English 12: Overview of Romanticism: As You Study Your Particular Poet, Keep These Ideas in Mind

English 12: Overview of Romanticism: As You Study Your Particular Poet, Keep These Ideas in Mind



  1. England—Industrial Revolution
  1. Created a new laboring population
  2. “Two nations” that Disraeli spoke of—Capital vs. labor
  3. Social problems (poverty, sweatshops, filthy working conditions)—resulted from “laissez faire” rationalist policies that maintained an optimism in the free market and held the belief that the government should not interfere.
  1. Politics Abroad—American and French Revolutions
  1. Both revolutions asserted rights of people to question and overthrow authority of governments
  2. French Revolution supported wholeheartedly by English liberals, especially poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley
  3. Outcome of French Revolution—with Reign of Terror and ascension of Napoleon as dictator, brought disillusionment to many artists and liberal thinkers


  1. Term was coined long after the poets were living, but there was a sense that it was a special time of artistic innovation.
  1. Keats: “Great spirits now on earth are sojourning.”
  2. Shelley: “An electric life burns”
  3. William Hazlitt: “It was a time of promise, a renewal of the world—and of letters”
  1. Some authors were linked together at the time
  1. Lake School—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey
  2. Cockney School-Keats, Hunt, Hazlitt
  3. Satanic School-Shelley, Byron


  1. Revolution against tradition and against rationalists such as Pope.
  1. Rationalists saw poetry as “a mirror held up to nature”
  2. Romantics saw it as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”
  3. For Romantics, the individual poet’s perceptions of the world were most important.
  4. The lyric “I”: the poet’s life and experiences often shine through his/her poetry
  1. Spontaneity and freedom from rules
  1. Keats: “If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.”
  2. Importance of the Heart—intuition and feelings
  1. Nature Poetry
  1. Did not describe nature for the sake of describing it, but used nature as a symbol for bigger ideas, and as a jumping-off point for the poet’s imagination.
  1. Glorifying the Commonplace
  1. Think back to the American Romantic, Walt Whitman—“I hear America Singing”
  2. Wordsworth, especially, wanted people to realize that common people and common things were acceptable material for poetry. This was in stark contrast to neoclassical poets such as Pope—e.g. “The Rape of the Lock” deals with decidedly aristocratic people.
  3. Romantics wanted to capture the child-like sense of wonder at the ordinary that we all possess but then seem to lose as we grow older
  4. Imagination—it makes the world new again
  1. Exploration of the Supernatural
  1. Unlike neoclassical poetry, which emphasized logic and morals, Romantic poetry explored the world of the subconscious—hypnotism, dreams, drugs, the occult. Often, Romantic poets will violate our sense of reason and/or realism.
  1. Celebrating Nonconformity
  1. Pope argued that “the bliss of man is to submit,” while the Romantics explored revolutionaries, radicals, and even figures often considered evil—Cain, Satan, Napoleon.