The term 'Romanticism' is related to a period of European history during the end of the 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th Century. The romantic age of poetry was dependant on various features atypical to their time, for example a reaction against previous literary styles, arguments with eighteenth century and earlier philosophers, the rapid and unprecedented industrialisation of Britain and consequent changes in its countryside, however it was the impact of the French Revolution which gave the period its most distinctive and urgent concerns.
Here France put a limit on the powers of their king and started a new government. This was an age of individualists that seeked formal freedom and saw it as a way to bring back individuality. In a sense Romantic poetry is a clear demand for social justice, expressing that the past social structure was too rigid and the new social order must allow for individual re-growth. There are many great poets that introduced the Romantic era to English Literature, starting with William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge with their combined effort on 'Lyrical Ballads' (1798).
Here they turned from reason to emotion and from society to nature. They expressed a wide range of ideas such as the supernatural, emotions, imagination, the exotic, valuable lessons and heroic actions. It valued common people and the individual, as well as promoting a radical change in democracy. Lyrical Ballads was wrote using normal, everyday language and in the 'Preface to Lyrical Ballads', Wordsworth wrote, 'The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments.
They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purpose of poetic pleasure'1. The main theme throughout these poems is the original state of nature moreover the supernatural. Wordsworth believed that people were corrupted by society so wanted to get to the roots of life. He does this accurately in the poem 'Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey'2. This poem is about the re-visitation to nature; Wordsworth revisits Tintern Abbey after five years, having now had knowledge of the sublime and true feelings towards nature.
Wordsworth realizes how different he feels towards nature now. When he was a young boy he loved to go out an experience nature 'bounded o'er the mountains'3, nature made up his whole world, that time did pass, he now has a more mature look on nature and how it has much more to offer him. He finds tranquility in nature and uses it as a place to reflect, he sees how here man and nature can live in harmony, 'these pastoral farms/ Green to the very door', this conflicting with the state of Britain at the time being industrialized. Also 'In which the heavy and the weary weight Of all is unintelligible world is lighten'd', The memory of the scene offers him access to a heightened mental and spiritual state where he is aware of the inner force of nature.
Wordsworth's reflection upon Tintern Abbey makes him realize that this present experience will provide many happy memories for future years. Wordsworth and Coleridge also believe that looking back on childhood is a good way to view the world, as the naivety of children makes for a better cause than the stupidity of adults. The Idiot Boy'4 outlines this; this is a poem illustrating common emotions in a rural setting and is an incident drawn from 'low and rustic life'. It tells the story of Betty Foy sending her mentally ill child, Johnny off on a pony to look for a doctor to help Susan Gale whom is ill. Johnny doesn't returned and Betty gets very worried, maybe even a little crazy, on finding the doctor she forgets about Susan and only remembers that she is ill when Johnny finally returns.
Although this poem may possess some humour Johnny's irrational account is not to be laughingly dismissed. It is precisely his lack of rational, ordering intelligence which makes possible his thinking of joy and immersion in nature. Wordsworth said he chose rural, ordinary people as subjects for Lyrical Ballads because the 'essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity'5. Johnny's joyful openness to the world around him leads Wordsworth to see him as a possessor of wisdom denied to others.
This maturity can also be shown in the poem 'We are seven', here again its takes a rustic character, 'a little cottage girl' and a man asks this girl how many siblings has she got, to which she replies there are seven including herself. The man gets confused when the girl only mentions where four of them are. The girl then responds saying that two of them are dead, the man says that if two of them are dead then there are only five siblings. The girl tells the man that she often visits her dead siblings singing to them therefore they are still existing to her.
This poem is intriguing as the conversation could have easily been five lines however the poem lasts 69 lines long, this showing the man cannot accept that the young girl still feels she has six siblings. The reader is left thinking the little girl understands more about life and death than the man whom she is speaking. She refuses to become incapacitated by grief, or to cast the deceased out of her life. Instead she accepts that things change, and continues living as happily as she can. One other theme key to the Romantic era is outcasts of society.
After the Revolution took place the outcasts of society started to gain their place in life as everyone was considered equal. Wordsworth echoed this in his poems, 'The Female Vagrant'6. Also 'Goody Blake and Harry Gill'7. This poem encapsulates some of the Romantic ideas of the time. It focuses on ordinary and rustic people, with supernatural elements and a moral behind it. Harry Gill has no compassion or generosity towards Goody Blake, when he has so much and she obviously has so little.
Goody Blake gets to the point at which she is frozen so goes to Harry Gills bush and starts to pull twigs off to make her a fire when Harry Gill catches her. Goody Blake then places a spell on Harry Gill so he shall remain forever cold. Of course if Harry Gill had known Goody Blake was a witch he would have been more generous, but the point focuses on charity and the downfalls of selfish affluent people. Overall Romanticism is characterised by the establishment of freedom and equal rights which, revert the minds back to childhood at which nature was the only entity.