Two Generations Apart
Josephine Hong 031 Term Paper June 6, 2011 Two Generations Apart Throughout time, literature has always been used as an outlet for debate and discussion of structural flaws. Thus, the poets of the Romantic period sought to change society’s neoclassic state of mind by breaking away from reliance on reasoning and instead encouraging individualism, using imagination and emotion as inspiration. Initially, Romantic poetry became the antithesis of classical poety as the poets soley challenged the established precepts of the Age of Reason by creating their own manifesto of composing poetry.
However, as the English began to revolt against the principles of the French Revolution, which originally sparked this movement, a new generation of poets evolved. Rather than only focusing on defying the works of Neoclassic times, these poets strove to attack the established social order of their time. As this generation of poets longed for social and political stability, they began to reach out to artworks of the past to give them hope for a better future.
Despite the common, underlying themes of emotion, nature, and imagination in Romantic poetry, two distinct generations arose during this period as the first-generation Romantics strictly focused on establishing a new form of poetry that differed from their Neoclassic counterparts, while the second-generation Romantics used poetry as a vessel to explore the relationship between art and life. During the Romantic Period, poets from both generations challenged man’s reliance on rationality as they began to emphasis emotions over reason.
As this shift occurred, the search for a creative force or spirit that lies only within a man’s inner self became apparent in the works of Romantic poets. In one of his poems, William Wordsworth seeks this supreme force as he cries out, “Wisdom and Spirit of the universe! / Thou Soul, that art the Eternity of thought! ” (“Influence of Natural Objects”, lines 1-2, RPO). He personifies the universe and seeks its power to draw out this inner spirit within him, for the universe can shape and fill his mind with purifying images of natural beauty.
Similarly, Samuel Coleridge describes “[his] feeling heart, [his] searching soul” as he dedicates himself to this great, unknown force (“Ode to Tranquillity”, line 26, Columbia Grangers). He hopes to “trace/ The greatness of some future race” through this spirit “within [himself]” rather than “scan/? The present works of present man–…/Too foolish for a tear, too wicked for a smile” (“Ode to Tranquillity”, lines 31-33, Columbia Grangers). As the Romantic poets began to focus on the power of human emotions, they rejected the authoritative precepts of their classical precedents who concentrated greatly on logic and reasoning.
Wordsworth rebukes society’s reliance on rationality as he says, “Enough of Science and of Art;/ Close up those barren leaves;/ Come forth, and bring with you a heart/ That watches and receives” (“The Tables Turned”, lines 29-32, RPO). He strongly urges his friend to turn away from meaningless books and learn through feeling the heart. Thus, the Romantics surpassed logical reasoning by expanding their knowledge through the use of imagination as a gateway to express their emotions. Personifying a cloud, Percy Shelley uses first person narrative as he imagines a cloud’s experience in nature.
To the cloud, the moon becomes an “orbed maiden with white fire laden” who “glides glimmering o’er [the cloud’s] fleece-like floor” (“The Cloud”, lines 45-47, RPO). Shelley introduces a new point of view to his readers that allows them to emotionally identify with natural objects around them rather than to analyze. The Romantic poets “called for a greater attention to the emotions as a necessary supplement to purely logical reason” (Flesch 2). As poets began to emphasis the significance of emotions during this time, a new focus emerged among British poets.
Usually overlooked by the materialistic society of their time, nature became the key focus for the Romantic poets. These poets sought nature as place to explore fundamental aspects of human nature away from society’s hectic atmosphere. In one of his poems, Wordsworth states that “The elements of feeling and of thought” can only be purified “With life and nature” and “Not with the mean and vulgar works of Man” (“Influence of Natural Objects”, lines 8 ; 10-11, RPO). He conveys an aversion to materialistic goods, for he believes that these objects only distract one from truly discovering oneself.
Romantics then attempted to show that even simple and insignificant parts of nature, if approached correctly, had the ability to expand one’s mind. Thus, Wordsworth depicts how not only ”… did Nature link/ The human soul that through [him] ran”, but also “…grieve [his] heart to think/ What man has made of man” (“Lines Written in Early Spring”, lines 5-8, Bartleby). “While in a grove [he] sat reclined”, Wordsworth was able to see the negative effects of industrialism by its contrast to nature’s beauty (“Lines Written in Early Spring”, lines 2, Bartleby).
Similarly, Coleridge asks a skylark to “Teach [him], Sprite or Bird,/ What sweet thoughts are thine” (“To a Skylark”, lines 61-62, RPO). Despite the small size of this bird, Coleridge glorifies it as he seeks its guidance to help expand his perspective. As nature became a source of inspiration, the Romantics focused on the concept of the sublime to not only instill terror but also elevate admiration for the natural world. In “Influence of Natural Objects,” Wordsworth asserts nature’s way of “…sanctifying by such discipline/ Both pain and fear, — until [people] recognize/ A grandeur in the beatings of the heart” (lines 12-14, RPO).
He conveys the idea that through nature’s awe-inspiring power humanity can comprehend the significance of life. Nature became the subject of Romantic poetry as poets sought in its beauty an insight of their soul. The first-generation poets became “rebels” as they attacked and broke away from the artificial and formal styles of the Age of Reason. These poets established that good poetry should arise from spontaneous flashes of insight, sparked by actual events, which ultimately became the topic of most of their poems.
After revisiting a certain location, Wordsworth creates a poem on impulse as he “Once again/ … [beholds] these steep and lofty cliffs” (“Tintern Abbey”, lines 4-5, RPO). Likewise, Coleridge produces a poem after a visit from his friends as he laments that “…they are gone, and here must [he] remain” at home, unable to walk with them through nature (“This Lime-tree Bower my Prison”, line 1, RPO). By spontaneously creating poetry, both these poets are able to break away from the previous Neoclassic precept of strictly, structured poetry.
Furthermore, the first-generation poets strayed away from using complex, elaborate expressions like their Neoclassic counterparts and instead used simple, everyday language. In “Lines Written in Early Spring,” Wordsworth uses common, sylvan words rather than complicated, lofty language to illustrate nature. He writes that “The birds around [him] hopped and played” and “The budding twigs spread out their fan, / To catch the breezy air” (lines 13 ; 18-19, RPO). By using such diction, Wordsworth knows that his readers can easily visualize and understand his poem, leaving a more permanent impact in their minds.
Finally, the first-generation poets used imagination to contrast the dry intellectualism of the Age of Reason. In his poem “This Lime-tree Bower my Prison,” Coleridge imagines his “Friends… /On springy heath, along the hill-top edge” because he cannot physically join them (lines 6-7, RPO). By visioning this imaginary scene, he emancipates himself from the tyranny of conventions and literary rules of the Neoclassic Era, for his imagination cannot be controlled. The first-generation Romantics’ ultimate goal was to liberate themselves from the authoritative ways of the previous era.
Unlike the Neoclassic poets who greatly focused on the society as a whole, the first-generation poets became more concerned with the individual. Thus, rustic life generally became the topic of these poets, who believed that only in this humble setting could one truly discover basic thoughts and feelings. In “Influence of Natural Objects,” Wordsworth states how “By day or star-light, thus from [his] first dawn/ Of childhood [did nature] intertwine for [him]/ The passions that build up [the] human soul” (lines 5-7, RPO).
He expresses the idea of nature establishing a connection between his emotions and spirit, allowing him to recognize the elemental feelings that engender the human soul. Likewise, Coleridge realizes that nature “…may well employ/ Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart/ Awake to Love and Beauty! ” (“This Lime-tree Bower my Prison”, line 64-66, RPO). As he sits and imagines a walk through nature, he is reminded of how human senses and feelings come alive in nature’s environment.
The first-generation poets then centered around the common man, who typically lived closer to and interacted more with the unseen spirit of nature that the poets seeked. In one of his poems, Wordsworth apostrophizes a Highland girl and praises her “…mien, or face,/ In which more plainly [he] could trace/ Benignity and home-bred sense/ Ripening in perfect innocence” (“To a Highland Girl”, lines 24-26, RPO). Moreover, this girl’s humble upbringing attracts Wordsworth as he wishes “…here to dwell/ Beside [her] in some heathy dell” and “Adopt [her] homely ways” (“To a Highland Girl”, lines 49-51, RPO).
By degrees, the first-generation Romantics appealed not to the logical mind, but to the complete self, in the whole scope of senses, emotions and intellectual abilities. Despite the first-generation’s initial deviation from the use of artifice, the second-generation Romantics began to value art over nature admist the escalating social conflicts of their time. Rather than finding inspiration in nature, the second-generation poets became moved by literature and artwork from the past. John Keats writes an ode to a urn that expresses “A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme” (“Ode on a Grecian Urn”, line 4, RPO).
He asserts that the story this urn portrays is far more superior to the poetry of his time. Likewise, he writes a poem about his reaction to reading George Chapman’s translation of Homer. He describes how he “then felt…like some watcher of the skies/ When a new planet swims into his ken”, for Chapman’s translation opened up a new perspective for Keats that broadened his intellect. Moreover, the latter poets of the Romantic era sought the art of the past as inspiration for hope amid the chaos of the world surrounding them.
In “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Keats concludes that “When old age, shall this generation waste,/ [the urn shall] remain, in midst of other woe” (lines 46-47, RPO). He places faith in the urn to remain and tell its story despite the decay of his own generation. Earlier art becomes crucial for the second-generation poets as it allowed the poets to escape the turmoils of their time. The second-generation Romantics then began to reflect upon the relationship between the real and the ideal. Departing from prior methods, these poets did not write about actual experieneces but instead created imagined places in their poetry.
In “Ode to Psyche,” Keats creates a supernatural setting “In deepest grass,/ beneath the whisp’ring roof/ Of leaves and trembled blossoms…” (lines 10-11, RPO). Rather than reiterating a past experience, Keats employs the power of his imagination to create a credible, sylvan scenery. Futhermore, despite being figments of the poets’ imaginations, the subjects of the poems were usually actual objects in nature, which allowed readers to identify with them. In one of his poems, Shelley uses his imagination to become a cloud.
He paints a pictures for his readers as he personifies the cloud to “…bind the Sun’s throne with a burning zone,/ And the Moon’s with a girdle of pearl” (“The Cloud”, lines 59-60, RPO). Readers are able to visualize this image and connect with nature because they are familiar with these objects. Thus, the second-generation poets were able to escape the disorder of their world by using their imagination to create ideal locations. Despite the common notion of the Romantic Period being a unified, literary movement, there are two distinct generations that arise within this single era.
As the first-generation poets focused on defying their classical precedents, the second-generation poets concentrated on analyzing the materialistic world around them and using their imagination to bring their thoughts into reality. However, both generations hoped that their poetry would lead the world to change by enlightening others to strive for a more perfect society. Thus, the poets of the Romantic period established that future generations should seek new ideas and not just accept past beliefs, for the goal of poetry is to illustrate a greater picture. Works Cited Flesch, William. “Romanticism. The Facts On File Companion to British Poetry, 19th Century. New York: Facts On File, Inc. , 2009. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. <http://www. fofweb. com/activelink2. asp? ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= CBPNC276&SingleRecord=True>. (accessed May 1, 2011). Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Ode to Tranquillity. ” Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry Online. 2011. Columbia University Press. 6 Jun. 2011. <http://www. columbiagrangers. org>. “RPO — John Keats : Ode to Psyche. ” Representative Poetry On-line: Version 3. 0. University of Toronto Libraries. Web. 01 June 2011. <http://rpo. library. utoronto. a/poem/1132. html>. “RPO — John Keats : On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer. ” Representative Poetry On-line: Version 3. 0. University of Toronto Libraries. Web. 03 June 2011. <http://rpo. library. utoronto. ca/poem/1133. html>. “RPO — Percy Bysshe Shelley : The Cloud. ” Representative Poetry On-line: Version 3. 0. University of Toronto Libraries. Web. 03 June 2011. <http://rpo. library. utoronto. ca/poem/1884. html>. “RPO — Percy Bysshe Shelley : To a Skylark. ” Representative Poetry On-line: Version 3. 0. University of Toronto Libraries. Web. 03 June 2011. <http://rpo. library. utoronto. ca/poem/1915. html>. RPO — Samuel Taylor Coleridge : This Lime-tree Bower My Prison. ” Representative Poetry On-line: Version 3. 0. University of Toronto Libraries. Web. 04 June 2011. <http://rpo. library. utoronto. ca/poem/525. html>. “RPO — William Wordsworth : Influence of Natural Objects in Calling Forth and Strengthening the Imagination in Boyhood and Early Youth. ” Representative Poetry On-line: Version 3. 0. University of Toronto Libraries. Web. 03 June 2011. <http://rpo. library. utoronto. ca/poem/2338. html>. “RPO — William Wordsworth : Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour.
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