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English Romanticism And Its Characteristics

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2638 words Published: 18th May 2017

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Romanticism as a trend in art and literature of England emerged in the 90th of XVIII century. Romanticism in England took shape earlier than in other Western European countries, it had its vivid specificity and individualism. Its most bright representatives were William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, Thomas Moore, George Gordon Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Walter Scott, John Keats and others, who have left a rich heritage in the literature of England and contributed to the world literature.

Romanticism is one of the most controversial trends in European literature, in the literature Romanticism is mostly understood not only as a formal literary trend, but as a certain philosophy, and it is through this philosophy that we try to define Romanticism.

One of the features of Romanticism in England was its magnificent lyric poetry, especially lyric poetry, in which the identity of the poet was brightly expressed in whatever he wrote. English poets framed their observations and views in parables, fantastic visions, cosmic symbolism. Sublime things and feelings were understood by them not only as something exclusive, but that could be present in the simplest things, in everyday life.

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One of the characteristics of romantic literature was a special attention to the spiritual world of man, but, in contrast to the sentimental literature, Romantics were interested not in an ordinary man, but “the exceptional man in the exceptional circumstances”. Romantic hero is experiencing violent emotions, is striving for perfection, dreams of an ideal. Romantic hero loves and sometimes idealizes the Middle Ages time, “pristine nature”, in powerful forms of which he sees reflection of his strong and conflicting emotions.

When characterizing the relation of romantic writers and poets to the world, it is important to point aspiration to the ideal, human impulses and feelings, the belief that not logic and knowledge but intuition and imagination could reveal all the mysteries of life. But it is aspiration to the ideal, sometimes illusory or unattainable, that lead to rejection of everyday life which did not meet that ideal. Therefore, the romantic heroes had an “internal duality”, forced to live in two disparate worlds of the ideal and reality, sometimes coming in protest not only against the bone of reality, but also against the divine world order. Here came the so-called “romantic irony” of a man in relation to an established reality, that the average man took seriously. In general, the idea is often combined with irony, that is the peculiarity of English literature at all stages of its development.

English Romantics were especially interested in social problems, as to the modern bourgeois society they opposed the old, pre-bourgeois relations, they glorified nature and simple, natural feelings. Bright representative of English Romanticism is Byron, who, according to critics, “clothed in a dull hopeless romanticism and selfishness.” His works are full of pathos of struggle and protest against the modern world, glorifying freedom and individualism.

Understanding of nature and its image in the works of the Romantics

In the late XVIII – early XIX century the very understanding of nature has changed. First of all, it was associated with changes in life philosophy and world view of romantics, who then explained all the phenomena from another point of view, different from the medieval and enlightenment views. The change in the “philosophy of the world spirit” and in understanding of nature had effects on the romantic image of the landscape: Romantics view the world spirit as a basic principle of nature, as “weak, vacillating, the least comprehensible and most mysterious part of nature”. With this understanding of nature, the image of nature and landscape appeared as dual: the nature itself and also the spirit that filled it and “governed” it. Some critics argue that the difference of the romantic interpretation of the nature was in the fact that romanticism “tried to carry balance of the world of pure ideas with the world of tangible and visible things, eliminating their opposition”. (Abrams, 1975)

These questions are very important, because the nature of romantic poetry has saved not only the aesthetic value of artistic expression of its philosophy, but also it reflected a truly profound ideas and experiences, great human emotions.

It is important to stress the fact that according to Romantics, nature in general and all its parts have specific features of the human soul. Though it is important to say that such personalization and conception of nature as subordinate to the “world spirit” is very important peculiarity of romantic literature, because it reflects the problem of man’s relationship to the world.

Thus, the very meaning of “nature” in the XVIII and XIX centuries was entirely different. What is the something else, something new that distinguishes a romantic view of nature from its premises? Scientific literature emphasizes such characteristics of views and attitudes towards nature in romantic works:

the deep romanticism subjectivity, the subjectivity of nature, precise, individual attitude to the subjects of nature;

projection of mood of the writer on nature and vice versa;

the identification of the sensitive subject with nature;

the animation of nature by subjective emotions of the poet;

passionate relationship of man to nature. (Moore J, 2010)

Subjectivity of nature is a broader concept than the organic view of Romantics on nature, as this concept unites a wide range of romantic poets. In English and in German literature subjectivity of nature is expressed more explicitly than other literatures.

Example of words of Byron, who very often expressed his love to nature, points to the fact that the subjective relationship with nature is very important feature of Romanticism.

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and music in its roar:

I love not man the less, but Nature more.

(Byron G.G., “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”)

The main aspect in the romantic view on the nature is its “subjectivity”, the corresponding correlation of the poet’s mood with the natural world. It is a subjective interpretation of nature that is widely used by Romantic poets, and such features as variety of moral epithets, passion, and association of objects with personal – these are the most obvious examples of this poetic temperament. “Nature knows, loves, suffers and dreams, like a man, and together with the man”. (Moore, 2010)

Thus, the Romanticism is characterized by a sense of unity between man and nature, but this is not always expressed in the pantheistic forms, and may be associated with different ideological positions. Moreover, this unity can act in the forms of dualistic split, when nature embodies peace and harmony, and is opposed to sufferings and disharmony of human relationship. Passionate experience of relationship between the hero and nature is inherent to all romantics, though it may be shown differently by different romantic poets. On the one hand, in their writings dominate the image of landscape, which reflects their search for beauty, for picturesque images. On the other, they pay more attention to the state of the human soul and his feelings, and so the image of nature is a projection of the state of the soul, and the poet turns from the descriptions of nature to description of feelings, mixing them and showing relationship between them. Thus, the declaration of the relationship of nature with the inner world of man is an important practice in works of romantic poets. (Perkins, 1994)

It is the hour when from the boughs

The nightingale’s high note is heard;

It is the hour when lovers’ vows

Seem sweet in every whispered word;

And gentle winds, and waters near,

Make music to the lonely ear.

Each flower the dews have lightly wet,

And in the sky the stars are met,

And on the wave is deeper blue,

And on the leaf a browner hue,

And in the heaven that clear obscure,

So softly dark, and darkly pure.

Which follows the decline of day,

As twilight melts beneath the moon away.

(Byron G., “Parisina” (st. 1)

It is important to note that for romantic poets nature was an expression of spiritual life, where they saw the mirror reflection of either their own soul, or the ideal life that constituted the object of their dreams. Therefore, in their works nature is endowed with more deep meaning, than the meaning of words.

Animation, humanization of nature in perception, imagination was one of the favorite motifs of poets. In contrast to the dead to society, which kills a living soul in the pursuit of profit, career, power, the nature comes to life, filled with the spiritual life of people. In this case they usually have in mind the wild nature, untouched by man, which gives rest, forgetfulness and peace. Sometimes the opposition of society and nature took the form of an antithesis of town and country, and then under the nature was meant idyllic countryside, dramatically different from a nervous and noisy city. In contrast to the false and empty society, in nature everything is simple, genuine and harmonious.

An example of the poetic chanting of nature were the works of lyrical poet John Keats, who wrote on the high themes of love, beauty and art art. In his poem “Autumn” (1820) Keats went completely from the mythological imagery, creating a picture of autumn – the time of a sad farewell to the past before the harsh winter. Landscape in the poem is associated with the image of a simple man – a peasant who lives in a perpetual work.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core…

(Keats J. “To Autumn”, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 2005)

The contradiction between the dream and the reality the romantic poet Keats expressed as a contradiction between the desired ideal of beauty and bourgeois prose. Keats’s admiration for the beauty was not, however, fled from life, from the problems of reality. In his poetry, he showed the truth of life, the essence of reality, he poeticized the beauty that was hidden in life under the cover of some ugly things.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud;

Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,

Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,

Or on the wealth of globèd peonies;

Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,

Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,

And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

(Keats J. , “Ode on Melancholy”, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 2005 )

Another prominent representative of Romantic literature in England was Lord George Gordon Byron. Byron was committed to the educational ideals and aesthetics of classicism, but he was a romantic poet. In his work the recognition of the classic rigor and clarity was combined with the image of the complex and ambiguous feelings, painted in a gloomy mood, but also with irony.

The moon is up, and yet it is not night;

Sunset divides the sky with her; a sea

Of glory streams along the Alpine height

Of blue Friuli’s mountains; Heaven is free

From clouds, but of all colours seems to be.

(Byron G. “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, A Romaunt, Canto IV, XXVII)

In the romantic poems we see the strong desire to image bright and sharp contrasts , also in the image of nature. Romantics often sought to portray a violent nature, and Byron seemed liked the the presence of danger, a storm for him was a symbol of the great, though often fatal passions.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean-roll!

Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;

Man marks the earth with ruin-his control

Stops with the shore;-upon the watery plain

The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain…

(Byron G. “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, Canto II, CLXXIX)

Aspiration to an ideal and admiration of the perfect beauty of the nature can be found in the beautiful poems of Percy Shelley. The character of pictures of nature by Shelley organically derives from his philosophical views, based on the knowledge of the history of philosophy from ancient times, from truly encyclopedic knowledge. Shelley sometimes animates the nature, gives it consciousness and characteristics of highest creation – he signs a hymn to the “Spirit of Nature”, by declaring the entire Universe as its temple. The influence of the materialist: it were ideas of Enlightenment and the Renaissance that played a decisive role in the evolution of philosophical views of Shelley.

In “Ode to the West Wind” (1819) the symbolic image of the West Wind is the idea of renewal of life: the west wind destroys everything old in its path and helps to create new. The lyrical hero-champion is one with the mighty power of the West Wind.

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red…

… Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;

Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!

(Shelley P.B., “Ode To The West Wind”, I)

Shelley shows the magic power of the wind magically, describing its role as “destroyer and preserver”, by powerful natural metaphors the poet expresses his ideas about the power and great effect of the nature.

Thus, we can see that the Romantic poets often showed the nature as free, powerful and beautiful world that is different from the human. Especially romantic poets liked to portray the sea in this sense, its boundless scope and majestic power, the wind, which has unlimited power and freedom, and the mountains with their grandeur and sublime beauty. In this case, the freedom and the power of natural elements have a figurative meaning, associated with free and powerful human spirit.


Romanticism is characterized by a sense of unity between man and nature. Consequently, the most importantly in the romantic views of nature is “subjectivity”, the corresponding correlation of the poet’s mood with the natural world. The romantic perception of nature is not just individual attitude of the subject to the outside world, but the nature helps to express the attitude of individual to the social conditions of his existence. In the perception and evaluation of the nature is expressed the relationship of the individual to the public life, to the meaning of human existence.


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