The romantic period spanned between approximately 1780 and 1820. It was a wide spread European movement, that affected the way people thought and behaved. It is best described as an artistic movement involving poetry, music, theatre, art and much more. People rejected the strict neo-classical values which preceeded it and reacted against them.
Neo-classicism stood for various things: in politics it was totalitarian and believed in the absolute rule of King and aristocracy; in religion, faith in God was absolute and cinq…; feeling and thought had to be reasonable and balanced. Romanticism reacted against these things, its main direction was towards freedom of thought, behaviour and feeling which was reflected in the poetry of the period by such poets as Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth. During the romantic period people expressed their opinions openly through writing poetry, doing art, composing music etc. Freedom of thought was one of the main aspects of this period. This brought about romantic poetry, which played a substantial part in the transcending from neo-classicism into romanticism.
During the romantic period writers began to acknowledge the beauty of nature and natural things which resulted in worship to nature. This was the key to many Romantics, for which an example is William Wordsworth as his poem, ‘The World is too Much With Us’ shows his devotion towards nature as his god. A prime example from his work to prove this is, ‘Little we see in Nature that is ours.’ Anti-establismentism was another aspect of romanticism, as all romantics opposed to established institutions such as the Church and the Monarchy.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the main romantics along side William Blake that disputed against institutions such as mentioned above. The ancient and exotic were another attribute of romanticism, as romantics were fascinated by different cultures which differentiated by either time or distance. Samuel Coleridge and John Keats took particular interest and were fascinated by this. ‘Xanadu’ in ‘Kubla Khan’ is an example of Coleridge’s fascination whereas an example of Keats interest is his poem ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ which based on medieval love.
The supernatural was another factor for which people had a liking to during the romantic period. This is closely connected to the fascination of the ancient and exotic. Poets such as, Thomas Chatterton, John Keats and Samuel Coleridge took a particular interest in these sort of elements of romanticism. A major characteristic of romanticism for many romantics was idealism. Blake’s words, ‘Everything that lives is holy’ is an example of the sort of idealism in the romantic period. The indulgence of the senses was another important aspect for romantics, as this was a method of transcendence which enabled them to escape into a world where nothing was of any importance. Here people had freedom they could let their imagination run wild. Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and Byron were poets best known to indulge in such activities.
Literature was one way in which the concepts of romanticism were portrayed to ordinary people. Poetry played a significant role in this task, and brought as written by poets such as Keats, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley and many more. I will explore the romantic aspects in William Wordsworth’s poems ‘The Daffodils,’ Percy Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ and William Blake’s poem ‘The Tyger.’
The poem ‘Daffodils’ contains various characteristics that would classify it as a romantic poem. Firstly Wordsworth depicts the beauty of nature and talks about how beautiful the daffodils are, ‘All at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils.’ A very effective strategy employed by Wordsworth is that he uses personification, which is in actual fact his imagination. He describes their movements and compares them to humans and also gives them human qualities, ‘dancing in the breeze… tossing their heads in sprightly dance.’
Wordsworth portrays his emotions and describes his mood as he shows how happy he is when he sees the daffodils and when he is amidst the beauty of nature. ‘A poet could not but be gay.’ Finally to finish of the poem Wordsworth uses his memories to remember an occasion when he was very happy, ‘For oft, when on my couch I lie, in vacant or in pensive mood… and then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils.’
The poem ‘Ozymandias’ gives us the picture of an egoistical and powerful ruler. Pride is one of the main themes in the poem. The first three lines of the poem tell us about the setting of the poem. The word ‘antique’ in the first line suggests that it is old and valuable. As the poem goes on, it talks about ‘vast’ legs which indicate that the man who built them must have been powerful and had the money to build the statue. In the following three lines Shelley only reveals the lips of the statue. He doesn’t mention anything about other facial parts to describe Ozymandias.
The words ”Cold command’ shows us that Ozymandias gave the orders. In the following three lines the poem moves on to talk about the sculptor, who is Ozymandias’s servant and therefore was able to depict the king as he wanted. We are then told that the passions were ‘read’ telling us that Ozymandias was a self-centred person as the statue indicates. In the next three lines we are told of the inscription on the statue. ‘My’ has been used twice, ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘King of kings.’ Ozymandias has referred to himself four times, which portrays his ego. In on of the lines he uses the word ‘mighty’ which must refer to other kings who ‘despair’ as there work wouldn’t be as great as his. In the final three lines his pride is shown to be in rain: ‘nothing beside remains.’ Which tell us that there is nothing there now. There is no Ozymandias, no works, nothing but sand. There are just remains of the ruined statue there.
There are various romantic aspects in this poem. The first romantic aspect is Shelley’s interest in the ancient and exotic. It is an escape from the present into an imaginative world. Shelly’s opinion about tyrannical power, and the fact that he is against it is another romantic aspect, as romantics revolted against established institutions such as Monarchies. He also expresses his views on hierarchical power. Shelley illustrates the power of nature and time against men. We learn that man is powerless against this, as we die but nature and the time will forever continue. Finally there is the criticism of the status quo as Shelley points out the fact that all things change.
William Blake was considered as eccentric during his period. When his poem ‘The Tyger’ was written it was unusual for writers to show interest in wild animals. We don’t know what Blake wants us to think the tiger represents but, the presence of something powerful and majestic. Blake’s spelling of the title, ‘The Tyger’ shows the exotic or alien quality of the beast. The poem opens with a couplet which contrasts the dark ‘Forests of the night’ and the ‘burning’ brightness of the tiger’s various colours. The questions that follow are rhetorical because no answer is provided and are posed to the tiger. For example, the answer to the first question ‘What immortal eye or hand’ leads us imagine that the creator of this animal must be someone or something powerful such as; God.
Blake questions about the fire in the tiger’s eyes, ‘Burnt the fire of thine eyes?’ Then he says ‘What the hand, dare seize the fire?’ which indicates that someone daring has stolen the fire and put it in the tiger’s eyes. The poet is astounded by the tiger’s characteristics, ‘In what furnace was thy brain?’ The poem ends with the same question it began with, but with a slight difference, as the verb ‘could’ has changed to ‘dare’ making the poem more dynamic. The poem is not about the tiger, but about the ‘Tyger’ in the view of an onlooker. Blake imagines the tiger to be a part of God’s power in creation.
All three of these poems are very romantic and are effective in conveying a message. The poems provide an atmosphere where people are free to do as they please without any fear, and are not bound as they were during the neo-classical period. The romantic period was a dynamic change in society and has affected the present, as we have benefited from this movement in various ways. Poets such as William Blake, Percy Shelley, William Wordsworth etc, have changed our lives significantly through their poems and literature.