The Romantic period flourished in England during the 18th and 19th Century. It was most prominently embodied by six great poets--Coleridge, Wordsworth, Black, Keats, Shelley and Byron—as well as the works of the Bronte sisters and Percy Shelley’s wife Mary. It stood in contrast to the Enlightenment movement which preceded it and continued to influence English authors well into the 20th century.
Works of the Romantic movement emphasized the virtues of human freedom: the ability to cast off shackles of convention and expectation and fully explore one’s capability. Individuals had the right to self-determination, and deserved respect and dignity. This applied to a given figure’s physical existence--he had the freedom to explore exotic lands, for example –but more importantly, it applied to his mind and imagination.
English Romantic literature eschewed previously established rules of construction and formality. Wordsworth stressed the notion of spontaneity in Romantic English poetry: the overflow of emotions resulting from an instant moment of inspiration. While subsequent introspection may refine the initial vision, that spontaneity held the core of truth, and thus became an inseparable part of the creative process.
Romantic authors placed a high value on the natural world : landscapes, animals and elements such as trees. Nature held the possibility of perfect beauty, as well as overwhelming majesty and the ability to inspire human beings. Many times, the authors would imbue the natural world with human qualities: passion, expression and an emotional life. Romantic writers also stressed mankind’s ability to perceive and interact with the natural world. For example, Shelley’s poem “Mont Blanc” expounds upon the greatness of the titular mountain, but stresses the human eye necessary to perceive its wonders.
Elevation of the Common
The protagonists of Romantic works often came from humble backgrounds, and Romantic literature stressed the greatness which could be found in any object or person. Their purpose was to shatter assumptions about who or what we could be: to remove the sheen of familiarity and see things in an entirely new light. A pauper could be a hero in Romantic literature, and even something as common as a bird or a tree could help us perceive the brilliance of the universe.
Magic and otherworldly forces often played a role in Romantic literature. It claims that we are surrounded by things we cannot see and thus do not choose to believe. But by opening ourselves up to those possibilities, we can see things that should not exist. Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” for example, is rife with unseen forces tormenting its protagonist, while Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” contains multiple references to forces not of the Earth.