Term Paper: Romantic Poet

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Romantic Poetry

The term romanticism related to a period of European history associated with the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Romantic poetry is an expression of the period, the emphasis of such poetry was frequently nature as well as individual expression of emotions and imagination as a rejection of earlier classicism and strict social rules and conventions that defined life, prior to the time. In a sense romantic poetry, as well as other literary and artistic expressions during the period were a clear demand for social justice, expressing that the past social structure was to rigid and the new social order must allow for individual growth. The movement stressed that all decisions about one's future should be made not on lineage but ability and that people should be allowed to act and express individual feelings of say love, as a natural outgrowth of their position in nature. The romantic poet could be anyone, though there is a cannon of classics that dictate those who the world believed expressed the movement best, and they are clearly not self educated men. The irony being that the canon of the movement is still defined by social strata. This work will argue that some of the best examples of romantic poetry were produced by unlikely souls from very low places, the best example that this writer can find among them being the working class poet, Mary Collier.

To come to terms with a strict sense of the time it coincided with the industrial revolution, as more and more social norms were being challenged by changes in individual economics. It would seem to some, strange to associate romanticism with economics but the events were simultaneous and it took the need of many to reevaluate their individual and collective place in the world to redefine the cultural as well as the economic.

A it is evident that, in the poetry of this period, though much of it lacks the perfectness of form of the world's great masterpieces, the imagination, in its fullness and its freedom, is working nobly, creating great beauty of a distinctive kind,... It is conquering new fields in interpreting the mind of man. Of a distinctive kind,-- so that one would recognize always a certain type as a product of this era, which differs from other so-called romantic eras, in its power of probing the experience of the individual soul, piercing to the inner world.

Sherwood 8-9)

There is also from this period a clear sense that the romantic notion, as an impetus for change is cyclical, just as conservatism is cyclical. It would therefore seem logical to broaden the definition of romantic to one that includes the individual demand for social change, and especially with regard to the rights of the individual of self-expression, almost regardless of surroundings and station. It is for this reason that I argue that some of the best examples of romantic poetry, actually came from the minds of the most unlikely individuals and are rarely included in the canon of "romantic literature." Though they were contemporary to Keats and Wordsworth, they were working class and self educated. The period of thought was open to more than just the traditional aristocratic upper class, with time on their hands, it spurned thought expression through the pen all over the social strata. In the words of Wordsworth the great romantic poet

The end of Poetry', he says, 'is to produce excitement in co-existence with an overbalance of pleasure; but, by the supposition, excitement is an unusual and irregular state of mind; ideas and feelings do not, in that state, succeed each other in accustomed order. If the words, however, by which this excitement is produced be in themselves powerful, or the images and feelings have an undue proportion of pain... "metre, which alone distinguishes poetry from prose, is a device for sparing the reader pain, an anodyne, a soothing syrup! Poetry probes deep, excites pain; it must be thrown back into a 'sort of half-consciousness."

Read 39-40)

This license to express emotion, without the strict structure of the traditions of poetry was license even for the self-educated to take up the cause and express him or herself through poetry, and so they did. The poet Mary Collier, was a wage earner, almost her entire life. She was self-educated and had a strong sense of the need to express the voice of the disenfranchised.

She was born near Midhurst, Sussex, of 'poor, but honest Parents', in about 1690....Her parents taught her to read but, because of her mother's early death, she did not attend school and was eventually 'set to such labour as the Country afforded'. After her father's death in the 1720s, she moved to Petersfield in Hampshire, 'where my chief Employment was, Washing, Brewing and such labour, still devoting what leisure time I had to Books', when she could buy or borrow them. After the appearance of Stephen Duck Poems on Several Occasions (1730), she composed a reply to his criticism of the idleness of rural women in 'The Thresher's Labour', 'to vindicate the injured Sex', While nursing for a local family, she repeated some of her verses, news of her unexpected talent spread, and she was advised to publish her poems. (Her remark that 'I had learn'd to write to assist my memory', which meant that her verses could be transcribed for the printer, suggests that she had at first relied entirely on memory.)

Lonsdale 171)

There are two specific examples of Mary Colier's poems that bring to mind the ideals of the romantic period, as well as the nature of the artistic freedom that was stressed by the era.

A from the Woman's Labour. An Epistle to Mr. Stephen Duck

The Washerwoman]

WHEN bright Orion glitters in the skies

In winter nights, then early we must rise;

The weather ne'er so bad, wind, rain or snow,

Our work appointed, we must rise and go,

While you on easy beds may lie and sleep,

Till light does through your chamber-windows peep.

When to the house we come where we should go,

How to get in, alas! we do not know:

The maid quite tired with work the day before,

O'ercome with sleep; we standing at the door,

Oppressed with cold, and often call in vain,

Ere to our work we can admittance gain.

But when from wind and weather we get in,

Briskly with courage we our work begin;

Heaps of fine linen we before us view,

Whereon to lay our strength and patience too;

Cambrics and muslins, which our ladies wear,

Laces and edgings, costly, fine and rare,

Which must be washed with utmost skill and care;

With holland shirts, ruffles and fringes too,

Fashions which our forefathers never knew.

For several hours here we work and slave,

Before we can one glimpse of daylight have;

We labour hard before the morning's past,

Because we fear the time runs on too fast.

At length bright Sol illuminates the skies,

And summons drowsy mortals to arise;

Then comes our mistress to us without fail,

And in her hand, perhaps, a mug of ale

To cheer our hearts, and also to inform

Herself what work is done that very morn;

Lays her commands upon us, that we mind

Her linen well, nor leave the dirt behind.

Not this alone, but also to take care

We don't her cambrics nor her ruffles tear;

And these most strictly does of us require,

To save her soap and sparing be of fire;

Tells us her charge is great, nay furthermore,

Her clothes are fewer than the time before.

Now we drive on, resolved our strength to try,

And what we can we do most willingly;

Until with heat and work, 'tis often known,

Not only sweat but blood runs trickling down

Our wrists and fingers: still our work demands

The constant action of our labouring hands.

Now night comes on, from whence you have relief,

But that, alas! does but increase our grief.

With heavy hearts we often view the sun,

Fearing he'll set before our work is done;

For, either in the morning or at night,

We piece the summer's day with candlelight.

Though we all day with care our work attend,

Such is our fate, we know not when 'twill end.

When evening's come, you homeward take your way;

We, till our work is done, are forced to stay,

And, after all our toil and labour past,

Sixpence or eightpence pays us off at last;

For all our pains no prospect can we see

Attend us, but old age and poverty. (1739)

Collier, opens the work with a clear romantic idea, placing the time of year within the naturalistic constellations overhead. She goes on to daftly express the pains that greet the working class woman at the rise of the winter's day, as well at the winter of her life. She is at the whim of those who wear, and expect care for frivolous… [END OF PREVIEW]

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