Compare and contrast Wordsworth and Keats

According to Victor Hugo ‘Romanticism’ is ‘liberalism in literature.’ Romanticism is that idea which can be understood as an expression of life having imagination (Goodman, 2007, p.22).

Background

Individualism was brought by Romantic poets. These poets showed their respect not only in natural world but also in idealism, physical and emotional passion. Their interest in mystic and supernatural elements was also keen. Romantic poets opposed order and rationality of neoclassical poets.

They did this to get freedom in art and politics. English Romantic Movement was started by some famous poets like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, George Gordon Lord Byron, and John Keats (John Keats, Romanticism, n.d., p. 10).

Similarities between Wordsworth and Keats

Wordsworth and Keats took nature as an infinite source and for them it was like lovely imaginings. In his poetry Wordsworth portrayed mountains as the symbol of loneliness and Keats’ portrayal of darkness reflecting glooms and windy mossy ways made both the poets different from other poets who wrote about nature (Goodman, 2007, p.22).

For example from Keats’s poem, ‘I Stood Tip-Toe Upon a Little Hill’:

“The breezes were etheral, and pure,
And crept through half closed lattices to cure
The languid sick; it cool’d their fever’d sleep,
And soothed them into slumbers full and deep.
Soon they awoke cleared eyed: nor burnt with thirsting,
Nor with hot fingers, nor with temples bursting”:
(L. 221 – 226).

In above lines Keats is showing compassion how air affects physical health (Ngiewih, 2008). The most important feature of the English Romantic Movement, which is very popular, is ‘Return to Nature’ that will be analyzed in relation to Wordsworth (Goodman, 2007, p.22).

The main feature of Romantic poets was to use time and memory in their poetry. Wordsworth and Keats also used these two themes in their poetry. In his ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ Keats description of pastoral imagery which is painted on an urn shows his thoughts about nature of time.

Similarly, Wordsworth is also recalling his previous visit to the banks of the River Wye in ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey’. In both the poems the similarity of thoughts about nature between both the poets can be seen clearly. In both poems both the poets enjoy the time spent with nature. In ‘Tintern Abbey’ Wordsworth becomes sentimental and the opening lines of the poem establish the tone of the whole poem (Terrall, 2008):

“Five years have past; five summers with the length
of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.” (1-4)

In the whole poem Wordsworth has used the combination of time, memory and nature. He is very definite about using the length of time. He is connected with past in ‘Tintern Abbey’ and makes all the time frames important in this poem like: seasons, years, days, hours and minutes.

But here we can find some difference in Wordsworth and Keats of using time in their poetry. As Wordsworth is connected with past, Keats is more related with future. The following lines from Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ depict his thoughts on time (Terrall, 2008):

“Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal-yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!” (15-20)

Difference between Wordsworth and Keats

All six great Romantic poets are divided in to two groups. Wordsworth, Coleridge and Scott belong to the elder group, while Byron, Shelly and Keats are of the younger group. The first group poets were all similar in many ways but the younger group had differences due to belonging to different generation and age. The ideas and aspirations which Wordsworth first embraced had kindled humanitarian passions even in the artist Keats (Goodman, 2007, p.52).

Wordsworth

Wordsworth is the leader of Romanticism and true son of Romantic Revival. Wordsworth’s historical background and his poetry are the best introduction of 19th century Romanticism. “Both Wordsworth and Coleridge formulated that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful human feeling” (Goodman, 2007, p.50). They believe that the subjects of the poetry should be only nature and human nature and its objects should be the reflection of emotions stimulated by the World and humanity. Wordsworth’s lyrics odes and sonnets make him a great romantic poet (Goodman, 2007, p.50).

Wordsworth’s Romanticism gives an extraordinary contrast because he categories the sublime and the ridiculous. He has a kind of middle style; at its best it has grace and dignity, a heart searching simplicity, and a certain magical enlightenment of phrase that is all his own.

His position and influence are due partly to the fact that he greatly enlarged the boundaries of poetry giving it, as subject matter; themes varying from the joys and sorrows of the simple, homely lives to the transcendental interests of soul in communion with nature and God, partly to his development of a poetic style befitting such material.

The instinct to perceive nature and human life in transcendental terms was early manifested in Wordsworth. This habit of mind sobered and strengthened by reflection, pervades all his poetry and gives to it a peculiarly stimulating character (Goodman, 2007, p.51).

His Romanticism is deeply rooted in realism. His great poems are saturated with the very breath and spirit of life. In a lonely highland meadow Wordsworth saw the solitary girl, making hay and heard her singing at her work. Normally, there was nothing unusual in those rustic notes of the peasant girl to quicken thought or inspire expression.

But to Wordsworth imagination, the doleful strains of the forlorn reaper seemed to derive a pensive sorrow from memories of old, unhappy, for off things and battles long ago. He has the gift of imagination in the highest and strictest sense of the word (Goodman, 2007, p.51). Wordsworth always saw beauty in nature rather than any man-made objects (Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, 2011, p.2).

Keats

John Keats was essentially a Romantic poet. His poetry is the meeting ground of old Hellenism and medieval romanticism and even his Hellenism is romantic. His romance is largely derived from English and Italian romancers of the Middle ages (Goodman, 2007, p.134).

Keats always admired Spenser and Boccaccio and his imagination was always influenced after reading both the poets’ poetry. Keats poetry showed the romance of three worlds: the antique; the medieval and the modern where his poetry had rich and pictorial expressions.

The Romantic element in Keats appears less in his choice of subjects than in his manner of treating them. ‘Hyperion’, ‘Endymion’, ‘Lamia’ are old classical in story but at the same time they have romantic element too. On the other hand, ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’, ‘Isabelle’, ‘La Belle Dams Sans Merci’ are drawn from the Middle of ages in which romance breathes more freely (Goodman, 2007, p.138).

Keats had no interest in men. In the passion and struggle of ordinary human life he discussed his feelings for poetry. To him poetry was the world of the imagination only, realm of enchantment where only those might dwell who saw visions and dreamed dreams- a land of voluptuous languor, where magic filled the air and life passed like a dream, measured only by the exquisiteness of its sensations and the intensity of its delights (Goodman, 2007, p.139).

Keats’ principle was “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty” (Goodman, 2007, p.140). He was passionate about beautiful things in an intellectual manner not in a sentimental way. Keats had intense romantic fervor. His Romanticism had an outlook different from that of his colleagues Byron looked around and criticized; Shelly looked forward and aspired; and Keats looked backward into the romantic past and sighed (Goodman, 2007, p.146).

Keats wanted to become a pure, simple and natural poet (Sen, 2009, p. 23-24). He was simply a poet. Neither was he a teacher nor a preacher.

Wordsworth put emphasis on spontaneity and imagination. He focused on the element of thought that should be used in poetry. He gave a particular shape and direction to English Romanticism (Tilak, 2002, p. 14, 15, 24).

In the Romanticism of Wordsworth there is the consciousness and will of a return to natural sources. The disease that is preying upon poetry is the artificiality of the language in which the external and explicit means of conveying intensity have been worn out by the deadening effect of custom. The romantic idea had crystalized round these themes and these rhythms, which are still pregnant with the old time vigor of the English genius (Legouis & Cazamian, 1926).

Wordsworth’s original creativity lies in the revolutionary faith. He has been the promoter which revolution made him. He says that he not apathetic with anyone. His use of rural life in his poetry gives us a sensitive receptivity. Wordsworth’s poetry conveys the message of intensity.

Wordsworth is the psychological poet par excellence; and by constantly shifting the domains of art into the realms of the implicit he has prepared the way for the supreme enrichment of modern literature (Legouis & Cazamian, 1926).

Wordsworth always believed that the poetry should be the voice of a common man that is why he has focused on mentioning rural life in his poetry and he never support the voice of an educated man in his poetry (A worksheet on reading Wordsworth and Romantic Poetry, n.d.).

Keats is the poet of sensations. His intellectual work includes working on notions, images and qualities. His balance between perfect classicism and romantic intensity is remarkable.

The favorite themes in Keats’s Romanticism are set in the ‘Odes’ in short and elaborate forms, constructed with harmonious skill, sculptural grace of Greek attitudes, the nostalgia of the charming myths of Hellas, the changing seasons and the joys of the earth (Legouis & Cazamian, 1926).

English Romanticism attains in Keats the final stage of its progress, and this pessimism is deeper and more significant. It has not its secret source of any Tragic Mystery and it is thus much more inevitable. It springs from the satiety of a soul which yet has made no demands upon the more common joys of life; it is made up of the unconquerable feeling of the fragility of beautiful forms, as of the vanity of the effort through which desire seeks to transcend itself (Legouis & Cazamian, 1926).

Keats when he died, gave promise of becoming the greatest poet of his generation, and one who better than any other, would have united the free inspiration of Romanticism with the formal principle of the schools of the past (Legouis & Cazamian, 1926).

Keats does not think nature as noble as other phases of development but on the other hand he does not challenge nature’s importance. That is why nature imagery is an important element in many of his poetry.

His choice of subjects differs from that of most of the other major romantic poets. His love of nature is intense and is constantly to be seen in the imagery of his poems but it involves none of the mystical worship of the ‘mighty being’ which we have seen in Wordsworth. Unlike Wordsworth, Keats made no attempt at a systematic formulation of his views on his art. His letters however give a clearer insight into his mind and artistic development than any formal treatise could have done (Albert, 2000).

Keats has been in two worlds (Keats 2, Lamia) Power Point Slide, 53:

Ideal Real

Tempe, Arcady, urnly life human passion, transience, death

The nightingale’s forest Here

Beauty, Joy, Pleasure Melancholy

The immortal world: Crete The moral world: Corinth

La Belle Dame’s elfin grot The knight’s cold hill’s side

A juvenile icon in the arsenal of literature John Keats could weave the threads of minerals for mere twenty five years. He bestowed the showers of his masterpieces with a speed of a comet. With a vaulting intellectual aim, he has constructed for himself a house of notions and reflections. The sensuous, the beautiful and the sensitive- all shaped his entity being individual or an artist. The prudence, with which he handled nature, was through its senses.

Conclusion

Romanticism is not a pure psychology. English Romanticism cannot be considered as one artistic principle which stands in conflict with other principle. It does not have its own victory over other principles. The personality of the poet is its main characteristic as it depends upon the poet’s sensibility and imagination though one’s intelligence is a general thing.

Romantic poets created the romantic meditative ode that was considered a new form of ode. The movement of the romantic ode focuses on the poets’ showing unhappiness with the real world and then their acceptance of the ideal world (John Keats, Romanticism, n.d., p.1).

After struggling with his mental conflicts to go in real or ideal world, the poet comes back in the real world leaving the ideal world behind as he cannot live in that world and he is not happy what he has found in ideal world. Later he changes his thoughts after understanding the situation. What he started saying in the beginning of the poem completely changes his poem’s ending based upon his experience and understanding of the world.

Works Cited

“A worksheet on reading Wordsworth and Romantic Poetry.” n.d. Web. 25 April 2011

Albert, Edward. “A History of English Literature.” 2000, Oxford University Press, London, p.664

Dr. Sen. S. “John Keats: Selected Poems.” 2009. Unique Publishers. New Delhi Goodman, Wr. “History Of English Literature.” Vol. 2. 2007. Doaba House. New Delhi “John, Keats, Romanticism.” n.d. Scribd. Web 25 April 2011 “Keats 2, Lamia.” Power Point Slide, 53

Legouis, Emile & Cazamian, Louis. “A History of English Literature.” Vol. 1. 1926. The Macmillan Company. New York. p. 390

“Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” 2011. ENotes. Web 25 April 2011

Ngiewih, Charles. “John Keats and Nature, an Ecocritical Inquiry” 2008. Web 25 April 2011

Terrall, Erin. “Time and Memory in the Poetry of Keats and Wordsworth.” Associatedcontent. 2008 Web 21 May 2011

Tilak, Raghukul. “Wordsworth-Preface to the Lyrical Ballads”. 2002. Rama Bros. New Delhi. P. 165