Romantic Era Poets Discussion

William Wordsworth

Wordsworth’s memories are integral to the generation of his poetry. He explores the perception of nature with our senses and the eventual remembrance of these sensations to provide the strength to overcome the pain and difficulty associated with everyday life. In Tintern Abbey the speaker reflects upon his encounter with the “…waters, rolling from their mountain-springs.”(3) and experiences comfort in his distress. In Intimations of immortality, the persona mourns the death of memories of heavenly” glory” after birth and longs to have these memories back. The speaker reflects upon a time when he could see heaven in all of nature that surrounded him but is unable to anymore as a result of his experiences in life. This goes to show Wordsworth’s belief that the recollections of childhood give adults a chance to reconnect with the intense relationship that they had with nature as children and that absence of those memories robs them of the opportunity to experience the visionary power of nature and this leads to feelings of sadness, loneliness and despair.

 These feelings have detrimental effects on the character and overall disposition of human beings. Moreover, memory enables the character of human beings to achieve an immortality of sorts as illustrated in We are seven when the girl says “Seven boys and girls are we; Two of us in the church yard lie/ Beneath the church-yard tree.” (13,14, 15). The child’s inability to conceive the idea of death may be as a result of the memories of her dead siblings, still alive in her heart and preventing her from experiencing the sense of loss accompanied by death. It is therefore important to sustain a strong relationship with nature according to Wordsworth not only because of its kind, loving and peaceful nature, but also because encounters and recollections of nature serve as encouragement and remedies to the sorrows of life.

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William Blake

William Blake’s Songs of innocence and Songs of experience illustrate the disparity between the hopeful positivity and innocence of natural human understanding and the darkness and distortion brought about by experience. These songs also explore the weaknesses of innocence in combating negativity in the society. In Songs of Innocence “Introduction” is simple and beautiful the persona “piped with merry cheer”(6) while the child shed tears of joy. In Songs of experience a darker tone is expressed “…weeping in the evening dew…”(7) and there is evident gloom and sadness as seen “Turn away no more/Why wilt thou turn away?” (16-17). This shows the contrast between the darkness of experience and the hopeful vision presented by innocence. In “Chimney sweeper” a contrast is seen between two children. The child in Songs of innocence, despite being forced to grow up quickly, remains optimistic and is a source of hope and inspiration. He views death as a salvation rather than an ending. Despite the reality of his life being harsh, he relies on his faith in God that he believes will bring him the ultimate salvation. However, the child is not the persona in this poem but rather an adult chimney sweeper who might be basing observations on the behavior of the child rather than his true feelings. The child in Songs of experience however, is the persona in the poem and has grown resentful of the situation he has found himself in and the people responsible for it. He is aware of the futility of a quest for salvation and reflects on death in dark awareness of the people that will eventually be responsible for his demise as illustrated in lines 11 and 12 “…praise God and his priest and king/ who make up a heaven of our misery.” The contrast is also seen in the juxtaposition of “infant sorrow” and “infant joy” which shows the contrast between the joy of the birth of a baby to the mother and the sorrow and fear experienced by the baby at its birth. “The lamb” in Songs of innocence and “The Tiger” in Songs of experience are perhaps the best representations of the duality of human nature. “The lamb”, has the simplest and most beautiful lyrics with a pastoral setting and represents the initial ideal state that children should live in and adults should aspire to provide. “The Tiger” however, represents the most dreadful most fearful forces that a human being can have. Experience has turned innocence in to an intimidating, solitary creature with no probability of being tamed. This represents the ability to understand the changes in the society, and respond to manipulation not with the ignorance and timidity demonstrated by “The lamb” but with a strong and brave heart that only experience can create.

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Samuel Coleridge

Perhaps the biggest moral lesson one can obtain from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is to always show compassion for all of God’s creatures. The speaker wants to show the impact he expects his story to have when he says “…He prayeth well, who loveth well/Both man and bird and beast” (613, 614). Coleridge composed this piece of poetry at the peak of the Irish rebellion and the French revolution. Perhaps Coleridge saw the value in educating the society about the sanctity of life and the moral duty to ensure its preservation. The Irish rebellion led by radical Catholics exercised indiscriminate murder on Protestants and the leader of the French revolution Napoleon Bonaparte was even more ruthless in battle which led to human life becoming dispensable in combat. Coleridge perhaps wanted to warn of the consequences of destroying life and the benefit of penance which would eventually lead to restoration.

This text is incredibly relevant today especially in the context of African American rights in the USA and the devaluing of animal life witnessed in activities such as hunting and crimes such as wildlife poaching. In his notes, Coleridge is keen to point out the intent of the Mariner to “…teach by his own example, love and reverence to all things that God made and loveth.” This moral can be applied by people today in their encounters with others animal or human being as all life is equal in its inception and significance.

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George Gordon (Lord Byron)

Lord Byron’s Darkness was written in 1812 during the romantic era and when several events had occurred that bore close resemblance to the events expected to occur before a biblical Apocalypse. Many authors had come up to raise their voices and warn the society of impending doom and the need for changes in attitude. However, a significant number of authors had begun questioning mythical religion and were embracing the anthropological breakthroughs that were being witnessed with the discovery of fossil evidence of evolution. This year was also described as “The year without summer” Unlike other romantic works, the speaker in Darkness observes that the “…sun was extinguished…” (2) without any divine if supernatural interference. Which may be reflective of Byron’s sentiments regarding the influence of divinity on natural events. The poem then goes on to describe the widespread gloom that the persona witnesses. A symbolism of today’s society occurred in the examination of Darkness. The speaker says

“And he was faithful to a corpse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Lured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answered not with a caress, he died.”(47-54).

These statements may signify the reverence with which some religious institutions are held and the futility of protecting something that provides not the comfort that it should but rather imposes on its followers and eventually drains their spirit.

Percy Sheller

In his works Ozymandias and Ode to the west wind. Sheller can be seen to regard nature as the most powerful thing. In Ozymandias the traveler reflects on “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone. Half sunk, a shattered visage lies…”(2,4) This shows Sheller’s regard for nature and its destructive ability to reign supreme over the power of man. As death, which is a part of nature as eliminated Ozymandias, a ruthless tyrant. In Ode to the west wind, the persona praises nature for its strength, power and unbridled majesty. He reflects upon the weakness of humanity against such a force and the need for introspection on man’s true position in the world in the face of such a great phenomenon. This reverence for nature along with his high regard for common life as opposed to royalty as seen in Ozymandias when the traveler in disgust says”…Round the decay/ Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare.” (12,13) is consistent with the philosophy of the romantics.

John Keates

John Keates’ Ode to indolence carries a general theme of avoidance. This lyrical tone is brought out by contrasting the warmth of the Indolent world when the persona spends a lot of time reflecting on the joys of basking in the delights of laziness as opposed to the coldness of his pursuit of Love, poetry and ambition. This work illustrated the frustration that the poet could have been going through in his attempts to compose meaningful work to a point where he preferred to retreat to a world where he could put off being bothered by such things.

Ode to psyche on the other hand, was composed at a time when Keates was suffering from Tuberculosis, reflecting on his own mortality and expressing a desire to immortalize his love for Fanny Brawne, his betrothed, in his work. The central theme in the lyrics is the glorification of love between Cupid and Psyche and a tone is carried throughout the lyrics that demonstrates the warmth of this love. The words “…build a temple to Psyche and act as her priest.” (66-67) reflect a desire to make an eternal home for his love even with the uncertainty he had regarding his own continuous physical presence in her life. Ode to a Nightingale however, reflects a tone of ambivalence as well as decisiveness along with a theme of negative capability and the power of imagination. An ambivalent tone is displayed when the poet admits to the possibility of such a transcendent experience as the one presented by joining the Nightingale in its immortal world as a trick of the imagination and a tone of decisiveness comes across when the poet refuses to join the bird in this world. This is evidence of poet’s need to escape the harsh reality of life but also his resignation that he in particular could not enjoy such bliss.

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