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The first generation of romantic poets - William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)


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The first generation of romantic poets

William Wordsworth  (1770-1850)

The manifesto of English romanticism

  • Poets were characterized by the attempt to theorize about poetry
  • The aim of lyrical ballads is making  interest foe the reader speaking on the beauty of nature and ordinary things
  • Coleridge should deal with visionary topics, the supernatural, and mystery
  • Poetry should deal with everyday situations or incidents and with ordinary people, the language should be simple

Man and the natural world

  • Wordsworth is interested in the relationship between the natural word and the human consciousness
  • His poetry offers: complex interaction between man and nature, insights, emotions and sensations
  • One of the most important concepts of W. is the idea that man and nature are inseparable
  • Nature comforts man in sorrow it is a source of pleasure that teaches man to love, to act in a moral way

The importance of the senses and of memory

  • Nature means also the world of sense perceptions (sensibility of eye and ear)
  • Memory is a major force in the progress of growth of the poet's mind and moral character
  • Memory allows to the poet to give poetry its life and power

Recollection in tranquility

  • All genuine poetry takes its origin from emotion rec 434c22e ollected in tranquility so that what we read  in the poem results from the active relationship of present to past experience

At the and the whole process could be described as in the sequence:

Object>poet>sensory experience>emotions>memory=recollection in tranquility>"kindred emotion>poem>reader>emotions

The poet's task and his style:

  • The poet though a common man, has great sensibility and ability to penetrate the heart of things
  • The power of imagination  enables him to communicate his knowledge, so he becomes a teacher who shows man how to understand their feelings and improve their moral being
  • His task consists in drawing attention to the ordinary things of life where the deepest emotions and truths are to be found
  • Style: used several forms as: sonnets, odes, ballads, lyrics with short lines and simple rhymes

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Imagination and fancy

Like Wordsworth and Blake Coleridge talks about two kind of imagination:

  • Primary imagination: as a fusion of perception and human individual power to produce images (power to give chaos a certain order, to give the material perception a certain shape)
  • Secondary imagination: it was the poetic faculty of built new worlds (in Wordsworth=supernatural create an emotions)
  • Imagination was more important than fancy which though on higher level than mere perception was based on the power of association of material and subject to the rational law of judgment.

The ideal in the real

Coleridge did not view nature as a moral guide or a source of consolation and happiness as speaking Wordsworth, but his contemplation of nature was always accompanied by awareness  of the presence of the ideal in the real

His strong faith did not allow him to identify nature with the divine (form of pantheism as Wordsworth)

He saw the nature and the materil world in a sort of neo Platonic interpretation, as the reflection of the perfect world of ideas

Coleridge believed that natural images carried abstract meanings and he used them in his poems.

The rime: content

  • The ballad is made up of seven parts
  • It is introduced by an argument containing a short summary of the whole poem and consists of two narratives: one introduce the protagonist and his listener the other is the poem itself.

Atmosphere and characters:

  • The atmosphere of the whole poem is charged with irresistible mystery because of  the combination of the supernatural and commonplace, dream-like elements and astonishing visual realism
  • The mariner are hardly characters in any dramatic sense. They are more type that human beings and their agonies are simply universally human.

The rime and traditional ballads:

  • This poem contains many of features traditionally associated with ballads that is: the combination of dialogue and narration, the four line stanza, the archaic language, rich in alliterations, repetitions and onomatopoeias; the theme of travel and wandering and supernatural elements. But the presence of a moral at the end makes this masterpiece a romantic ballad.

The second generation of romantic poets

George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

  • Descend from two aristocratic families
  • He began to write at trinity college
  • 1807 Hours of idleness ( lyric poems)
  • English bards and scotch reviewers where he showed his taste for satire
  • In 1809 he set out on a tour
  • In 1812 published Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
  • His reputation increased when he published: The Giaour, The Corsair, Lara
  • In 1815 he married Annabelle Milbanke
  • The marriage collapsed a year later because he had a relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh
  • 1816 he went to Geneva where his became close friend of Shelly
  • After he went to Venice 1817 (wrote Manfred and last canto of Childe Harold and Don Juan)
  • In 1819 he moved to Milan, where he decided to commit himself to the Greek struggle of independence from Turkey than organized an expedition and devoted himself to training the troops in town of Missolonghi where he died in 1824 struck by a severe fever.

Byron's individualism

He wanted all man to be free and so went to fight against tyrants. He denounced the evils of society by using the witty style of 18th century poetry to convey a satirical aim. However his mood and the choice of his themes were romantic.

The Byronic Hero

Byron with his life and his works he popularized the Byronic Hero a passionate moody restless and mysterious man who hides some horrible sin or secrets in his past. He is characterized by proud individualism and rejects the conventional moral rules of society. He is an outsider, isolated and attractive at the same time. He has a great sensibility to nature and beauty.

Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822)

  • In 1810 he was expelled from oxford university because of his radical pamphlet the necessary of atheism in which he challenged the existence of god
  • At the age of 19 he married Harriet Westbrooke and they had two children
  • Shelly was matched by an interest in the occult sciences and in scientific experiments
  • He expressed his philosophy of life in the poem Queen Mab (1813)
  • When shelly left his wife because they understood that their marriage was end, he eloped with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and they went to Switzerland where they met Byron
  • In 1817 Mary drew up novel Frankenstein and the poet wrote The Revolt Of Islam
  • He used the gothic symbol of the wanderer to explain his vision of history and to teach that individual violence is the product of social inequity
  • In 1818 they left England and went to live in Italy and here wrote:
    • Ode to the West Wind 1819
    • To a skylark 1820
    • The cency (verse tragedy) 1819
    • Prometheus Unbound (lyrical drama) 1820
    • Adonais ( an elegy written in honor of  Keats)1821
    • Epipsychidion
    • A defence of poetry 1821

The poet of freedom and love

Shelly believed strongly in the principles of freedom and love which he reagarded as remedies for the faults and evils of society. Through love he believed man could overcome any political, moral and social constraints.

The role of imagination

Shelly's belief in nature and the function of poetry consist of an exalted defence of poetry es the expression of imagination and understood as revolutionary creativity, seriously meant to change the reality of an increasingly material world.

The poet's task

The task of poet is to help mankind to reach an ideal world where freedom, love and beauty are delivered from their enemies, such as tyranny, destruction, alienation.


The nature is descript as a beautiful veil that hides the eternal truth of the Divine Spirit. His approach to nature is also instrumental, since it provides him with images, such as wind, the clouds and symbols for the creation of his cosmic schemes. Finally nature represents the favorite refuge from the disappointment and injustice of the ordinary world and the interlocutor of his melancholy dreams and of his hopes for a better future.


He was a master of traditional verse forms such as Spenserian stanza, the couplet, blank verse and Dante's terza rima, but he is best remembered for his short lyric poetry.

John Keats (1795-1821)

  • He is romantic in his relish of sensation, his feeling for the middle ages, his love for the greek civilization and his conception of the writer but the synthesis he made of all these elements was very much his own. He was able to fuse the romantic passion and the cold Neo-classicism, just as Ugo Foscolo did in Le grazie.
  • In 1800 his father and mother died
  • In 1810 he was apprenticed to became a surgeon
  • In 1816 leave the profession for became a writer wrote On firsdt Looking into Chapman's Homer
  • In 1818 He fell in love with Fanny Brawne but poverty his bad health and his almost religious pursuit of poetry made marriage impossible.
  • Keats wrote:
    • The Eve Of St Agnes
    • Ode to a Nightingale
    • Ode on a Grecian Urn
    • To Autumn
    • Ode on Melancholy
    • To psyche
    • La Belle Dame sans Merci
    • Hyperion

The substance of his poetry

His lyrical poems are not fragments of a continual spiritual autobiography, there is some deeply felt personal experience behind the odes of 1819, but the significant fact is that this experience is "behind" the odes, not their substance. Moreover, the poetical personal pronoun "I" does not stand for a human being linked to the events of his time, but for a universal one.

The role of imagination

It was his belief in the supreme value of the imagination which made him a Romantic poet. His imagination takes two main forms:

  • The world of his poetry is predominantly  artificial, one that he imagines
  • His poetry comes from imagination in the sense that a great deal of his work even of the odes, is a vision of what he would like human life to be, stimulated by his own experience of pain and misery.

Beauty and art

The contemplation of beauty is the central theme of Keats's  poetry. It is mainly the Classical Greek world that inspires Keats. To him, as to the Hellenes, the expression of beauty is the ideal of all art. Thus the world of Greek beliefs lives again in his verse, recreated and reinterpreted with the eyes of a romantic. His first apprehension of beauty proceeds from the senses.

Beauty can also produce a much deeper experience of joy which introduces a sort of a "spiritual beauty", that is the one of love, friendship and poetry. Moreover Keats identifies beauty and truth as the only type of knowledge.


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