Romanticism

Romanticism was an art and literature movement that took place in the 18th century and drew upon ideals of the time.

  • There were several poets that characterized this era and this site will explore both their poetry and personal lives. "The Big Six" include John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Samuel T. Coleridge, William Blake, and William Wordsworth.
  • The romantic era was a time of emotional exploration as well as increased intellectualism.
  • Romanticism was developed mainly as a reaction to Neoclassicism but was also influenced by philosophy, religion, and industrialization. Subject matter evolved to include more erotic, exotic and natural influences.
  • The French Revolution also had a major impact on the formation and continuation of the Romantic movement. Repression of political dissent and new social provisions were also happening in Britain during the time which encouraged opposition among citizens.

Introduction to Romanticism

A short video introducing the major themes and players in the Romantic movement.

William Wordsworth

Like many poets of the Romantic Era, William Wordsworth's work was concerned with the relationship between humans and nature. Wordsworth's father worked for a prominent Baronet, which also prompted William to pen some political essays. Wordsworth and his family lived in a rural home along the Dewert River in the Lakes district of Britain. This led him to develop an interest in natural beauty early in his life. He was orphaned fairly early in life, though he was still able to be well-educated. His poetic career began when he decided to take a trip to the Alps with a Cambridge associate. During this trip he was inspired by the French Revolution and gained a hatred for tyranny. He was also enamored with the beauty of the landscape in France and Spain.

Ode to Duty (excerpt)

Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!
O Duty! if that name thou love
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring, and reprove;
Thou, who art victory and law
When empty terrors overawe;
From vain temptations dost set free;
And calm'st the weary strife of frail humanity!

Poem Features

  • Characteristic language for Romantic poetry (thou, art, etc.)
  • Duty was a prevalent theme in Romantic era poetry and literature
  • There was often a Spiritual aspect to these poems
  • Poetry of this era most commonly Rhymes.
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Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the youngest son of vicar born in 1772 Devonshire. He continually had financial issues and often relied on others to help him through these. Coleridge had an unhappy marriage and he spent much of his time away from his wife. He tried to plan a pansitocratic (self-sustaining and self-governing) commune with a friend, but his friend abandoned the project in its beginning stages. Later in his career, Coleridge met William Wordsworth and was greatly influenced by his friendship. On a trip to Germany with Wordsworth, Coleridge mastered the language and studied philosophers Kant, Boehme, and Lessing.

Kubla Khan (excerpt)


But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

Poem Features

  • Supernatural elements were often present in romantic poetry
  • Romance, of course, had great import in the poetry of this era
  • Many Romantic-era poems were inspired by Nature


Percy Shelley


Proclaimed an atheist and a heretic, Percy Shelley was expelled from Oxford for his radical poetry. He had previously stood to gain his father's fortune along with a seat in Parliament, but after this controversy was disavowed by his father. Like Wordsworth, Shelley moved to the lake district to study and write. He was a dedicated socialist and an advocate of free love. After his first wife committed suicide, he married Mary Godwin, who became Mary Shelley--the author of Frankenstein. Shelley was drowned at 29 aboard his ship The Don Juan.


Alastor (excerpt)

With sunset and its gorgeous ministers,
And solemn midnight's tingling silentness;
If autumn's hollow sighs in the sere wood,
And winter robing with pure snow and crowns
Of starry ice the grey grass and bare boughs;

Poem Features

  • Shelley uses both assonance and consonance to give this poem a musical feel.
  • Seasons were often used by romantics for inspiration
  • Solitude was a common theme in romantic poems
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John Keats

When John Keats was orphaned at age 14, his grandmother hired two London merchants to look after him. They withdrew him from school to study medicine but he never practiced though he became a licensed apothecary. Keats was befriended by both William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley. His first work, Endymion, drew harsh criticism and he contracted tuberculosis soon after publishing it. While his health declined he published his far more successful works before dying at age 25.

Ode to a Grecian Urn (excerpt)

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Poem features

  • Romantic poetry often referenced melancholy subjects
  • Many romantic poems were inspired by Ancient Greece
  • Beauty was represented as the highest truth in romantic poetry

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Lord Byron

Lord George Gordon Byron, known to most as Lord Byron, inherited an estate and title at the age of ten. He had a troubled childhood, however, as he was estranged from his mother and had no assets to care for his property. He also discovered he was bisexual in his teenage years which caused him to isolate himself. He later toured the Mediterranean and published a successful poem based on his adventure. As a politician, he spoke out against social injustice and favored workers' rights. After his wife accused him of sodomy, he fled to Italy where he wrote much of his masterpiece Don Juan.

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (excerpt)

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,

Poem features

  • This poem deals with solitude
  • Anaphora is utilized in this poem
  • Nature is emphasized over society

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William Blake

Influenced greatly by the French and American Revolutions, Blake sought social change through his art and poetry. Unlike many other romantic-era poets, his family was one of moderate means. He was not formally educated as a child and only attended art school for a short number of years before becoming apprenticed to an engraver. Many of the poems he published were politically focused and he was outspoken in his views challenging tyranny.

The Garden of Love (excerpt)

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

Poem features

  • This poem uses metaphor to represent emotion
  • Like other poems of the time, this deals with melancholy
  • The repeating "And" is Anaphora

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