For Your Pleasure: Examples of Romantic Poetry

Posted: January 8, 2018 in Uncategorized

In semesters past I have assigned these materials. I will not do so now. But I do want to make key selections of English Romantic verse available for curious and motivated students. Please feel free to read and discuss these poems, if you like; but, technically, they are not on the syllabus.

If you find you loathe this stuff, please note that these pieces contrast markedly with almost everything else we will be reading this semester.

p.s. Look for the print button on the upper-right corner of the web pages hosting each poem. This may make your life easier. Also, notice that the Wordsworth poems are the longest and (by our standards) most ponderous. Things will get much briefer and lighter as you move on to the other Romantic poets.

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I read Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight,” and immediately saw the qualities about this type of poetry that makes poetry confusing, according to Wordsworth. This poem seems to depicts a parent laying with their baby at night. But Coleridge describes this seemingly ordinary action as a transformative experience. The speaker personifies the frost, and almost glorifies the baby as he/she reminds them of their “sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower, / Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang / From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day.” The baby almost seems to represent the past and future. It reminds this author of their own birth and childhood and also of what is to come for them. Coleridge sometimes does not attribute descriptions to who or what they go with, and at first I thought that “fluttering stranger” was a bird outside the cottage. After reading again, I understood that it was the baby. By why is the baby a stranger? If Wordsworth commented on this, he would probably say that their was no need to make the baby a symbol of something complex, which is life itself. He would suggest simply describing the baby’s face while he/she is sleeping, and have the speaker comment on how that makes them feel, without getting too symbolic. That way, the person reading could understand that the speaker is transfixed with a baby, as most people can agree with. Wordsworth’s descriptions go in another direction, that most people will not comprehend as much.

    That said, I actually kind of liked this poem, after reading it a couple of times I understood the point, but most people would only read it once.

    Am I misunderstanding the poem, or is that what it was talking about?

    • I can see why you say what you do. Still, I would not necessary agree that Coleridge is violating Wordsworth’s aesthetic in the poem you mention. Yes, there are certain “poetic” conventions in the piece. But, principally, they function to make the words more musical and memorable. There are indeed literary tropes. The question is this: do they feel highly artificial, consciously contrived, and conveyors of a single meaning? Or, do they arise naturally from images taken from everyday life, and do they allow for a multiplicity of interpretations? I think the point is that Coleridge’s poem, and the image of the baby at its center, function not as ‘allegories’ for any readily identifiable concept (such as Freedom, Prosperity, Progress), but rather as ‘symbols’, infinitely rich occasions for prolonged reflection. This is indeed what the narrator of the poem describes himself as doing – reflecting. As we read the poem, we don’t rush through the words to get to the essential meaning, rather was stop and linger with the poem, asking ourself a variety of questions – how could it have been written, what does it makes me feel, what associations and analogies within it create striking new impressions and insights?

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