Sunday, December 2, 2007

First Generation Romantics

William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, and Robert Southey are the most famous First Generation Romantic poets.  The first generation romantics are characterized by their shift in style and subject manner from the Neo Classicalist.  The use of satire is rare and the Romantics tend to focus on particular aspects of objects, people, and events instead of the essence of objects, people and events.

One of the most important works pertaining to the change of style during this time was William Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads, which demonstrates Wordsworth’s particular motivations for how he writes the Lyrical Ballads.  Notably the subjects of these poems, are “incidents and situations from common life” verses the normal neoclassical subject of incidents and situations from elevated life, like Alexander Pope’s “Rape of the Lock”, which is about the aristocracy and not the common people (Norton 266).  Wordsworth also changes the style of his poetry he states, “The reader will find that personifications of abstract ideas rarely occur in these volumes; and, I hope, are utterly rejected as ordinary device to elevate the style, and rise it above prose”, and “there will also be found in these volumes little of what is usually called poetic diction; I have take as much pains to avoid it as others ordinarily talk to produce it; this I have done for the reason already alleged, to bring my language near to the language of men, and further, because the pleasure which I have proposed to myself to impart is of a kind very different from what is supposed by many person to be the proper object of poetry” (Norton 267).  Wordsworth and other first generation poets take a notable step away from their Neo Classical predecessors by embracing the common people and the common language. 

            First Generation romantics also believe in the possible ability of dreams to clarify reality, as seen in Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn.”  Also “Kubla Kahn,” presents a different kind of characterization of the poet.  The narrator states, “I would build that dome in air,” which shows the narrator’s desire to use his words combined with his imagination to create a poem, which is unlike the characterization of the poet in Rassles (Norton 448).  In Biographia Literaria, Coleridge distinguishes imagination from fancy and even separates imagination further by distinguishing between primary and secondary imagination.

            The First Generation Romantics, (mostly Wordsworth and Coleridge) glorify the pantheistic god of nature.  Wordsworth demonstrates the greatness of Nature as a teacher in most of his poems, notably “Tintern Abbey.”  Coleridge also does this in his poems, notably “The Eolian Harp”. 

            William Blake is also an interesting First Generation Romantic poet.  He follows the Romantic tendency to turn against tradition as seen in his “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, where Blake presents the opposite of many parables to demonstrate how “opposition is true friendship” and moderation is the key (Norton 119).   However, since “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is a satire Blake also demonstrates some Neo Classical traits.

Barbara Vanderheyden

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