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Home » » What is Romanticism? Discuss the salient features of Romanticism with special reference to William Wordsworth and John Keats.
The Romantic Period (1798-1832) holds a very significant place in the history of English literature. It is basically a movement that started with the publication of Lyrical ballads in 1798. In collaboration with Samuel Taylor  Coleridge, William Wordsworth published this book. The trends of Romanticism revived with this notable publication. So the period is also known as the Revival of Romanticism lord Byron, P. B. Shelley, and John Keats followed the style of Wordsworth and Coleridge. The poetry of the Romantic revival is a revolt against the poetry of the Classical Age the pope. This literary doctrine had its origin in the Elizabethan Age.
salient features of Romanticism

What is Romanticism?

Romanticism is a term that cannot be defined accurately. Because many critics have defined it in various ways, from various angles. An English critic. F.L. Lucas has counted 11,396 definitions of Romanticism. C.H. Herford has defined it as "Romanticism is the extraordinary development of imaginative sensibility". Walter Pater says, "Romanticism is the addition of strangeness to beauty." Whereas Watts Dunton says, "Romanticism is the renaissance of wonder." But the most convincing definition of Romanticism is given by an eminent critic. It is "One poet is romantic because he falls in love; another romantic because he sees a ghost; another romantic because he hears a cuckoo; another romantic because he is reconciled to the church." However,

Salient Features of Romanticism 

Romanticism is a doctrine that holds that art and literature should be free from classical and neo-classical rules and constraints. There are many salient characteristics or features of Romanticism. They are high imagination, love for nature primitivism or spontaneity, interest in the remote or love for the past, simplicity in expression, and revolutionary zeal. individualism, supernaturalism, subjectivity, medievalism, love for freedom and liberty, and the predominance of lyricism. Romantic poetry is fanciful and introspective. It is often marked by extravagance. The romantics are highly imaginative. They do not think that the writers should be earthbound,  realistic, and factual. They seek an ideal condition for human beings in their high-soaring and unlimited imagination. The poetry of Wordsworth and Keats is full of imagination. In Tintern Abbey" Wordsworth imagines that a hermit alone in the forest is cooking something. Whereas he only discerns the smoke coming from its recoiling. Keats flies to the fanciful world of the nightingale in his most beautiful poem, "Ode to a Nightingale". Moreover, both poets are great lovers of nature. Wordsworth is the high priest of nature, a worshipper of nature. He is a mystic and a pantheist in his treatment of nature. Nature is the nurse, guide, guardian, and moral being of heart and soul. But Keats is very sensuous in treating nature. Romantic poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful passions. The romantic poet is gifted with a strong "organic sensibility". He feels more than there is to feel. He sees more than there is to see. Even ordinary objects and incidents excite his imagination and set up in him powerful passions. So he does not care for the perfection of form or clarity of expression. The result is much vagueness and obscurity. The substance is more important for him than form. The philosophical tone of Wordsworth seems to be beyond understanding. His pantheism and mysticism are almost inscrutable.

All romantic literature is subjective. It is an expression of the inner urges of the artist.  The poet does not care for rules and regulations. But he gives free expression to his emotion. Emphasis is laid on inspiration and institution rather than on the observance of set rules. The poet writes according to his own fancy. He is often guilty of wild excesses. Hence it has been criticized as irregular and wild. Wordsworth's poetry is top to bottom subjective. He expresses his own philosophy of nature and childhood in "Tintern Abbey", "Immortality Ode" and "Michael". In "Immortality Ode", he said that a child is a mighty prophet and philosopher. But Keats is objective in his famous odes, "Ode on a Grecian Urn", "Ode to Autumn "or " Ode to a Nightingale"

Romantic poetry is often pessimistic in tone. A romantic may revolt against the existing conditions. He may have a special love for the medieval world or the Middle Ages.    His fascination for the remote and distant is unmistakable in his poetry. He wants to be delighted with the color, pomp, and magic of the past. He would like to escape from the sordid realities of the present. He may try to escape into an imaginative world of his own creation. Often he escapes into the past. Keats is a glaring example of it. He is often charged with his escapism. He wants to avoid the harsh realities of the real world and would like to fly to the fanciful world of the nightingale. The din and bustle of towns and cities also irritate Wordsworth. So he wants to take shelter in the lap of nature.

Romanticism is a revolt against all artificiality. It stands for simplicity in theme and treatment. The romantics treat the common man and language for their purpose. They discard the poetic style of 18th-century poets, Dryden, Pope, and others. They do not accept Heroic Couplet as the weapon of their poetry. They use the Spenserian Stanza, ballad meter, and blank verse. They abundantly write lyrics, odes, and sonnets. They follow the style of Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton who suffer an eclipse during the 18th century. Soon they attain wide popularity. Thus Wordsworth raised his voice against the inane and artificial diction of the 18th-century classic. He advocated the use of the language of the common man for composing poetry. He expressed his poetic theory in "preface to the  Lyrical Ballads" which is regarded as the manifesto of Romanticism.

The year 1798 is momentous in the history of English poetry. Wordsworth and Coleridge published “Lyrical Ballad” to announce the beginning of new kind of poetry that is romantic poetry. Romantic poetry was new in theme and style therefore Wordsworth added a preface as an introduction explaining how romantic poetry was different from the popular 18th century poetry. Therefore we can say the Preface to Lyrical Ballad is a dividing line between 18th century poetry and 19“ century poetry. In other words, “Preface to Lyrical Ballad” ends one era and begins another era. The publication of “Lyrical Ballad” has a great effect in the trend or development of poetry. Great poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats accepted Wordsworth’s leadership m the movement. Therefore “Preface to Lyrical Ballad” is an epoch making document in the history of English poetry. 

The romantic movement became an important movement in English poetry. It appeared as a reaction against 18th century poetry. 18th Century Poetry was scholarly. The 18th century poets used poetic diction. Their poetry was a criticism of life and society. On the other hand romantic poets choose incident and situation from common life and describe them in language used by common man. They presented ordinary things to be extraordinary throwing a colouring of imagination on them. In fact rural life, common man, common language has become the subject matter of romantic poetry. Romantic poets tried to avoid poetic diction, allusion, reference. In a sense, they tried to use simple language in a state of artificial poetic language. Therefore English romanticism appeared as a distinct movement in the history of English poetry. 

The important characteristic of English romantic poetry are the following


English romantic poets were highly imaginative. They described common phenomenon of nature throwing colouring  of imagination. As a result ordinary things appeared to be unusual.For example; the worlds of birds, flowers, leaves. 

Love for nature: 

Love for nature or natural object is another aspect of English romantic poetry. Nature, to the romantic poets, meant the world of trees, fruits, flowers. 

Love for beauty: 

Romantic poets glorified the beauty of natural object. Their description of beauty is sensuous. It appeals to the sense of the readers. 

Love for supernaturalism: 

English romantic poets used supernatural elements in their poetry. Supernatural objects create a romantic atmosphere that is an atmosphere of wonder, horror, suspense and remoteness. For example; Coleridge uses supernatural incidents in his poems. 

Love for medievalism: 

Romantic poets also expressed their love for medieval literature. A love for the past and a nostalgic feeling is one of the important characters of romantic poetry. In other words romantic poetry evokes a felling of nostalgia. 

Glorification of subjective feeling:

Romantic poets are highly egotist. They are subjective in the expression of their feeling. They believe in their imagination. They glorify their personal feeling and emotion. 

A note of democratic and revolutionary spirit: 

Romantic poets were revolutionary in spirit. They want a new order and wish for things that can never be achieved. For example; Shelley is revolutionary and democratic in his poetry. 

A sense of melancholy of morbidness:

Romantic poets were to some extent melancholy in their expression of feeling. For example; Keats uses melancholic incidents in his poem. 

Use of simple language: 

Romantic poets use language of common people in their poetry. They tried to use unrhymed iambic pentameter or blank verse in their poetry which is close to natural speech. . In fact romantic poetry appeared as a new kind of poetry in theme and style. The poets takes us from the society into the heart of nature. Romantic poetry shows man’s intimate love for nature. In other words nature is glorified and romanticized in English poetry

At last, we can say that Romanticism in English poetry has become a new sensation. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lord Byron, P.B. Shelley, and John Keats are the heroes of that sensation and thrill. Their poetry enjoys almost all the salient features of Romanticism. Wordsworth makes natural objects supernatural and Coleridge makes supernatural objects natural. Byron and Shelley are two great revolutionaries. Keats is the last romantic poet in the Romantic Movement. His poetry begins with sensuousness but ends in thought. He is a successful writer of odes. He does, not try to make believable unbelievable or unbelievable believable. But Wordsworth has represented believable objects unbelievable.


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