The first half of the nineteenth century records the triumph of romanticism in literature. Newton’s science and Locke’s philosophy were important contributions to the eighteenth-century ethos that made the literature of Pope and Dryden. The revolution of 1789 had violently shaken English thought and aroused liberal ideas in England. Romanticism in the broad sense meant individualism and the revival of imaginative faculty in the matter of literary compositions. Romanticism is described as a return to Nature and ‘the renascence of wonder’. It is the introduction of imagination and a sense of mystery in literature.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850) endowed Nature with a new meaning and significance. He wrote about familiar common subjects and gave them a light that was never on sea or land. He departed from the gaudy poetic diction and wrote in familiar language as far as practicable. His great contribution to English poetry was the re-interpretation of Nature as a vital entity, a speaking presence, and an acting principle. Wordsworth through his poetry made a revolt against urban-industrial civilization and considered the evils of modern life as stemming from man’s separation from Nature. His long poem, the Prelude, and his poem like Lines Written on Tintern Abbey are eloquent expressions of his philosophy of nature. In short, Wordsworth spearheads the movement against the neo-classical school.
Coleridge (1772-1834) made the supernatural and thereby widened the scope of imaginative understanding. Coleridge introduced into romance a touch of dream and fantasy that increased its unreality and reduced the total living experience to the level of a mere groundwork for a supernatural thrill and a tenuous symbolism. Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, Christabel, Kubla Khan are remarkable for evoking the thrill of the supernatural through suggestive details and witchery of language.
John Keats (1795-1821) added to the basic quality of romance a sensuousness, hunger, and yearning for beauty in all its concrete shapes and forms, a sense of regret and frustration more poignantly felt because rooted in his personal experience. In his poetry, he suggests a contrast between the real world of suffering and frustrations and the imaginative ideal world of dreams and desires and his poetry records his wistful yearning for the ideal world. Keats’ romanticism lies in suggesting the thrill of beauty through sensuous pictures and expressions. His Lamia, the Eve of St Agnes, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to Autumn show his romantic aspiration.
Shelley (1792-1822) was the most vital instinct with the pure essence of a romantic spirit. He gave himself up most unreservedly to the impulse and inspiration of the romantic spirit. He had imbibed the explosive forces of the French Revolution and championed the cause of revolution and freedom in every sphere of human life. There is, however, a melancholy note in his poetry which springs from his frustrations and unfulfilled desires. He pined for an ideal world of beauty, love, and freedom but he yearned in vain. He sang of the millennium when evils of life would disappear like patches of clouds. Shelley’s best qualities are revealed in his Prometheus Unbound, Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark. He is a lyrical genius par excellence: His poetry is marked by melody and imagery.
Lord Byron (1788-1824) is rightly described as a romantic poet only on the outer fringe of his consciousness. He was affiliated to the Popian tradition by his satiric spirit and adoption of the couplet. Yet he possessed a romantic ardor which is manifested in his upholding the cause of freedom and liberty and in his zeal for expressing his ego-centric consciousness.
The literature of this period was free from restrictions and technicalities. The poets aimed at the spontaneous and exuberant expression of emotions. The Romantic Revival helped the revival of the lyric form marked by its spontaneity and musical qualities. It allowed a free play of imagination. There was variety and individuality in the literature of the Romantic Revival. The poets of the period chose a variety of themes and styles of expression. The romantic poets wrote narrative poems, lyrics, sonnets, odes, ballads, and generally used blank verse. The spirit of the Romantic Revival lasted until the arrival of the Victorian poets who combined the lyricism of the Romantics with the sense of order and restraint of the classicists.