The Romantic era includes the time period from the late 18th century to the mid nineteenth century. Many of the great historic poets existed during this time. The Romantic era brought about change after the strict classical era and the French Revolution. Original, thought provoking literature and poems were created by some of the most significant poets of any era. England in particular produced some of the most artistic and moving poets who penetrated deep emotions and philosophical wonderment in readers around the world. Some of England’s great poets of the romantic era, such as Shelley, Wordsworth and Blake, have made insurmountable contributions to the written word that not only changed the outlook in the people of their country, but also the world.
Much of what we think of when we think of poetic conventions springs from this era: an unabashed love of nature, passionate, evocative language, an emphasis on true love and passion. These poets led unconventional lives and sponsored heroic causes, often dying young or tragically. Here are some of the most celebrated poets of the era:
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Coleridge was both poet and literary critic during the Romantic period in England. His analysis of Shakespeare became notably popular during his lifetime. Coleridge had an unfortunate relationship with drug use and has been thought to have anxiety and depression that he self medicated through the use of opium. He paired with a friend, fellow poet Robert Southey , and they married sisters. Sarah Fricker, his wife with whom he had a strained relationship from the start, and Coleridge separated in 1808 after his strong dependence on opium.
Coleridge’s poetry was deeply influential on poets during and after the Romantic era. The Rime of Ancient Mariner and Christabel were two of his most famous works and have overtones of fantasy, mysticism and magic. Christabel in particular is about a bewitching figure. Both are longer verse poems. He also had many shorter versions that saw popularity. Some of these included A Fragment and A Vision in A Dream. Coleridge was known for his conversational tone in his poetry. Many unfinished works of poetry were found authored by Coleridge. His views and scholarship were deeply admired by Bryon in particular.
William Wordsworth was born in 1770 and was an influential poet during his later years and among the poets responsible for the beginning of the Romantic era.
William fell in love with a French woman named Annette and they had one child together. William and Annette never married. Because of the tensions between France and England, William did not see Annette and his child for about three years. They were in France and relations were strained. William returned to France with his sister Dorothy and they worked out the relations between William and Annette. Nevertheless, William went on to marry his long-time friend from childhood, Mary Hutchinson, with whom he had five children. He created many literary works and was given an honorary doctorate by Durham, University.
Wordsworth’s literary career began in 1793 with Lyrical Ballads. There are many references to natural beauty in Wordsworth's work, such as in " I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud " also known as "Daffodils". He also felt that materialism was something to despise, as in “ The World is Too Much with Us .”
As one of the most prolific poets during the romantic era, William Blake expressed his passion and creativity in his poems and literary works. Blake went largely unknown during his own lifetime, and was even considered insane for his convictions and originality. In fact, it is really the artists of the 20th century such William Butler Yeats and Allen Ginsburg who have made his reputation what it is. There is almost no one in an era who can rival him in the uniqueness of his thoughts and poetic vision particularly in works such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and A Vision of the Last Judgement.
Blake was a self taught man who only attended school long enough to learn to read. He read avidly during his spare time. Blake met and married Catherine Boucher when he was about 25 years old. Blake was active in early feminist movements and believed the laws of marriage equated to legal prostitution although he remained happily married for about 45 years. Catherine was an instrumental partner in his work and assisted him with his illuminations. Some of his most famous works include A Vision of the Last Judgment, where he expresses his disagreements with the orthodox Christian views. Blake’s unconventional views of religion are evident in his body of work and they are highly mystical in content.
In addition to his poems, Blake was a noted engraver and etcher and many of his literary works have a visual quality, in that they are highly descriptive.
Blake Collection: A collection of William Blake’s work including poetry, art and engravings by Blake.
Lord Byron, also known as George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, was known as the leading English poet in the Romantic era. Highly popular, wealthy and handsome, he was also related to King James I. Lord Byron had many famous though short lived affairs, the first two being his distant cousins Mary Duff and Margaret Parker. Lord Byron was said to have formed many relationships with men as well and describes his love affairs as both pure and passionate, despite the condemnation of homosexuality at the time.
The concept of the Byronic hero, an antihero in many ways, can be seen as a reflection of both his art and his life. He was constantly creating scandal, whether through his homosexual affairs or even allegations of incest with his half sister..His most passionate and difficult romance was Anne Isabella Milbanke, whom he married and mistreated.
Lord Byron’s literary epics include Don Juan, Byronic Hero, The Curse Minerva. She Walks in Beauty is one of the best known of poems in the English language, a personal desciption of a beautiful woman and in essence a love poem, as well as So, we'll go no more a roving, a description of man speaking of his youth.
Lord Byron died of a cold brought on by his compromised immune system after an attack in the Gulf of Corinth with the rebel army that he commanded in Greece.
Shelley was one of England’s finest lyric poets of the romantic era. Some of his most well known and popular works were Ode to the West Wing, To a Skylark, Ozymandias, ands The Mask of Anarchy. Shelley was born in Field Place near West Sussex, England in 1792. Shelley’s radical views and unconventional ideals were in part responsible for his lack of popularity while he was alive. It was not until decades after his death that his work was appreciated and he is a favorite of many other poets of the Victorian era. His idealism, including radical political views, vegetarianism and atheism, influenced his work and also created a new path for radical thinkers.
Shelley met his first wife at the ripe age of 19, soon after he left school. He eloped in Scotland with his first wife Harriet with whom he was married for three years. Harriet birthed two children during her marriage with Shelley. Shelley soon became disenchanted in his marriage to Harriet and often left his family and took up language and other studies.
During his visit to William Goodwin’s residence in London he met and fell in love with his soon-to-be second wife, Mary Goodwin daughter of famous author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. He swept Mary, then 16 years old, and her sister Claire off on a European sailing adventure ending in Switzerland. They returned to England and soon after Shelley learned of his first wife Harriet’s death. Harriet drowned herself. This suicide colored many views of him for years.
Shelley wed Mary and they attempted to get custody of his children but failed because of Shelley’s atheist views. They had two children together and Mary herself became an important author, penning Frankenstein, long considered the original science fiction novel .
During his later travels and eventual move to Naples, Italy, Shelley was rumored to have another child born to Mary’s step-sister Claire. There are disputes among scholars as to who the mother of this child was. Shelley tragically died at the age of 29 while at sea on his schooner named Don Juan.
John Keats was another English poet that lived during the Romantic era and contributed many poems that became well known for their beauty and sensitive observations. Many consider him the finest Romantic poet and several lines have become poetic axioms: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever, “ from Endymion and “ Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” from Ode on a Grecian Urn.
Keat's work became popular only a few years before his death. Keats had a tumultuous life with his father dying when he was only eight years old and his mother dying when he was fourteen. He lived with his grandmother during his adolescent year and apprenticed with a surgeon before entering medical school.
John Keats became close with a Miss Fanny Brawne; both being from London, the two shared a short lived intimacy that is forever captured in a series of notable love letters. After a separation, Brawne returned to his life when her mother was widowed and she moved into the Wentworth Place, where Keats lived. They formed a non-formal agreement and never married but they remained faithful to each other until Keats death. Keats moved to Italy due to being consumed by tuberculosis, and this is where he died.
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