Wordsworth was the first of the great Romantics to be influenced profoundly by the French Revolution which had far reaching impact on his life and poetry. But its ideals- Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were not new to him. The societies with which he had been most familiar in his youth were essentially democratic.
As Hudson tells us, it was during his second visit to France in 1791 that he fell violently in love with Annette Villon, and this emotional connection must have coloured, to some extent at least, his intellectual attitudes.
He also became intimate with a “band of military officers” of strongly revolutionary sentiments, and in his many discussions with them the, “zeal which yet had slumbered, now in opposition burst like a Polar summer.” His tenderness, meekness, gallantry, and utter devotion to the cause of the people are celebrated in glowing language in The Prelude.
He returned to England towards the close of 1792. He found the conservative opinion in the country strongly against the Revolution. He was still unshaken in his faith and wrote firmly in its defence. But before long he was torn by a conflict of loyalties. His moral nature received a terrible shock when England declared war upon France. He loved his country, but was convinced that she was wrong and rejoiced when her armies met with disaster.
The course of events in France brought him little relief. When the Republicans in France still professing to act upon the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, entered, upon a policy of military aggression, his “general feelings” were turned to bitterness. By 1802, his disillusionment with France was complete.
From this time onward, he travelled farther and farther away from the political faith of his youth. Gradually, he becomes a Tory among the Tories, and the march of events in England only served to make him the more narrow and obstinate in his conservatism. It was for this reason that Browning went to the extent of calling him the “Lost leader” and Shelley called him a “moral Eunuch”.
Nature really comes to her own, for the first time, in the poetry of Wordsworth. He is variously called the “harbinger of Natures” the “high priest of nature” and the “worshipper of nature” for he was the poet of nature Par excellence and his chief originality is to be found in his poetry of nature.
From his very boyhood the external world was the most important formative influence on him. It was Wordsworth who for the first time in English poetry, penetrated beneath the outward manifestations of nature and gave to her a separate life and soul of her own. Faith in the goodness of nature, an advocacy of the “return to nature” from the artificiality of the cities, is the theme of his poetry.
The French revolution had great impact on Coleridge. The first effect was to distract his attention from has studies.
At the close of 1796, Coleridge wrote an, Ode on the Departing Year. At the end of this ode, Coleridge seems to be reversing his earlier position and with drawing from the Revolution. His farmer enthusiasm now seems to have cooled down, and he washes his hands off, “the evil thing”.
The Ode of France was the last of the poems produced by Coleridge under the influence of the French Revolution. Thenceforth, he turned into a warm patriot, and eventually a strong conservative.
Born in 1788, Lord Gordon Byron was more completely a child of the French Revolution than either Wordsworth or Coleridge. In his hands English poetry became, fore the first time. European, as much interested in Weimar, Florence, Venice, Rome and Paris, as in London. In him we find complete fulfillment of the cosmopolitanism of the revolutionary philosophy.
Shelley represents the influence of the idealistic aspect of the Revolutionary philosophy.
He was a reformer as well as a prophet. He was optimistic about the dawn of a golden age, a millennium in which justice, goodness, peace, truth and beauty would reign supreme, and “evil, tyranny, lust and the whole Satanic crew will be annihilated”. He wanted the West Wind to be, “the trumpet of his prophesies”:
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
All his major poetry expresses not only his intense passion for reforming the world, but also his prophecy of a, “golden age”.
Queen Mob is the poet’s cry against war, marriage, government and religion, i.e., against all those forces of evil which weigh down humanity; Alastair represents the wanderings of the hero, a mere shadow of Shelley, in search of ideal Beauty. In The Revolt of Islam, he denounces all the forces of tyranny and oppression represented by kings and priests, who dominate the world and rule selfishly from one corner to another.
In the Masque of Anarchy he exhorts the people of England to rise against the tyrants for, “Ye are many- they are few”. Hellas is a triumphant song celebrating the victory of Good over Evil. Prometheus Unbound is a passionate outburst of indignation against celestial tyranny. It represents the victory of good over evil, of love hate, of freedom over slavery, and of reason over superstition.
Keats was wholly unaffected by the great upheaval in Franked Europe. His love of nature is frankly sensuous. He does not drab imaginary scenes, but writes from actual contemplation. It is the stationary objects which ne can describe best. Like the Greeks, he excels in creating statuesque effect; he habitually personifies the objects and forces of nature.
Thus in the second stanza of The Ode to autumn, the different activities typical of the season have been vividly humanized. The description has the richness, clarity and firmness of a Greek sculptor.
There is nothing more charming in Keats’ treatment of Nature. In the presence of nature all considerations of the past and the future were obliterated. There is no “irritable reaching after fact and reason but a complete abandonment to the pleasures of the moment.
This negative capability enables him to enjoy the present the beauty of the hour forgetful of all pains of life. Like Shelley he does never look before and after, and pine for what is not; the joys of the moment are enough for him. Though Keats has left behind a number of long narrative poems- Edition, Isabella, Lamia, Hyperion, etc. his genius was essentially zodiac.
It is in his six great Odes that Keats is at his best. These Odes are things apart in literature and they shall last as long as English literature and language are read and admired. In The Ode to Nightingale the poet enjoys the immortal Beauty of the Nightingale’s song, in The Ode to Autumn the mellow fruitfulness of nature in that season of golden mists, and in The Grecian Urn his imagination is fired by the perfect beauty of a piece of Greek sculpture.
(6) Hellenism in Romantic Poetry:
The word “Hellenism “comes from ‘Hellenes’, meaning inhabitants of Halas or ancient Greece. Hellenism, therefore, implies a love of ancient Greek way of life, of Greek art, culture, literature and mythology, as well as the attempt to express this love in one’s writings.
Romantic poets, such as Byron, Shelley and Keats, were mostly influenced by Hellenism. Hellenic notes in the works of these poets are being discussed below.
Byron’s Isles of Greece ‘we have a fine appreciation of the great deeds done by the Greeks in the past.
Shelley in his Hymn of Pan recovers their ideas and feelings for Pan, one of the gods of ancient Greece. In Shelley’s To the Night and The Cloud, although the subjects are not taken from ancient Greek life, the treatment of Nature is very Greek. The old Greeks were myth-makers.
They delighted in making myths or stories out of the forms and processes of nature, as Shelley does out of the two natural phenomena- the night and the cloud. It is not mere personification of nature-objects that we find in these two poems. The Night and the Cloud appear before us as playful maidens, loving, tender and also fierce. They are represented in a highly humanized form just as the ancient Greeks would have represented them.
Keats is will known among all the Romantic poets for Hellenic notes are most pronounced in his poetry. His Edition, Hyperion, Lamia, Grecian Urn, Psyche all have themes borrowed from the Greeks. The Grecian Urn is a monument of the poet’s power of entering imaginatively into another world. The readers feel that they have been transported entirely to the Hellenic world of beauty, love, festivity and ritual.
It is permeated through and through with the Greek spirit. It may also be mentioned that the ‘Ode’ form which he made particularly his own and in which he excels all other English poets, is typically a Greek verse form. In his worship of Beauty not of nature alone, but of all Beauty- Keats justifies the remark of Shelley that he alone, but of all Beauty- Keats justifies the remark of Shelley that he was a Greek.