The chief characteristics of romantic poetry are:
(a) All romantic literature is subjective. It is an expression of the inner urges of the soul of the artist. The poet does not care for rules and regulations but gives free expression to his emotions. Emphasis is laid on inspiration and intuition rather than on the observance of set rules. The poet writes according to his own fancy and is often guilty of wild excesses. Romantic poetry is fanciful, introspective, and is often marked by extravagance. Hence it has been criticised as irregular and wild. As the poet is free to write on any theme, and in any form he likes, we have an immense variety of romantic poetry.
(b) Romantic poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful passions or feelings. The romantic poet is gifted with a strong “organic sensibility”, he feels more than there is to feel and sees more than there is to see. Carried away by his powerful passions and excited imagination, the poet does not care for the perfection of form or clarity of expression. The result is much vagueness and obscurity. To them, the substance is more important than the form.
(c) The romantic is extraordinarily alive to the wonder, mystery, and beauty of the universe. He feels the presence of unseen powers in nature. This unseen, transcendental world is more real for him than the world of the senses. The supernatural has a special charm for him; he is attracted by the stories of fairies. ghosts and witchcraft. His poetry is an expression of his wonder at the magic and mystery of the universe. Supernaturalism is an important element in romantic inspiration.
(d) Romantic poetry is often pessimistic in tone A romantic is a dissatisfied individual. He may be dissatisfied with the circumstances of his own life, with his age, with literary conventions and traditions of the day, or with the general fate of humanity. A romantic may revolt against the existing conditions and may seek to reform them, or he may try to escape into an imaginative world of his own creation. Often he escapes into the past. The Middle Ages have a special fascination for him, for they not only provide him with an escape from the sordid realities of the present but also delight his heart with their color, pageantry, and magic. The remote, the distant, and the unknown delight him for this very reason. While some may escape into the past, (the world of classical antiquity or the Middle Ages) others may dream of a better and happier world to come and build “utopias” of the future. They may see a vision of a golden age, and sing of it in their poetry. In short, the romantics look before and after and pine for what is not.
(e) Zest for the beauties of the external world characterizes all romantic poetry. Romantic poetry carries us away from the suffocating atmosphere of critics into the fresh and invigorating company of the out-of-door world. It not only sings of the sensuous beauty of nature, but also sees into the “heart of things” and reveals the soul that lies behind.
(f) Love of Nature leads, by an easy transition, to the love of those who live in her lap. The romantics have an instinct for the elemental simplicities of life. Their hearts overflow with sympathy for the poor and the down-trodden. They glorify the innocence and simplicity of the common man. They try to see into the heart of man and understand human nature. They find the divine in man, plead for his emancipation from all bondage, and claim equal rights and liberties for the humblest. Romantic poetry is democratic. Not only do the Romantics treat of the common man, but they also use his language for their purposes. Thus Wordsworth raised his voice against the inane and artificial diction of the 18th-century classics and advocated the use of the language of the common man for purposes of poetry. Indeed, he went to the extent of remarking that there is no essential difference between the language of poetry and that of prose.
(h) Their interest in the past leads the romantics to experiment with old meters and poetic forms. The 18th century had confined itself to the use only of one meter i.e. the Heroic Couplet. With the coming of the romantics, there is a revival of a number of ancient meters. The Spenserian stanza, the ballad meter, the blank verse, the lyric, the ode, and the sonnet are all revived and soon attained wide popularity.
English romanticism is thus both a revolt and a revival; it is a revolt against 18thcentury traditions and convention; it is a revival of old English masters of poetry.
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