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Romantic Poetry's Definition & Characteristics

Updated on February 25, 2017
Romantic Poetry's Definition & Characteristics
Romantic Poetry's Definition & Characteristics | Source

Definition of Romantic Poetry & Romanticism

As a matter of first importance, it is required to clarify the meaning of Romanticism. Romanticism has been the subject of hot controversy among the critics of the world. Nobody has had the ability to present a suitable meaning of the term Romanticism. Romanticism was a literary and intellectual movement in Europe that started in the late decades of 18th century. It was with the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798 by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge, which gave birth to Romanticism in the history of English literature. Cazamian defines Romanticism in A History of English Literature as, “The Romantic spirit can be defined as an accentuated predominance of emotional life, provoked or directed by the exercise of imaginative vision, and in its turn stimulating or directing such exercise.” Some critics considered Romanticism as “Renascence of Wonder.” Whatever the case may be, it is evident that Romanticism came into being as a reaction against the neoclassicism of the preceding age. Romantic poetry is a type of poetry, which exhibits such features as emotion, imagination, escapism, supernaturalism, Hellenism, medievalism, love for nature etc. Now, let’s move ahead and discuss the salient features of romantic poetry:

Characteristics of Romantic Poetry

Salient features of romantic poetry are discussed below:

P.B Shelley: A Romantic Poet
P.B Shelley: A Romantic Poet | Source

Romantic Poetry: A Reaction against Neoclassical Poetry

Romantic poetry carries unique features, which definitely distinguish it from other kinds of poetry. It is absolutely in contrast to neoclassical poetry. Neoclassical poetry is poetry of intellect and reason, while romantic poetry is the product of emotions, sentiments and the voice of the heart of the poet. Romantic poetry is what the heart of the poet says. It is a catharsis of the poet’s emotions, thoughts, feelings and ideas bound in his heart. Romantic poetry is a reaction against the set standards, conventions, rules and traditional laws of poetry. That is the reason; romantic poetry is acknowledged as poetry of progressivism in contrast to neoclassical poetry. According to William J. Long, “The Romantic Movement was marked, and is always marked, by a strong reaction and protest against the bondage of rule and custom which in science and theology as well as literature, generally tend to fetter the free human spirit.”

The romantics were against the influence of reason in their poetry. They didn’t give any preference to reason and intellect in their poetry. On the other hand, neoclassical poets believed in the influence of reason. Pope said that:

True wit is Nature to advantage dress’d,

What oft was thought but ne’er so well express’d.

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Imagination in Romantic Poetry

Imagination is the hallmark of romantic poetry. It is a part and parcel of romantic poets like John Keats, Samuel Coleridge and P.B Shelley. Unlike neoclassical poets, who shunned imagination and didn’t give any preference to imagination in their poetry, romantic poets laid extraordinary stress on imagination. They discredited the influence of reason and intellect in any form in their poetry. Samuel Coleridge considered an integral part of his poetry. In his Biographia Literaria, he has discussed two types of imagination-Primary and Secondary Imagination. He says, The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and a repetition in the finite of the external act of creation of the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, coexisting with the conscious will, yet still identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode its operation.”

Johan Keats was a great supporter of imagination in poetry. He says, “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination- What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.” It is Keats’s plight of imagination that helps hims leave the real world and transport him into the world of nightingale. Look at the following example:

Already with thee! tender is the night,

And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,

Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;

But here there is no light,

Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

(Ode to Nightingale by John Keats)

Nature in Romantic Poetry

Love for nature is another important feature of romantic poetry. Nature had a pivotal position in their poetry. Nature for them is a wellspring of inspiration, satisfaction and happiness. It is pertinent to mention here that all the romantic poets differed in their views about nature. Wordsworth is considered the great lover of nature. Wordsworth recognized nature as a living thing, teacher, god and everything. He was the true adorer of nature. He says:

One impulse from the vernal wood

Can teach you more of man

Of moral, evil and good

Than all the sages can.

(The Tables Turned : An Evening Scene On The Same Subject by Wordsworth)

Shelley was similarly an extraordinary lover of nature, yet he didn't think about nature as an instructor, aide and a wellspring of pleasure. He believed that nature is a living thing and there is a union between nature and man. Shelley likewise put stock in the recuperating force of nature like Wordsworth. Wordsworth gives a philosophical touch to nature, while Shelly stays upon the intellectual aspect of nature.

John Keats is also an eminent lover of nature. John Keats didn’t love nature just for the sake of guidance or spiritual inspiration; rather, he adored nature just for the sake of its sensuousness and beauty. Keats enjoy nature in its full essence. He says:

There was an awful rainbow once in heaven,

We know here woof; texture she is given

In the dull catalogue common things.

(Lamia by John Keats)

Coleridge was completely different from other romantic poets of his age. He considered nature as it is. He has a realistic perspective of nature. He believes that nature is not the source of joy and pleasure. It all depends upon our mood and disposition. He is of the opinion that joy doesn’t come from any external nature, rather, it emanates from the heart of our hearts. He says in this regard:

I may not hope from outward forms to win

The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.

O Lady! we receive but what we give,

And in our life alone does Nature live:

Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud!

(Dejection: An Ode by Samuel Coleridge)

Nature: A Feature of Romantic Poetry
Nature: A Feature of Romantic Poetry | Source

Romantic Poetry

The Ask.com defines romantic poetry as:

"The word 'romantic poetry' can mean one of two things. The first of these is any poetry that deals with romantic themes, including love, loss and beauty. Romantic Poetry (all caps) can be referring to the poetry written in the 19th century by the British poets who specialized in this type of writing."

Escapism in Romantic Poetry

Escapism is another striking characteristic of romantic poetry. Escapism is a term, which implies a writer's failure to face the agonies of real life and take shelter somewhere else instead of fighting against the odds. Escapism is the main theme of romantic poetry. As most of the romantic poets were in the grip of miseries, they tried to take asylum in the bower of their poetry. It was their most loved pastime to escape from reality and take asylum in the realm of their imagination. For example, Keats desires to fly away with the nightingale to forget the miseries of the world:

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,

Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy.

(Ode to Nightingale by John Keats)

Melancholy in Romantic Poetry

Melancholy likewise occupies a prominent place in romantic poetry. Melancholy is a major source of inspiration for the romantic poets. Due to extreme melancholy, all the romantic poets have a tendency to compose subjective poetry. They write poetry, which is the voice of the heart of their heart. They don’t try to compose philosophical and complicated poetry. They just want to give vent to their feelings and emotions so that to ease their minds. They want to take a load of their minds. Look at the following example:

………………………….for many a time

I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Call'd him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,

To take into the air my quiet breath;

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

To cease upon the midnight with no pain.

(Ode to Nightingale by John Keats)

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Medievalism in Romantic Poetry

Medievalism is likewise an important characteristic of romantic poetry. Medievalism means one’s love for the Middle Ages. Romantic poetry is replete with elements of medievalism a great deal. John Keats and Coleridge are the leading romantic poets, whose poetry exhibited an ample amount of medievalism. Romantic poets were against intellectualism, urbanism, industrialization and humdrum life. They wanted to get rid of these things by taking asylum in far off lands of their imagination. That is why; Middle Ages appealed to their taste to a great extent. They adored weird, remote and recondite places. Resultantly, they were more attracted to Middle Ages than to their own age. Look at the following example:

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

Alone and palely loitering?

The sedge has withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.

(La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad by John Keats)

Knight was a soldier of high rank only in the Middle Ages.

A Sketch of Middle Ages
A Sketch of Middle Ages | Source

Hellenism in Romantic Poetry

Hellenism implies love, commitment and unmistakable fascination in the antiquated society, values and individuals of Greek. Romantic poets loved Hellenism a great deal in their poetry. They loved to explore the ancient culture of Greek in their poetry. John Keats' poetry is loaded with various allusions to the art, literature and culture of Greek. Ode on a Grecian Urn is a perfect example in this regard. The pictures engraved on the Grecian Urn show Keats's love the Greek ideals, culture and art. Look at the following example:

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?

To what green altar, O mysterious priest,

Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,

And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?

What little town by river or sea-shore,

Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,

Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?

(Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats)

Supernaturalism in Romantic Poetry

Supernaturalism is another important feature of romantic poetry. Most of the romantic poets used supernatural elements in their poetry. Supernaturalism is a unique trait of romantic poets. They used supernaturalism not just for the creation of horror and awe; rather, they used it for the pleasure of the reader. Samuel Coleridge is the leading romantic poet in this regard. His poem, 'Kubla Khan' is the most romantic poem in the history of English literature. It is completely the product of his imagination. The whole poem is a collection of supernatural elements. Look at the following example:

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His fleshing eyes, his floating hair!

weave a circle round him thrice and

Close eyes with holy dread for him on

Honey – drew hath fed and drunk the

Milk of paradise.

(Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge)

Subjectivity in Romantic Poetry

Romantic poetry is poetry of the miseries, despairs and personal stories of the poets. It is poetry of sentiments, emotions and imagination of the poets. Romantic poetry is against the objectivity of neoclassical poetry. Neoclassical poets avoided to describe their personal emotions in their poetry. They wanted to present a true picture of the society, while the romantic poets avoided description of their contemporary age. John Keats is the leading poet, whose poetry is a biography his life. He wrote poetry just for the sake of poetry. He didn't want to convey any moral message to his readers. He just wanted to write poetry and prove himself the best poet in his age. That is why; we find numerous clues to his personal life in his poems. Look at the following example:

or many a time

I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,

To take into the air my quiet breath;

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

To cease upon the midnight with no pain.

(Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats)

© 2014 Muhammad Rafiq

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      mif 8 days ago

      It is very useful to my literature exam.Thank you so much .I can easily understand. extraordinary.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 8 weeks ago from Pakistan

      You are welcome, Jose L.

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      Jose L 8 weeks ago

      Thank you so much for this info! Very straightforward.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 5 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Ahmad Khan for your comments. I'm glad it helped you.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 11 months ago from Pakistan

      I'm glad it helped you F.C.

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      F.C 11 months ago

      Thank you very much for this.This is very comprehensive,easy and helpful.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 12 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Paramjot Kaur for your comments. I am glad it helped you.

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      Paramjot kaur 12 months ago

      specifically headlined features, concise, great choice of quotes to further emphasise, very well written. Very helpful; thank you!

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      Muhammad Rafiq 15 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Abida for your comments. I'm glad you liked it.

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      Abida 15 months ago

      your good effort inspire every one and its really superb notes, nicely describe every point .thank you.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 15 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Nikhat for your comments. I'm glad it helped you.

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      nikhat 15 months ago

      Your notes are really good and to the point ...thanks for the notes

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      Muhammad Rafiq 16 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks TM for your comments. I'm glad you liked it.

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      TM 16 months ago

      Your notes are quite enough to fetch me the top marks...simple and captivating ....thanks aton

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      Muhammad Rafiq 17 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Singer4Freedom for your comments. I'm glad it helped you.

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      Ghost 17 months ago from Brazil

      THANKS

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      Ghost 17 months ago from Brazil

      such a great article.thanks 4 posting regarding english literature, ur notes really help me in my studies.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 18 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Dua for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad you liked it.

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      Dua. 18 months ago

      Really helpful good xplanation and simple language is used..i like it..

      and Ur gr8 efforts..

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      Muhammad Rafiq 20 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for your comments, Ahmed.

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      Ahmed 20 months ago

      thanks for this information

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      Muhammad Rafiq 21 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Fatima for your comments. I'm glad you liked it.

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      Fatima 21 months ago

      You explained it very Beautifully and the quotations from the works were awesome.From Today I love Romantic poetry.Thank you so much

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      Muhammad Rafiq 22 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for your comments! Please, visit my youtube channel for videos about English literature. www.youtube.com/englishliteraturehub

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      Anisha 22 months ago

      thank you so much this ans. really works for me

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      Muhammad Rafiq 23 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Parth.

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      parth 23 months ago

      Very useful ty

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      Muhammad Rafiq 23 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Yazeed Wahas for stopping by and commenting. Have a nice time!

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      Yazeed Wahas 23 months ago

      ACTUALLY thank you so much

      good explanation and wonderful comments

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      Muhammad Rafiq 2 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Usman Tareen for your comments. I am glad it helped you.

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      usman tareen 2 years ago

      Really informative

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      Muhammad Rafiq 2 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I am glad you liked it.

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      firdowsh 2 years ago

      A very good attempt & unique answer I've from your side thanx it's very useful for me to write an answer in exam

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      Muhammad Rafiq 2 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Murtaza for stopping by and commenting! I am glad it helped you.

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      Murtaza Khan 2 years ago

      Really enjoyed thanks for writing in a very simple language

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      Muhammad Rafiq 3 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks FlourishAnyway for your comments and encouragement! Have a nice time.

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      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Romantic poetry is my favorite, and you present it well. One of my favorite quotes: "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." - Wordsworth

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      Muhammad Rafiq 3 years ago from Pakistan

      Thank billybuc for stopping by and commenting! Have a nice time.

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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A fine tutorial and I thank you. I didn't appreciate poetry until later in life, so I have some catching up to do. :)