Comparison of the Romantic Poetry of William Blake, Lord Byron and Robert Browning
Romanticism is the literary and artistic movement originated in England in 1798 and quickly spread from there to the rest of Europe and America. Romanticism emphasized everything the previous age had not such as feeling, emotions–the heart over the head—mysticism and instinct, natural man over civilized man and etc. The romantic periods includes the works of two generations of writers.
The first generation was born during the thirty and twenty years preceding 1800s meanwhile, the second generation was born in the last decades of 1800s. The most famous writers of the first generation are William Blake, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The second romantic poets included John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Most of the second generation writers were primarily poets.
This essay is going to discuss the works of three romantic poets such as William Blake, Lord Byron and Robert Browning. Emotion and imagination is one of the elements that highlighted in the romantic poetry. According to Collin English Dictionary, emotion is the part of a person’s character that consists of their feelings, as opposed of their thoughts. Imagination means the ability that you have to form pictures or ideas in your mind of the things that are new and exciting or things that you have not experienced. According to Adam Morton, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia said all emotions require some form of imagination and goes to fully explore the link between these two concepts both within philosophy and in everyday life.
William Blake, Lord Byron and Robert Browning always use emotion and imagination in their poetry. Their thoughts of emotion and imagination are going to be explored with the reference to the uses of sound, structure, setting and imagery in their poem.
In the poem Nurse’s Song (Song of Innocence, 1789) by William Blake, the poem is portraying the scene of a group of children playing outside in the hills, while their nurse listens to them in happiness. As the night approaching, she gently urges them to “leave off play” and retire to the house for the night. They ask to play on till bedtime, for as long as the light lasts. The nurse surrender to their pleas and the children shout and laugh with joy while the hills echo their gladness. The Romantic concepts of emotion and imagination can be seen through the structure of the poem. This poem is fours stanzas long. Each stanza is an ABCB quatrain and containing an internal rhyme in the third line of each verse. Blake often uses the ABCB pattern to reflect the tone of an adult, in contrast of AABB pattern usually associated with children and pure innocents.
A nurse is usually an authority figure for children, the person who is “in charge”. But here, the nurse give in to children, ‘well, well, go and play till the light fades away, and then go home to bed’ (paragraph 4, line 1 and 2) and the children get their own way. The nurse is happy to let the children follow their desire and so there is no need to use her authority. Rather, there is mutual agreement that no one can do what one wants. The setting is officially taking place on a hill, and laughing is heard on the hill (paragraph 1, line 2) which in itself could be conceived as another means of showing the heightened levels of joy the children experience. Rather than taking place in flat area, this choice of occurrence offers a physical elevation to mimic the rise of happy emotions the children experiencing.
Blake used simple language such as my heart is at rest within my breast and everything else is still (paragraph 1, line 3 and 4) to show the nurse’s reaction to the circumstance, which offers a contrast to the liveliness of the children. This moment is important since it shows a difference in the adult’s action in contrast to the children’s behavior. The children are laughing out loud to show their excitement but the nurse sits in peaceful stillness. The nurse hears and is happy, but exists in that happiness in much calmer fashion than the children—because of the children. They are what bring her joy just by being near their joy and laughter. The emotion and imagination of the poem can be seen through the imagery and symbolism. Blake used “green”, when the voices of children are heard on the green (paragraph 1, line 1) because the colour green is associated with positive image of growth, fertility and spring.
Village greens were places of play and freedom. They represented the importance of play and, therefore, the imagination of human life. Village greens were not owned by anyone. They were common land and this represented another kind of freedom- freedom from the rule or demand of the land owner or authority figure. Using this image emphasizes the freedom and plays which are the center of this poem and the inner freedom of the nurse. She seems in harmony with all that is growing and playful. Furthermore, the image of “the nurse” is used to represent the imagination of caring and nurturing capacity within human beings. This can be used to protect the freedom of what is carefree, innocent and vulnerable. The nurse or the care-giver has no desire to repress or rule. She takes care of the children with love and peace by addressing them my children, and responds to their needs for freedom and enjoys their capacity for play.
The repetition used in this poem is internal rhyme. For example, the underlined words the little ones leaped, shouted, and laugh’d (paragraph 4, line 3) are the internal rhyme that used to make the poem catchy and easy to remember. The poet not only used simple language but he also used internal rhyme to draw the attention of the readers. The emotion that the poet trying to delivered in here is the continuous joy of the children. The poet used this sound device as he does not want to end the happiness and let their laughter echoed on the hills. The sounds and games of the children harmonize with a busy world of sheep and birds and think of them a part of the nature.
Meanwhile, in the poem She Walks In Beauty (1814) by Lord Byron is a lyrical and rhyming poem that focused on female beauty and explores the idea that physical appearance depends on inner goodness and, if in harmony, can result in the romantic ideal of aesthetic. Often labeled a love poem, there is no direct mention of love and no suggestion of romance between speaker and subject. Clearly there is deep affection shown, an artist’s admiration for a female figure who is perhaps more of a symbol of purity and innocence. The power of emotion and imagination is the center elements in this poem.
Firstly, the Romantic concepts of emotion and imagination can be seen through the structure of the poem. This poem is divided into three stanzas of six lines, with an ABABAB rhyme scheme, where alternate rhymes add to and complement the idea of balance and harmony. The pairing of two rhyming sounds in each stanza work well because the poem concerns itself with the two imagination forces—darkness and light—at work in the woman’s beauty, and also at two areas of her beauty—the internal and the external. The rhyming words themselves especially in the first stanza are important. The word night rhymes with its opposite, light and bright, in the same way that this woman contains the two opposing forces in her particular type of beauty.
Secondly, the setting describes lots about the emotion and imagination of Romantic concepts. The setting of the poem is taking place during night as at the opening of the poem, the woman is compared to night and starry skies. It is clear night and everything is lit by moonlight and star. Byron put the setting of the poem during night because to show the soft, tender light (line5) creates the perfect mood for telling this unnamed woman how gorgeous she is.
Third, Byron used imagery devices or sounds to explore the emotion and imagination elements in this poem. Simile used by Byron is an extended comparison of comparing beauty of a woman with the night sky. The poet used simile to imagine how beauty she is. For example, she walks in beauty, like the night (paragraph 1, line 1) compares the subject with the clear and starry night. This simile description allows us to visualize a dark sky filled bright stars, a perfect picture of ideal evening, which can be compared to his picture of a perfect women. The personification also used to visualize the inner beauty of this unnamed woman. For example, in line which heaven to gaudy day denies (paragraph 1, line 6), Byron give heaven individual emotions and qualities.
This imagination is unrealistic as we do not know the how real situation in the heaven. Byron used metaphor to make comparison between two objects by excluding a simile. For example, in line where thoughts serenely sweet express, how pure, how dear their dwelling-place, are a metaphor. This line highlight the clarity of thought unnamed woman possessed. In addition to Romantic concepts of emotion, this poem contains Biblical allusion. It is not shown straightforward, but still obvious. A woman who make her husband happy in marriage life: A mind at peace with all below, a heart whose love is innocent. An angelic woman is not only beautiful but good and devoted to her husband.
Meanwhile, the poem My Last Duchess (1842) by Robert Browning is a dramatic monologue by the Duke of Ferrara and he is entertaining an emissary who has come to negotiate with Duke’s marriage to the daughter of another powerful family. Apparently, he has been widowed. While he shows the visitor through his palace, he stops at the portrait of his late duchess, who is a young and lovely girl. He begins reminisce his late duchess, admiring the way she was easily pleased, she smiled at everything, and seemed just happy when someone brought her a branch of cherries as she did when the Duke decided to marry her. But, the Duke killed her because he thinks that the duchess flirted with everyone and did not appreciate his gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name. After he telling the story to the servant of the young girl that he might marry to, they leave the painting behind and points out other notable artworks of his collection, Neptune Taming a Seahorse. The Romantic concepts of emotion and imagination can be seen from the structure, sound, imagery and setting of the poem.
First, the poem has one long stanza and having fifty-six lines in it. The poem is written in iambic parameter. The majority of the lines are pure iambic parameter, bringing a steady rhythm and beat such as, looking as if she were alive I call. Robert Browning uses iambic parameter because the Duke is not speaking his thoughts aloud to himself, but there is a character listening to him. End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious such as wall/call, hands/stands and etc. Browning used its melodious because the Duke is a good talker and it will be more appropriate for the Duke to speak in harsh and structured. Through this the reader can imagine that the Duke trying to ‘persuade’ the visitor how graceful he is and he will be able to marry the girl.
Second, the emotion and imagination can be seen from the setting of the poem. The poem is taking place at a private art gallery in the palace of the Duke. The setting is very physical and geographic setting as he listing the location of a scene in a play. It helps the reader to imagine how fantastic the art objects, extravagant life and lavish palace. It show the pride and arrogant of the Duke.
Third, the imagery in the poem describes lot about emotion and imagination. The Fra Pandolf’s painting of the duchess that painting directly to the wall, and the Duke keep it covered by a curtain so that he can control who view it. This behavior shows he is possessive person because the painting is only for him.
In a conclusion, emotion and imagination are very important in Romantic poetry. It will help to move from language to minds of a person. With imagination, the poet can see the divine essence, have a creative power and can see the reality of things. Its represent everything we want to express to say. During Romantic period, many writer use emotion and imagination to critic the irresponsible and insensitive society, church, noble, parents, government. Their works speak up for the poor and weak civilian in Europe. Emotion and imagination can helps fix the society.
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