existing society, find most oftheir readers in the proletariat.”
Major worksOde to the West Wind 西风颂To a Skylark 云雀颂The Cloud 云Prometheus Unbound 解放了的普罗米修斯》Queen Mab 麦布女王The Masque of Anarchy 专治魔王的化装游行》The Necessity of Atheism 《 无 神 论 的 重 要性》A Defence of Poetry 《诗辩》
Brief CommentsShelley grew up with revolutionaryideas under the influence of Hume andGodwin. He held a life long aversion tocruelty, injustice, authority andinstitutional religion.Shelley is one of the greatest Englishlyrical poets. He expresses his love forfreedom and his hatred towardstyranny.
His poems abound with personification, metaphorand other figures of speech.Shelley is one of the most important dramatists ofEnglish Romanticism. His greatest achievement intheater lies in his poetic drama PrometheusUnbound.