The Romantic Movement and The Lake Poets

Historical Background
Romanticism, which was the leading literary movement in England for more than half a century, was caused by great social and economic changes.
The Industrial Revolution, which had begun in the middle of the 18th century, was no sudden change from home manufacturing to large-scale factory production. Enclosing common land had begun in the 16th century, but in the second half of the 18thcentury it became rapid and spread all over Britain. The peasants, deprived of their lands, were forced to go to work in factories. Mines and factories had changed the face of the country. Towns sprang up. But mechanization did not improve the life of the common people. Social evils were clearly seen by the people: the diseases of industrial towns, the misery of child labour, the crowds of underpaid workers... Human beings tad turned into parts of machines, they were desperate at the loss of personal freedom. The suffering of the new class, the proletariat, led to the first strikes, and workers took to destroying machines. Workers, who called themselves Luddites after Ned Ludd who in a fit of fury broke two textile frames, naively believed that machines were the chief cause of their sufferings.
Under the influence of the French Revolution the Irish peasants plotted a rebellion against English landlordism. It broke out in 1798 but was cruelly downed in blood. The British government took the lead in the counter-revolutionary wars against France.
The belief of progressive-minded people in the ideal nature of the bourgeois system was broken. As a result, a new humanist movement sprang up towards the close of the 18th century.

Romanticism, Its Passive and Revolutionary Treads
Romanticism was a movement against the progress of bourgeois civilization, which had driven thousands of people to poverty and enslaved their personal freedom. Writers longed to depict strong individuals, endowed with grand and even demonic passions. The romanticists made emotion, and not reason, the chief force of their works. This emotion found its expression chiefly in poetry.
Some poets were seized with panic and an irresistible desire to get away from the present. They wished to call back "the good old days", when people worked on "England's green and pleasant land". These poets are called the Passive Romanticists. They spoke for the English farmers and Scottish peasants who were ruined by the Industrial Revolution. They idealized the patriarchal way of life during the Middle Ages, a period that seemed to them harmonious and peaceful. Their motto was "Close to Nature and from Nature to God", because they believed that religion put man at peace with the world.

The Lake Poets
The poets William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), Robert Southey (1774-1843) belonged to that group. They were also called the Lake Poets after the Lake District in the north-west of England where they lived.
The Lake District attracted the poets because industry had not yet invaded this part of the country. These poets had similar tastes in art and politics, they founded a literary circle. Its influence was felt on some other writers of the time.
In 1793 Wordsworth wrote a poem "Guilt and Sorrow". It is about a homeless sailor who was driven to crime, and a lonely woman who had lost her husband and three children in the war, all suffer from the cruelty of the law, but the only comfort Wordsworth offers is religion. The Lake poets urged a return to nature. That’s why so many of their poems praise nature. Wordsworth was a great master of description. His poem "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" arouses our admiration. We feel his love for nature and also his great alarm at nature being spoiled by the invasion of industrialism.
Coleridge and Southey and four other enthusiasts wished to found a domestic republic in America, where people could enjoy a free life. Want of money prevented this Utopian scheme.
In 1798 Wordsworth and Coleridge published a volume of "Lyrical Ballads". In his ballad "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Coleridge expressed the idea that man is a helpless creature living at the mercy of supernatural forces. The sea is depicted as something monstrous that cannot be overcome, something fatal that brings woe and death. It is a fantastic story of a voyage told by an old sailor to a passer-by who was going to a wedding.
Coleridge was the most talented of the Lake Poets, but he did not give his talent full development because of the lack of self-discipline. That's why his best and most beautiful poems "Christabel" and "Kubla Khan", were left unfinished. He believed poetry could be written only under a mystical inspiration and the poet should follow his intuition. Coleridge stopped writing poetry in his early thirties and devoted himself to criticism.
The Lake Poets introduced into poetry short forceful words and constructions of everyday speech. They brought sound and colour into verse. They appreciated folklore and national art and insisted that poetry should be linked with folk traditions of a nation. All of them were humanists.
Another group of poets distinguished themselves by the revolutionary spirit which they brought into poetry. They tried to look ahead and see the future. They kept an eye on all political events and sympathized with the national liberation movement in all oppressed countries. The outstanding Revolutionary Romanticists were George Gordon Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley.


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