What does the later Romantic generation of writers add to the Romantic project? In what features of the writing studied so far could you see a development emerging from Early to Later Romanticism? Is it possible to talk of ‘maturing’ here, or is there a new fire and passion in the later writing that resembles the early Romantic experiments?
The later romantic writers offered a deeper investigation into the modern world and the mind. Poets such as Keats, Byron and Shelley emerged as self-assured young writers, eager to change the world with their new modes of inspiration. Wordsworth and Coleridge had produced their work for the everyman. A pastoral simplicity and form, the early romantics had an appreciation of everything around them and made it beautiful. In William Hazlitt’s essay, ‘The Spirit of the Age’ he commends Wordsworth’s work as ‘… he can make the lifeblood flow from the wounded breast, this is the living colouring with which he paints his verse’ (Hazlitt, 2017). Although Hazlitt’s viewpoint is critical of Wordsworth styling, it is in fact how Wordsworth was appreciated by the common man. The development of style and nature can be seen in the later romantic writing through subject matter and poetic form. Poets such as Byron and Keats brought an altogether more sophisticated flavour. In Marilyn Butler’s book Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries she states that ‘…a new self-consciousness had entered literary discourse…’ (Butler, 1981, p143). The later romantic writers were making more inward reflections and exploring the inner psyche with a maturity that shows the development of their writing. Their styling was more philosophical with a true sense of history and as such contained classical references. Many writers moved onto the continent and this change of scenery showed a change of focus in their writing. The differences in style and form can be seen in Wordsworth’s We are Seven and Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale.
In Wordsworth’s poem We are Seven, the simplicity of form and accessibility brings an understanding and psychology of the innocence of a child as a new experimental form. Wordsworth showed the wonders of nature and his appreciation of them with a language for the common people. He states, ‘the child had a rustic woodland air’ (Wordsworth, 2012, p 380). The description of the child evokes an image of a simple country girl and her comparison with nature is in harmony with the pastoral setting. The gentle rhyme scheme gives the poem a simplistic nursery rhyme quality as Wordsworth constructs a conversation between an adult and a child about death. The child’s simple view is that her siblings, although dead in their graves, are still with her as death is not the end; ‘Their graves are green, they may be seen’ (Wordsworth, 2012, p381). The adult cannot accept this view and the reversal of roles is refreshing in the sense that Wordsworth gives a platform for the child to converse. Children were seen as mini adults but the reason and logic the child is showing, though childlike, shows a superiority over the adult. The realist approach that Wordsworth uses allows the reader to learn from the child and that the simple logic that the child insists upon, should be utilised by everyone. Although Wordsworth’s We are Seven breaks the boundaries of exploration into child psychology, the adult still does not accept the child’s viewpoint, ’Twas throwing words away, for still/ The little maid would have her will’ (Wordsworth, 2012, p382). Wordsworth demonstrates an irony in that the adult does not understand the child and although her logic is clear, a deeper exploration of it is not given.
The more sophisticated style of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, intensifies the romantic project by giving the reader a more inward perspective. ‘That I might drink, and leave the word unseen/ And with thee fade away into the forest dim-‘ (Keats, 2012, p 1464). Although the links with nature remain in both poems, the Ode’s more sophisticated styling offers a more inward reflection. At eight stanzas long, the ode, whilst still connected to nature, is more of a lament of the poet’s life, ‘My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/ My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk’ (Keats, 2012, p1464). Whilst listening to the nightingale sing, the poet suddenly becomes entranced. His heart aches as he listens to the bird’s melodious tune and is soothed by it. In a trancelike state, the poet experiences moods and feelings and becomes philosophical about life. In Leon Waldoff’s essay ‘Imagination and Growth in the Great Odes’, he argues that ‘His placement of the bird in the historical, the biblical and literary imagination…is an unexpected and beautifully effective act of internalisation…’ (Waldoff,1985, p 313). He argues that Keats is trying to preserve the inner feelings for which the bird now represents (Waldoff, 1985). This depth of inner realisation shows the maturity in Keats’s poetry. The bird becomes symbolic and his song immortal and this illustrates the superiority of his writing. The ode makes reference to Greek mythology, ‘Away! Away! For I will fly to thee,/ Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards/ But on the viewless wings of Poesy’ (Keats, 2012, p1465). The sophisticated nature in which he compares the classical world and poetry illustrates the more cultured styling and shows Keats belief that poetry transcends the classical world.
The early romantic poets created a gentle pastoral world and made their poetry accessible to all. With nature at the forefront, these writers illustrated that to understand nature was to understand life. They made the world beautiful and gave a platform for children to have a voice of their own. The later romantic writers showed a much more mature style in their writing. Their inward reflections and exploration of the mind showed a style developing and evolving in a way that eclipsed the writing of the early romantics. Keats styling showed moods and feelings that were not seen in Wordsworth’s early poetry. These moods reflected the inner poet and demonstrated how looking deeper inside the mind gave a more transcendental experience.
Butler, M. (1981) Romantics, Rebels & Reactionaries English Literature and its Background 1760-1830. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Hazlitt, W. (2017) ‘The Spirit of the Age- Mr Wordsworth’ (1826). Handout given in Later Romantic Writing 10/10/2017 by M. Jesinghausen
Waldoff, L. (1985) ‘Imagination and Growth in the Great Odes’ In: Wu, D. (1995) (Ed) Romanticism A Critical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd
Wu, D. (2012) (Ed) Romanticism: An Anthology Fourth Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd