[PDF Notes] Get complete information on Poetry of the Age (B) The Pre-Romantics

The period 1730-70 marks the beginning of movement from one distinct school or convention of English poetry towards another. To the first the epithet Pseudo-Classical is usually applied, and to the second the epithet Romantic. From as early as 1730, there were poets, including Thomson, Cowper, Collins and Gray, who formed a bridge, as it were between the two schools, and whose works have certain characteristics of both. These poets called Pre-romantics have been discussed bellow: –

(1) Gray:

Gray is the central figure in that drift away from the dominant school of Classicism towards the rising school of Romanticism, which began with the publication of Thomson’s The Seasons in 1730, and which reached its culmination with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798.

In the early poetry of Gray there is nothing romantic. In these early years of his career he was a complete classicist. His early odes-Ode to Eton, Ode to Spring and Ode to Adversity are examples of his classicism.

The famous Elegy marks a transition from the early period of classicism to the later period of Romanticism. It has many classical touches. It is the masterpiece of the “II Ponderosa” school then in fashion and has summed up for all English readers and for all times the poetry of the tomb.

It has also abundance of and for all times the poetry of the tomb. It has also an abundance of personifications and other artifices of the classics. Despite its many conventional touches it is “Romantic in its mood, and stands as a transition between his period of classicism and his more highly imaginative poetry.”

We may add that besides its romantic mood, The Elegy is also romantic in its true, humanitarian note and its feeling for nature. In its subjective tone, in its vague aspirations, fondness for solitude and gloomy meditation, it is quite different from other poems of the fashionable school.

The two Pindaric odes show Gray well on the way towards romanticism. “The two odes, specialty The Bard’, are the most imaginative poetry Gray ever produced, and were distinctly in advance of the age.”

In these Odes, Gray does no longer follow his age, he strikes out ahead of it and helps to mould its literary tastes. From this time, the people began to regard his as a romantic and looked for wild and extravagant production from his hand.

But besides these works Gray, the romantic, is still unable to free himself from the shackles of classicism. This freedom came with his translations from, and adaptations of, Norse and Welsh mythology and poetry. In The Fatal Sisters, The Descent of Odin, and The Triumphs of Owen, Gray is strictly a romantic.

Gray could not harmonies these two contrary tendencies as was done by Keats at a later date. But there is no denying the fact that he was a precursor of romanticism, one who gave the romantic impulse, “a practical poetic form” for the first time and expressed its chief features in his poetry.

(2) Collins:

Gray and Collins, the two greatest precursors of the Romantic Revival in England, have always been grouped together in literary history. There are, no doubt, certain superficial reassembles between the two poets. In their own times, the two stood close together as lyric poets and apart from the other poets of their day.

Both of them were violently criticized in their own age as poets who sought for “new beauties.” Both of them wrote Odes at a time when lyric poetry was not in fashion, and both avoided the satirical and social poetry which was the reigning taste of the day.

Collins was certainly superior to Gray in lyrical and emotional content. His Odes are superior to those of Gray. There is no doubt that in his Eclogues, Collins is inferior to the other poetic compositions of Gray.

It has been said that, “Collins of the Odes, at his best, is the poet of all time in general and no time in particular: the Collins of the Eclogues is everywhere the poetaster of the eighteenth century.” The Odes of Collins retrieve his position and make him superior to Gray in respect of lyricism and emotional power.

But Gray is the superior to Collins in architectural design and ornament in poetry. It does not mean that Collins has no design or ornament but, as a finished workman, Collins is often open to reproach. It is worth noting that both Gray and Johnson blame him on just the same grounds. Collins structure and diction are often obscure and unintelligible. His images, word and phrases are often carelessly chosen. These defects are not found in Gray.

Gray and Collins are the two last lyrical poets of England whose art is consciously directed and held in check by the Pseudo-classic school of the early 18th century. Both of them were also alive to the rising school of romanticism, but in both to a very great extent, the romantic impulse was suppressed by their much greater art-consciousness and the spirit of Greek nod Roman Literature.

(3) James Thomson (1700-48):

A typical transitional poet, James belongs to the first half of the eighteenth century. He began writing when Pope was at the height of his popularity, yet he broke away from the tradition of his schools to explore, “fresh woods and pastures.” His The Seasons published in 1730 is an important landmark in the history of English poetry.

He bade good-bye to the heroic couplet, and used other measures – the blank verse and the Spenserian stanza. Spenser and Milton rather than Dryden and Pope are his masters.

The Seasons is the first really important poem in which Nature becomes the central theme. Its historical significance is great, for its influence was wide and all-pervasive. It was widely imitated by scores of poets. From this time on Nature became increasingly Prominent in English poetry.

Thomson’s Castle of Indolence (1748) is in Spenserian stanzas as captures much of the luxuriant, imaginative colored the Elizabethan poet. Thomson anticipates the romantics in his love of nature in his treatment of new subjects, in his strong imagination, and in his giving up of the heroic couplet. But his diction often degenerates into typical neo-classical bombast and artificiality.

(4) Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74):

Goldsmith was the contemporary of Dr. Johnson as Thomson was that of Pope. He was as essentially a conservative. In literary theory as Dr. Johnson of whose “Club” he was an eminent member. He has left behind him two important poems, The Traveler (1764) and The Deserted Village (1770), and both are in heroic couplets.

The first poem is didactic and is concerned with the description and criticism of the various places and people of Europe which Goldsmith visited as a tramp. The second poem is rich in natural descriptions, and is vibrant with a peculiar note to sentiment and melancholy which fore-shadows nineteenth century romantics. The substance of both the poems foreshadows the rising romanticism of the dab, but the diction is artificial and pompous m the pseudo-classical tradition of the past.

(5) William Cowper (1731-1800):

He is another of the great pre-romantics. “He”, says Compton-Rickets, “is a blend of the old and the new, with much of the form of the old and greatest poem The Task is all his own.

It is written in blank verse, and contains the famous line: “God made the country and manmade town, “which indicates his love of Nature and humble humanity.

However, the classical element in him puts down the new and the romantic. “There is tenderness in poems like My Mother’s Picture that not even Goldsmith in his verse can quite equal; while his fresh and intimate nature-pictures point to a stage in the development of poetic naturalism, more considerable than we find in Thomson and his immediate successors”. He is the first to strike that democratic not which reaches its full flowering in the poetry of Wordsworth.

(6) George Crabbe 91754-1832):

He continued the neo-classic tradition as far as his diction is concerned and was decisively dubbed as, “a Pope in worsted stocking”, for this reason. In his masterpiece the Village, which is mostly descriptive of the miseries of the poor villagers, he is an uncompromising realist.

He showed moth concern for the humble humanity living in the lap of nature but it was left for Wordsworth to glorify their simplicity and humility. Crabbe’s excessive boldness as a realist alienates him both from the polish of the neo­classical school, and the romanticism of the rising school.

But by his plain and realistic treatment of the life of the villagers, he served to focus attention on their miseries. He occupies an important place in the naturalistic reaction against Pope and his school.

(7) Robert Burns (1759-96):

He was a Scottish peasant who took to poetry and became the truly national poet of Scotland. His Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1786) sky­rocketed him to fame. All these poems reflect the spirit of romanticism in their spontaneity, humor, pathos, love of nature and her lowly creatures, including the sons of the soil.

Sometimes, indeed, Burns tries to write in the “correct” manner of the Augustan School, but in such poems he is unimpressive and insipid. Burns was influenced a great deal by the spirit of the French Revolution. His love and sympathy extended even to the lower animals that he studied minutely and described feelingly says Hudson, “he is the mouthpiece of the growing faith in Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.”

(8) William Blake (1757-1827):

Blake was the first to introduce the romantic note of mysticism in English poetry. In his poetry we are very close to Wordsworth. Through he is a transitional poet or a precursor of the Romantic Revival in many ways he is even more romantic than the romantic poets. He is best known for his three thin volumes- Poetical Sketches (1783), Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (794), which contain some of the most precious gems of English lyricism.

He had vision of a world regenerated by a gospel of universal brotherhood, “transcending law”. He loves Nature, but all Nature for him is, “afire with God”, she is for him, “a window to God”. He may not spiritualize Nature, but he comes very near to doing so. With Blake we are on the very threshold of the romantic era.

(9) The Churchyard School:

A renewed interest in the poetry of the old English masters, more specially Spenser and Milton is a special feature of medieval revival. Under the inspiration of Milton’s Ponderosa, there grew up a school or cult of melancholy and the poets of this school are known as “the churchyard school of poets” Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is the best and the most popular poem of this school.

In this connection mention may also be made of Edward Young who in his Night Thoughts imparted the romantic touch of melancholy to the poetry of the period, for it became a fashion to imitate Young and write, like him, in a melancholy vein.

(10) “The Ode” in the 18th Century:

There are two important forms of the ode: (I) The Pindaric Ode (II) The Oration Ode.

(I) The Pindaric ode:

Pindar (6th to 5th century B.C.) was the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece. He was the father of the Pindaric or “Choric” Ode. They were written generally in honor of the gods or to sing the triumphs or victories of rulers or athletes. Hence they are also known as “triumphal” odes.

A Pindaric ode has a fixed stanza- structure or pattern. The number of stanzas may vary, but they are invariably arranged in groups of three, each group being called a triad.

The first stanza in each triad is called a “trope” it was chanted by the dancing chorus as it proceeded in one direction, the second stanza in each triad is called an “ante-strophe”-it was chanted by the chorus as it returned.

The third stanza in each triad is called an “epode”, and was sung when the chorus was stationary. Pindar’s odes range from one triad to thirteen in length. Gray’s fame as a writer of odes rests largely on the two Pindaric Ode – The Progress of Poesy and The Band.

(II) The Oration or “Personal” Ode:

This kind of ode has been named after the Latin poet, Horace, who imitated Pindar but with far reaching differences. The Oration ode consists-of a number of stanzas with a more or less regular metrical structure but without any division into triads of the Pindaric.

It may be rhymed or unrhymed. This kind of ode is light and personal (not choric) without the elaboration and complexity of the Pindaric. Many of the finest English odes are of this lighter sort. Some notable examples are: Collin’s Ode to simplicity and Ode to Evening; Gray’s Eton Ode and Ode to spring; Word worth’s Ode to Nightingale.

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