The Early Romantics

Opium, Opium Everywhere

Poems were to a great extent no longer public by the 1790s. Poets began to look inward for inspiration and the Romantic movement was born. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote of inner torment in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "This Lime Tree Bower My Prison", as well as mystical (or rather narcotic) visionary poetry in his justly revered "Kubla Khan"4. The world of inner sorrows was reflected in this poetry’s vision of the outside, in pathetic fallacy. Like Wordsworth, Coleridge was inconsistent. When he borrows the setting and concerns of the Gothic vogue in "Christabel" he writes some absolutely dire and embarrassingly self-consciously titillating verse (predictably the poem does have its admirers). It is with the torment of the mariner in "The Rime…" and the lonely voyage of guilt on the ghostly sea, where even the creatures of the water and the sun’s light seem to mimic his emotions, that he achieves true sublimity. This was the poetry of escape through the written word, of joyful appreciation of nature and loneliness. In this vein, "Dejection: an Ode" (1802) explores the destructive effects of opium addiction, but soon after his move to the continent in 1804 his poetry took a turn for the worse and his opinions to the conservative. He became, of course, a critic.

Wordsworth’s career followed a similar pattern: beginning with their joint venture Lyrical Ballads (1798), he went on to write of and from suffering (the early deaths two of his children etc. – see "Surprised by joy" (1815)) before settling down into conservative and patriotic ways to the great chagrin of his young poetic admirers. He did, however, go on to write the substantial and admired The Prelude, published posthumously in 1850. His ambition was to write in the language of the common man, for the sake of purity and comprehensibility. This hardly fits with his later near-snobbish attitudes, but it was an aim that would inform the poetry of Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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