Literary Background of John Keats

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Romantic Movement

      The English Romantic Movement was the movement in literature which started towards the end of the 18th century and continued till the thirties of the 19th century. It can be roughly dated from 1780 and it ended around about 1830. Of course, there were poets of the 18th century who showed romantic tendencies in their writings before 1780 Thomson, Dyer, Akenside etc. wrote in a manner which anticipated some features of romantic poetry.

Two generations of Romantic poets

      Romanticism is not a homogeneous group of tendencies, nor do all the Romantic poets form a homogenous group. There are two generations of Romantics, and though there are some common tendencies between the two groups—tendencies derived from the general movement of Romanticism,—there are marked differences between the two groups.

      Politically, the earlier group (Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Scott) were opponents of the French Revolution; Wordsworth and Coleridge were renegades, and Scott abhorred the Revolution. They set themselves up against revolutionary ideas. The poetical reform of Wordsworth and Coleridge seeks its justification in a national idealism; they express a sympathetic interest in the poor peasant, but they do not preach the revolutionary gospel of the rights of man. They settle down as conservatives and preach the cult of peace.

      The second group of Romantics (Byron and Shelley) breathe a spirit of moral revolt; they refuse to recognize any tradition, and severely criticize a society based on conventional privileges. They are inspired by revolutionary ideals, and in their passion for liberty, rebel against all traditions; their poetry glows with passion, and they preach the cult of revolution.

What is Romanticism?

      Romanticism is a tendency found in all pieces of literature and all countries. Walter Pater, the great critic, thinks that the romantic element in literature consists in the addition of the quality of strangeness to the quality of beauty, which is present in all works of art. Walter Pater and many other critics believe that there are mainly two types of art—romantic and classic or classical. Art is the creation of beauty. Romantic art tries to create the kind of beauty which is strange, mysterious, and uncommon. Classical art, on the other hand, tries to create the kind of beauty which is orderly, familiar and significant. Romantic poetry is marked by an excess of imagination while classical poetry is marked by a sense of balance and proportion. Romantic poetry is highly subjective i.e. the poets like to express their own feelings and experiences in their work and do their best work in the lyric form; classical poetry is objective, i.e. the poets think more of the world around them than of themselves, and their best work can be found in the epic and dramatic forms.

Contrast between the Classical and Romantic

      The essence of romance is mystery and that of classical art is clearness. Classical art is objective; Romantic art is subjective. Clear impartial presentation of a subject is the aim of the Classic; whereas the Romantic gives not so much the image of a thing itself as his own impression of it. “Repose satisfies the classic; adventure attracts the romantic. The one (classic) appeals to tradition; the other (romantic) demands the novel.” The art of the Romantic lies in indefiniteness; whereas the ideal of Classic is calmness; that of the Remnants is excitement. Thus, in brief, we may say that classical art is distinguished by the qualities of clearness, sense of proportion, restraint, calmness and grace of form; and romantic art is distinguished by curiosity, excitement, enthusiasm, aspiration, freedom and restlessness.

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