Born in 1770, Wordsworth William is renowned for his prowess in Romantic English poetry. According to Stillinger (88) together with Coleridge Samuel, the two men saw the start of the Romantic Age with regard to literature and poetry. Being a Cambridge graduate, he travelled to France when the French revolution was going on (Morgan 300) but it is not that he saw bloody scenes; rather it was what has been described as a revolution in terms of the romanticism and political art. The need for change was therefore sparked by the revolutionists who sought to have a leader of their own choosing. It was very clear that there was a need for change in the area of Poetry and societal acceptance of the same. Keats John (1795) belonged in the group of poets that came after Wordsworth’s time. He was therefore part of the next generation of romantic poets. He used sensual pictures in his work but it was not until his death in 1821 that people began appreciating his poetry.
Romanticism was a movement that started like a small fire before it became widespread among the societies at the beginning of the eighteenth century. According to Brians,
“… Romanticism was more widespread both in its origins and in influence. No other intellectual/artistic movement has had comparable variety, reach, and staying power since the end of the Middle Ages…” (23).
The elevated amount of influence came about because of the many areas that the movement was able to influence. Its history can be traced back to England and Germany before it went for the whole of Europe including France right at the time when Woodworth was in the country. As stated above, romanticism influenced many areas such as art and music and in turn depicted a different nature in each.
Wordsworth and Keats played different roles that saw romanticism last for a longer period and in turn, gain appreciation among different societies. Therefore, an analysis of their works can show signs of the movement and link the two men to the period. This is so although they lived in different generations as Stillinger (50) points out the fact that Keats took over after Wordsworth and was part of Romanticisms movement’s second generation.
With their announcement of the Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge and Wordsworth gave poetry a new meaning that could be referred to as an ‘unplanned or natural flow of strong feelings’ (Abrams 133). With this in mind, the Romantic era became one that saw people from all professions involved. This includes the artists, intellectuals and the literalists that gave a boost to the movement when it first emerged in Western Europe. As mentioned above, the movement took place during the French revolution. In addition, the industrial revolution also found and influenced the period. Critics like Brians (22) and Morgan (312) argue that with the Romantic period came a revolution that saw changes in the society’s political and cultural norms that in turn, saw a change in the very way of thinking among most of those affected. This change brought with it a different perspective to the peoples’ understanding of poetry and all related genres such as song and folklore. In short, just as the French revolution sought change, the proprietors of the Romantic period also sought changes in the different genres of English Literature.
In ‘Romanticism and Wordsworth’, Schuster concurs with this idea by stating
“… It was partly a revolt against aristocratic, social, and political norms of the Enlightenment period and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature in art and literature…” (3).
In the articles, the author argues that Romanticism sought to give reason to concepts used in literature and art and refute the traditional ideas associated with the same. For instance, whereas people thought that Art simply captures a memory or a mere thought, the movement argued that emotions like love that depict romance are also involved. However, love is not the only emotion that can be depicted through customs, folklores and nature, horror and other negative feelings are involved. All these played important roles in the concepts of art and literature including custom and language that give conditions to human nature.
Wordsworth William and Keats John
The Nineteenth Century saw novelists and other literature work benefit from the Romantic period. This can be attributed to the better reception given to the long stories with tales of love amidst horror and even adventure. However, this meant that novels succeeded to woo readers in areas that poets could not dream of dominating as most of the work reflected society and cultural issues that plagued the people at the turn of the century (Stillinger). The theories associated with romance revolved around words like exotic, dreamy and even eccentric (Gregory 22) all of which were hard to connect successfully with a Poet’s mind that is inclined on communicating rather than wooing. In other words, poets wrote about their feelings that were a direct reflection of the societies and environments in which they live hence the terms like poetic truth and sensibility.
Keats and Wordsworth went against the normal conventions of poetry with their works (Stillinger 2). Traditionally, for one to be a successful poet, he or she must first have some degree in writing, in other words be an intellectual in any field related to language, performance arts, or even culture. With regard to culture, one cannot write poetry without being in touch with the community and understanding the factors facing the said community. In his book ‘English Romantic Poets’, Abrams (22) argues the same point by drawing attention to the literary works of the nineties and even eighties that concentrated on politics and society down to the family level. In short, for a poet to be acceptable, it should be on matters familiar to the people and in line with what the society deems proper with regard to morals. This means that a good poet was not expected to imagine a setting, theme, or symbol and put it down as rhymes because if they did, the poems will hold no meaning.
Coleridge and Wordsworth however had different ideas that went against all traditions associated with poetry. While philosophers maintained that one could not use poetry as a means of changing the mind, poets including Wordsworth thought the exact opposite. Wentworth’s poem ‘The Prelude’ where he talks about his childhood is considered the world’s first philosophical poem says Brian (2). In the verses, he informs readers on the hardships he went through trying to get the symbols he saw in his algebra and geometry classes out of his mind. This he said proved futile as he compared the symbols to poetry in terms of poems with rhymes he could not get out of his mind (Schuster). In other words, his imagination could not be separated with basis on that his thoughts come as a whole and cannot separate one from the other when it comes to his poetry.
Wordsworth also believed that poetry shapes beliefs and not the other way around (Shuster). This can be explained as poetry has a role to play on the ideas and feelings of an individual very much against the traditional beliefs that suggest through beliefs; one comes up with words to write in a rhyming sequence. His work originated from actual factors that are visible rather than assumptions and popular belief. The poem, Tintern Abby dates for 1770, a year in which Wordsworth was twenty-eight years old. In the work, Wordsworth expresses feeling towards everything he sees such as those he felt towards the place he had not visited in five years. In addition, he talks about ‘sweet sensations’ (Schuster) and mentions his heart with regard to the sensations he felt when he remembers nature. His mind takes him back to past years, five years back to be precise, and he is able to feel the joy as if he has physically gone back in time. This is evidenced by the line, ‘here I stand with pleasing thoughts’ (Shuster), that clearly shows that it is the thoughts and not an actual presence at the time he had felt so happy.
Romanticism comes into play when Wordsworth is able to relate matters of the mind or rather his own feelings into poetry. According to Abram’s ‘English Romantic Poets’ the poem followed the rules set for poem writing by confining itself to nature that is acceptable by all and common to the society. However, by incorporating his feelings and describing his environment Wordsworth went against the normal traditions by venturing into the philosophical subject, a field that had been reserved for philosophers like Socrates and Descartes. In addition, his idea of poetry dictating beliefs is also evident. He had visited the area earlier in life and had gone back again; the second visit prompts the writing of the ‘Tintern Abbey’ because the area has slightly changed and the first memory proves more captivating. He believed the area to be wanting in comparison to its previous state. He then challenges the said belief through his poem and allows readers to visualize nature as it were and all things in the area that made him feel content.
Keats John took after Wordsworth and the first generation of the movement although he died when young before seeing his work reach great heights (Stillinger). One characteristic of the Romantic period lies in its emphasis on imagination. This meant that, people now sought to find new ideas that would quench their new curiosities. Keats poetry, such as the ‘Bright Star’, is structured in a way that reflects themes generated from Romanticism. Since he was born during the era, this makes sense because he grew up at a time that the society had seen changes in the field (Gallagher). In his poem, ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’ Keats talks about the nature and existence and seeks answers arising from the same. In the poem, he writes that, “…When I behold, upon the night’s star’d face, Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance…” (Gallagher). This provides readers with a picture of the night sky with clouds and stars and suggests romance to this scene. The stars and the clouds, that in turn provide the romantic feeling Keats talks about in the poem, denote nature.
Keats uses imagery in his poems and allows his readers to ‘see’ the sky with a face. On the other hand, his depiction of nature and mentioning his heart are all considered romantic as it expresses nature in its truest form. Abrams in his book ‘English Romantic Poets’ concurs with this idea when he points out to his readers that Keats appealed to Romanticism in a way that saw nature and other natural thing used as a means of depicting romance. After all, nature is the one thing that cannot be influenced or in this case, change the ideas of the poets with regard to Romanticism (Gallagher). Though he died young, his works have since been appreciated in the literature world and included by critics as one of the works that saw Romanticism survive and finally be accepted as part of poetry.
Summary and conclusion
The two poets played different roles in Romanticism and at different times. Wordsworth and Coleridge birthed and nurtured it while Keats and the other poets saw it be accepted and grow to be a norm in the society. The Romantic era encompassed different concepts that saw great change in the lives of poets and those appreciating the act. The concepts were adopted in different areas and not just poetry and in the end, different ideas were merged and great pieces were produced. I believe we are still feeling the Romantic period as the effects felt when it began is still present in the society as new works of painted art and even performed arts are made up of the ideas.
Although it means the Romantic period saw romance incorporated in the works, the provided works in the nineteenth century, there are other components of the same. These include nature, as shown by Keats and Woodworth who both used nature to refute societal ideas. There is also imagery, the use of words and the mind to create pictures that give more detail to a concept. In fact, this was the first communicated aspect that Wordsworth showed and in turn, went beyond boundaries set around poetry by critics and the society.
In conclusion, with Romanticism, talents have been nurtured and presented artwork is now more appealing due to the methods that offer the familiarity of different ideas and painted picture. It is also because of this era that anyone with a talent, and not necessarily an educational background, can practice the art. This is so as long as a person can paint the picture in his head or rhyme words that touch on an issue and communicate it to the audience. On the other hand, today’s art does not only touch on nature but feelings and ideas that can even be out of the natural context. Overall, Romanticism saw the birth of different forms of art; ones that would see art critics in the nineteenth century gnaw their teeth with anger and contempt.
Abrams, Michael. English Romantic Poets. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Brians, Paul. Romanticism. Washington: Washington State University, 2004.
Gallagher, Samuel. “John Keats, Romanticism.” Understanding Romanticism (1992).
Morgan, Monique. “Narrative Means to Lyric Ends in Wordsworth’s Prelude.” Narrative 16 (3) (2004): 298–330.
Schuster, Gregory. Romanticism and Wordsworth. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.
Stillinger, Jack. Romantic Complexity: Keats, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2008.