Contribution of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey to English Romanticism
The publication in 1798 of Lyrical Ballads, with many of the finest poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge, is often held to mark the start of the English Romantic movement. Lyrical Ballads differs in marked ways from Wordsworth’s early poetry: notably the uncompromising simplicity of much of the language, the strong sympathy for rustic life, and the fusion of natural description with expressions of inward states of mind. The poems Wordsworth added to the 1800 edition of the Lyrical Ballads are among the best of his achievements.
Many critics rank The Prelude as Wordsworth’s greatest work. In 1807 Poems in Two Volumes was published. The work contains much of Wordsworth’s finest verse, notably the super “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” the autobiographical narrative “Resolution and Independence,” and many of his well-known sonnets. And The Excursion was published in 1814.
According to the subjects, Wordsworth’s short poems can be classified into two groups: poems about nature and poems about human life. Wordsworth is regarded as a “worshipper of nature.” He can penetrate to the heart of things and give the reader the very life of nature. Secondly, Wordsworth thinks that common life is the only subject of literary interest. The joys and sorrows of the common people are his themes. Wordsworth is also a poet in memory of the past. To him, life is a cyclical journey.
Wordsworth’s deliberate simplicity and refusal to decorate the truth of experience produced a kind of pure and profound poetry which no other poet has ever equaled. In defense of his unconventional theory of poetry, Wordsworth wrote a “Preface” to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, which appeared in 1801. His premise was that the source of poetic truth is the direct experience of the senses. Poetry, he asserted, originates from “emotion recollected in tranquility.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s (1772-1834) poems can be divided into two groups: the demonic and the conversational.
The first group includes the poets three masterpieces: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “Christabel” “Kubla Khan”. The group is characterized by visionary memory, supernatural happenings, and magic powers which are fantastic, and in some places horrible, but also charming in their own way.
The second group expresses the poet’s thought in a seemingly conversation. For example, “Frost at Midnight,” the most important poem of the group, is a record of his personal thought in a midnight solitude on his infant son, and “Dejection: An Ode” is also an intimate personal piece in which the poet utters his innermost thoughts and sentiments. This group speaks more directly of an allied theme, the desire to go home, and to “an improved infancy.”
Coleridge is one of the first critics to give close critical attention to language, maintaining that the true end of poetry is to give pleasure “through the medium of beauty.” He sings highly Wordsworth’s “purity of language,” “deep and subtle thoughts,” “perfect truth to nature” and his “imaginative power.” But he denies Wordsworth’s claim that there is no essential difference between the language of poetry and the language spoken by common people. In analyzing Shakespeare, Coleridge emphasizes the philosophic aspect, reading more into the subject than the text and going deeper into the inner reality than only caring for the outer form.
Robert Southey was a poet of the English Romantic school, one of the so-called "Lake Poets", and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843. Although his fame has been long eclipsed by that of his contemporaries and friends William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Southey's verse still enjoys some popularity.
Wordsworth and Coleridge are the leading figures of the first phase English romantic poetry, the focal poetic voice of the period. They initiated romantic literature which was marked by a strange reaction and protest against the bondage of rule and custom in science and theology, as well as literature which generally fetter the free human spirit. Romantic poets are essentially subjective; self-revelation is a creed with them. In their poetry may be found much of their mind and spirit. They seem to take their readers into confidence and pour into their ears all their passions and pains, all their dreams and desires.