The Victorian period, from the rich rhythmic and imagery quality of Alfred Lord Tennyson to Christina Rossetti’s poetic transparency and commanding exploration of faith and loss, foreshadowed an innovative trend of poetry that was influenced by its romantic forerunners yet markedly different. The Victorian poets’ composition approach, language, style, and themes were inspired by various phenomena, such as political matters, loss of loved ones, gender, and creativity among others. In contrast, romantic poetry was a response counter to rules, conventions, and old-style regulations of poetry. The romanticism period included poets like William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel John Keats, and Taylor Coleridge. This paper explores ways historical context shaped the themes, understanding of poetry, and the attitudes towards the life of the Victorian poets and ways they differ from the romantic poets.
Romanticism and Victorianism are separate European artistic and literary movements that are founded in precise historic periods. Romanticism characteristically occurred between the 1770s and 1830s. This era is branded by expressively loaded language alongside nature’s admiration of nature (Martens, 45). Poetic writers like Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and Wordsworth are renowned for seeking inspiration from nature in a world filled with corruption. Such idealism prompted these poets to write sonnets (short lyrical poems, usually 14 lines) that anticipate the exquisiteness of nature. On the other hand, Victorianism, which took place between 1837 and 1901, during the rule of Queen Victoria uses a more controlled and unemotional language and focuses on social issues, for instance, poverty. Victorian poets had diminutive faith in nature triumph over the world’s problems. Novelists and poetic writers like Browning, Tennyson, and Hardy, portrayed the world as shadowy and troubled.
The historical setting is another aspect that can be used to distinguish romantic from Victorian poets. Poetry during the Romanticism era was partly a response counter to the Industrial Revolution (Martens, 33). While factory production and urbanization were gradually taking shape in Europe during the 18th century, the poets depended on nature for motivation and encouragement to regain a lifestyle that was being endangered. By contrast, augmented economic disparity in the 19th century triggered the Victorian poets to expose the dismays of poverty. Disillusioned by the deterioration of religious beliefs in Europe, novelists and poets saw their role as recounting the bareness of the contemporary world.
Victorian and romantic poetry can as well be distinguished based on themes and characteristics. The poetry during the Victorian age comprises the themes of loss of innocence, social inequality, and romantic love. For instance, Elizabeth Browning’s poems were about societal inequality as well as romantic love while Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote about the loss of innocence. Even though considered materialistic and real-world, Victorian literature and poems portray an entirely ideal life. The victorian era was an idealistic period in which great standards and principles such as brotherhood, veracity, love, and justice were accentuated by novelists, poets, and essayists. On the other hand, the period of romanticism cannot be described with a single technique, attitude, or style, however, romantic poetry is large, featured by a highly subjective and creative tactic, expressive power, liberty of expression and thought, romanticism of nature, and visionary or dreamlike quality.
The Victorian poetic era was marked by immense shifts in thinking regarding the roles in society with considerable discussion relating to marriage, women’s education, employment openings, the right to vote, sexuality, and psychology. Christina Rosetti, within this setting, had complex perceptions on female equality and the right to vote (Cosslett, 18). Sometimes Rosetti used the Biblical inkling of women’s subordination to man as the motive for upholding the existing state of affairs, although at others she contended for feminine representation in Parliament and voiced her stand against the fleshly abuse of females in prostitution. In numerous ways such opinions portray her to be a specifically multifaceted thinker regarding women’s place in society. Rosetti’s viewpoints might not always be ‘radical’ per se, nonetheless, they are typically different from conventional ideologies and frequently challenging, questioning, and theoretically insurrectionary. On another hand, romantic poets composed poems to react against laws, and conventional regulations of poetry. The poets during the romanticism era were countering the effect of brainpower in their poetry. In line with Wordsworth, one of the leading Romantic poetic writers, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” As a result, imagination and emotion are trademarks of romantic poems. It is also observable that romantic poets were subjective as they exhibited personal feelings in their art.
Additionally, Romantic Poets express affections and emotions while on the flip side, Victorian poets are realistic. The period of Romanticism is recognized for its expressive outpourings, what poet Wordsworth referred to as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Poetry during the romanticism period is famous for its abrupt expressions of excitement, joy, and sadness (Curran, 285). ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ written by William Blake is an example of a sad poem. The poem gives a wretched figuration of a child sweep and is intended at voicing social protest against the practice. In line with Blake’s explanation, the sweeps are not only innocent victims of the harshest mistreatment but they are linked with the smoke of industrialization, consequently unifying two fundamental Romantic concerns: childhood beside the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the ordinary society. A report to a legislative commission in 1817 on child employment, particularly child sweeps indicated that ‘the climbing boys’ aged four years were sold to master-sweeps by their parents, or hired from workhouses. Considering the typical size of a London smokestack was only seven inches square, encouraging the sweeps to climb faster, pins were ‘coerced into their feet’ by the boy ascending behind. Besides, lighted straws were also used for a similar purpose. Contrarily, Victorian poets depict literature as a thoughtful craft. The poets use careful structuring in their art. For instance, Browning in the poem, “My Last Duchess,” applies irony to play with the expectations of the reader (Armstrong, 333). The Duke and Duchess Ferarra are arguably the source of inspiration for Browning’s piece of art. The Duchess passed on under very questionable circumstances. The Duchess was married to the Duke at fourteen years and died at seventeen years. Poet Browning applies such suspicious conditions as motivation for the poem that dives deeper into the mind of a herculean Duke of Ferarra who desires to take control of his wife in each aspect of her life, comprising her emotional state.
Language use is another basis that can be used to differentiate romantic poets from Victorian poets. The two poetic eras were marked by contrasting language use. First, romantic poets used conventional language (Martens, 49). Besides, since Romantic literature is majorly harbored emotions and affection, the poets used a lot of expressions. Subsequently, the poems were mainly expressive. The language used during this era was also dramatic, flowery, and full of praises. Such over-the-top application of language paved the way to a more calm and unemotional application of language among Victorian poets. Since Victorian literature aimed at documenting the world the way it was, it inclines to apply contemporary terminologies and expressions and minimizes the use of flowery descriptions and imageries. Besides, Victorian poems are easy to understand in comparison to romantic poems.
In summary, Victorian Poets and Romantic Poets belong to two distinct eras of poetry. Romantic poetry was composed between the 1770s and 1830s while Victorian poems were written in 1837 and1901. Observably, these genera are vastly apart based on their interests, subjects, and themes. For example, whereas romantic poets were inspired by nature, Victorian poets focused on real-world issues. However, it is notable that poetry in each era served distinct purposes as intended by the composers.
Armstrong, Isobel. Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics, and politics. Routledge, 2019.
Cosslett, Tess. Victorian Women Poets. Taylor & Francis, 2017.
Curran, Stuart. “Romantic Poetry: The I Altered.” Romantic Writings. Routledge, 2017. 279-293.
Martens, Britta. Browning, Victorian Poetics and the Romantic Legacy: Challenging the Personal Voice. Routledge, 2016.