The group of the precursors of Romanticism includes James Thomson, Thomas Young, George Crabbe, Oliver Goldsmith, William Collins, Thomas Gray, William Cowper, Robert Burns, and William Blake anticipated Romanticism in English poetry. They are often called the ‘transitional poets’, as they stood between the classical school of Pope and the romantic school.
The beginning of this transition – the romantic reaction – is first marked with James Thomson’s “The Seasons“.What is novel about the poem is that it is the first English poem to have its base absolutely on the beauty and diversity of Nature. “The Seasons” chiefly rings the death-knell of the classical prosaic poetry. A romantic note through love for Nature is felt rather strongly in Edward Young’s “Night Thoughts“. Here he treats the immortal spirit of Nature, brooding amid nightly darkness and silence. Humanism, a conspicuous romantic element, is found fused and well-treated in “Night Thoughts“, which bears, like Thomson’s “The Seasons“, meditative strains, and melancholy notes.
Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” is rich both in the humanitarian appeal and natural images. Here he pays attention to nature and humble life, which are dear to the Romantic poets. Its strong note of subjectivity is essentially significant for the revival of the romantic spirit. Meditation and moralization mark Gray’s “Eton College Ode“, “Ode to Evening” befits well the advent of romanticism. Like Shelley, George Crabbe is a rebel and humanitarian poet with an intense love for Nature. Crabbe in “The Village” treats poverty and its bleakness in the life of the poor exploited by the rich.
However, the greatest names in this revival of romanticism are Burns and Blake. With these two, the preparation for the emergence of romanticism is complete. Burns’ “Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialects ” is a noteworthy collection. He is a poet of man as well as nature. Perhaps, he is the greatest British songwriter, who reveals a good deal of lyricism. In his humanism. lyricism and love for nature, Burns is a true romanticist. William Blake, the dreamer with d powerful imagination, is undoubtedly the greatest. His two most interesting works, “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience” offer his sheer insight into human relationships. Like Wordsworth, he was for a time an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution. But soon came the disillusionment. His eyes were opened to the evils and vices of a doomed world. “Songs of Experience” represent the corruption of man by the immoral forces of society. Blake’s genius is essentially lyrical having a great intensity of feeling and music He had great sympathy for the underdogs, and “Songs of Experience” ring with his anger at what man has made of man. Blake is a poet of joyful mysticism with a motto: “Joy and woe are woven fine”. And this mysticism is expressed through symbols both traditional and original.
Also read: Graveyard or Churchyard Poets