The English Romantic Movement “as return to Nature. Or, The main features of Romanticism

Md. Al Amin

Nature stands as a source of inspiration for the poets but poets have taken it differently when they have written poetry in different Eras of history. For romantics, nature constituted in poetry differently but for 18th century poets, nature’s role was different. Romanticism was a reaction against 18th century poets’ outlook. Nature was admired by Romantics as it existed even wild and they considered Nature as their teacher, their guide, their source of inspiration and their mother while Nature for 18th century poets stood for normal reality of universal law. Dr. Johnson said, “Nothing can please many, and please long but just representations of general nature”.

The Romantic age of English literature began as a deliberate movement in 1798 with the publication of Lyrical Ballads. It ended in 1832 with the death of Sir Walter Scott. It was not a sudden outburst but the result of long and gradual growth and development. The poets of the Romantic School– Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats etc—were not even the first romantics of England, for the Elizabethan literature is essentially romantic in spirit. The pre-Romantics of the late 18th century William Cowper, Thomas Gray, Oliver Goldsmith, William Blake and Robert Burns helped pave the way for this movement by turning their interest away from the classicism of the Age of Pope and towards nature, country people, and simplicity of expression.

In 1798, William Wordsworth and S. T. Coleridge published a collection of poems entitled as Lyrical Ballads and with it began the new age known as the Romantic Age. This new poetry, Known as romantic poetry, has revolutionary notes in comparison with the social and satirical poetry of the school of Alexander Pope. It is rather an inevitable reaction of the artificial and critical poetry of the eighteenth century. Romantic poets and novelists turned to the common people and simple things of field and home and daily life that common people could understand. High imagination, subjectivity, liberalism, love of nature, Hellenism, and the use of supernatural powers characterized the literature of this period.

The basic aims of Romanticism were various: a return to nature and to belief in the goodness of humanity; the rediscovery of the artist as a supremely individual creator; the development of nationalistic pride; and the exaltation of the senses and emotions over reason and intellect. In addition, Romanticism was a philosophical revolt against rationalism. The characteristic features of English Romantic poetry are:
                 1) Love and worship of Nature and dislike for the urban life. 2) Love for the Medieval Age. 3) Love for the supernatural and the mystical. 4) Poetry came to be regarded as the spontaneous expression of the poet’s own subjective feelings and did not conform to the poetic conventions of classical doctrines. 5) Completely abandoned the ‘Heroic Couplet’ and substituted it with simpler verse forms like the ballads which belonged to the English rural Folk. 6) The ‘poetic diction’ of the Neo-Classical Age was completely overthrown and the language of the ordinary people became the language of Romantic poetry.  7) The subjects of Romantic poetry were often ordinary people: “The Idiot Boy”.
The Romantic period of English literature was mainly a period of poetry. This poetry was largely produced by the five great names which dominated the age: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Gordon Lord Byron, P. B. Shelley and John Keats. William Wordsworth began this new tradition in poetry with this simple, heart-felt poems of humble and rustic life. He chose common people for his poetry.

Love for nature is one of Wordsworth’s predominant themes. Nature took a different role in each of the Romantic poets and even the Pre-Romantics and Victorians writings, but each of these writers has that one major thing in common. They all write extensively on the role of nature in the lives of people. Like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelly, John Keats is definitely under the impression of nature being a great force: almost divine.

The English Romantic Writers expressed a particular view of nature, man and the supernatural. They had a strong sense of the beauty in the world around them and took great pleasure in nature. Some, like Shelley and Keats, actually worshiped nature instead of god. Romantic poets are found essentially imaginative and their imaginative vigour expresses itself not merely in a colorful vision of the external world but also in a mystic communion. Mysticism is an inseparable part of romantic imagination and this is the essence of Wordsworth’s pantheism, Coleridge’s metaphysical speculation and Shelly’s myth-making power.

Zest for the beauties of exterior world characterizes all romantic poetry. Romantic poetry carries us away from the suffocating atmosphere of critics into the fresh and invigorating company of the out–of–door world. It not only sings of the sensuous beauty of nature, but also sees into the ‘heart of things’ and reveals the soul that lies behind. Their hearts overflow with sympathy for the poor and the down trodden. They glorify the innocence and simplicity of the common man. They try to see the heart of man and understand human nature. They find the divine in Man.

In end, English Romanticism is thus both a revolt and a revival; it is a revolt against 18th century traditions and conventions; it is a revival of old English meters and old English masters of poetry.

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