What makes a poem a Romantic poem?

What makes a poem a Romantic poem?

No, we’re not going to discuss the term Romantic as in romance. As in love poems. We are diving into the era we know as the Romantic Era and in particular, the poems that this period between 1800 and 1850 brought forward.

The Age of Enlightenment

No, the Romantic Era in poetry isn’t the longest period in the history of literature or poetry. Romantic poetry was written roughly between 1800 and 1850. This was Europe’s reaction to the Age of Enlightenment (Age of Reason or The Enlightenment). This intellectual and philosophical movement started in 1715, although some claim this period started in 1620 (the start of the Scientific Revolution) and 1789 (The beginning of the French Revolution).

Lyrical Ballads

Some say that the start of the Romantic Era in poetry was 1798. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote their Lyrical Ballads.

The official title of their work was Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems. Many experts agree, that this was the official start of the Romantic Era. To make things easier, many use the year 1800 to mark the start of this period in poetry. Maybe this had to do with the critics this work got. The reactions to this poetry collection were quite timid. In 1800 the second edition was published and extra information was added, such as a preface and some of the poetical principles. The version that was published two years later contained a Poetic Diction (an appendix) that was based on the preface.

There should be no discussion if this poetry collection marked the beginning of this important period in time. These poets, Wordsworth were on a mission. They wanted to break with what was considered as normal when it came to poetry. They wanted to change the sound of poetry, to make sure that this was closer to the language or real men. It inspired many others to start writing in the same way that these two poets did. The list of those who found inspiration in their work is long. Names such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and William Blake stood up and wrote in the same way that Coleridge and Wordsworth did. Their dying wish: to shake up the literary world and to get close to that was important: the environment where people lived. Well, not just that: they wanted to flee from the crowded cities. It was a constant struggle to bring forward the right emotions, although some critics remarked that the work wasn’t (all) that spontaneous.

Critics of the Romantic Era ridiculed the poets for being totally lost from the world they lived in. The longing for those quiet moments and the admiration for (mother) nature was something that many people found strange. Basically: it was too emotional and based on imagination. In other words: consider these the tree huggers that dwelled on emotions.

We see a new generation of poets in this time that found their inspiration in the melancholy and nostalgia. Is that a bad thing? We all know about the products that this period in time brought forward. Quite impressive and this still forms a source of inspiration for many poets of modern times.

Other countries

Was the Romantic Era limited to England? No! All over the world, poets were inspired to write down the words in the way that Wordsworth and Coleridge did. Who remembers Alexander Pushkin, Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Robert Burns, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Johann Georg Hamann and Robert Frost… just to name a few…


What makes a poem a Romantic poem?

The poems that were written during this period are based on passion, emotion, and nature. Poets used everyday language in their work. Although many poets (especially in England) were related to the upper class (not everyone though) they wanted a wide audience to fully understand what they wrote.

Yes, these elements are still present in poetry. In a way, many modern-day poets are inspired by the legacy that was written by the great minds of the nineteenth century.


For this article, we used a photo of the title page of the poetry collection “Lyrical Ballads, with a few other poems”, written by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Source: Wikimedia Commons & The University of Leeds



This article appeared first on the website of The Ministry of Poetic Affairs. As of August 2018, the activities of this website stopped.