Romantic Period writers shared a common appreciation for nature in their writing. In addition, writers of this era were also attentive to personal emotion and imagination. These aspects can be seen in the works of John Keats, in his poem “Ode to a Nightingale” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Shelley’s poem, “Ode to the West Wind.” These poems express the Romantic era in that they focus on elements of nature with aspects of the imagination. These thoughts led them to consider things that are beyond this earthly experience. It is life experience coupled with nature that led these poets to explore human existence on a higher plane.
In “Ode to a Nightingale,” the poet is working primarily from his imagination, prompted by the nightingale’s song. The poet feels a strong emotion when he begins to ponder the song and even feels a sense of losing his identity as the result of it. The bird’s song arouses the poet’s regarding things that do not belong on this earthly plane. The poet claims his heart “aches” (Keats 1) and his wits are numbed (1) by this and he feels as though the song invites the poet into a sublime environment. The poet sees pain in beauty when he considers the bird’s song in the treetops while man sit underneath those trees to “hear each other moan” (24). The poet also reflects on how his imagination might “cheat” (73) him as falls victim to the nightingale’s song. These lines reveal the personal emotion evoked in the poem because the poet begins to consider an “easeful death” (52) to avoided the suffering of the world. The poet has thoughts of leaving the world “unseen/and with thee fade away into the forest dim” (19-20), telling the nightingale he “will fly to thee” (31) on wings of poetry. The mere experience of a bird’s song causes the poet to experience all these emotions and prompt him to consider life and death.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge is another poet that experiences something special in nature that inspires him to write verse. In his poetry, he becomes a part of that nature, allowing him to feel experience nature and, as a result, he is awestruck by its beauty and the heavenly presence it causes him to feel. The poet envisions himself as a part of nature when he says,
And with such hues/as clothe the Almighty Spirit, when he makes Spirits perceive His presence” (Coleridge 42-4). These experiences bring him closer to God, indicating that the experience separates him from everything else and raises his sense of awareness. Nature is the vehicle that leads him to awareness on a physical and emotional plane, expressed when he realizes that “each faculty of sense… keep[s] the heart/Awake to Love and Beauty” (62-3). Here we see that the poet is open to whatever his experience with nature will teach him.
Another poet that demonstrates the mood and tone of the Romantic era is Percy Shelley. In “Ode to the West Wind,” the poet attempts to reach for an experience that is beyond the material world. The poet is aware that the winds of “Autumn’s being” (Shelley 1) are ushering in a change, representing the new season. We can see an appreciation for nature when the poet affirms that the winds, “Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing” (4) and the poet’s thoughts are like “winged seeds” (7) of each passing season. The winds indicate change in the unalterable change in the natural world. The poet is fully aware that winter is a dormant stage in life, ushering in spring. This hope is all the poet needs to believe in spring.
The Romantic writers might have seemed different in the subjects in which they wrote but a closer inspection reveals that they were all attracted to the same things. Each poet was drawn to nature and allowed their experience with nature to evolve into an actual encounter that shaped their mind and perspective. They could not have written what they did if they did not first allow themselves to be removed from the trappings of life. In other words, these men allowed their experience to overtake them and they let the experience speak to them through their imagination and through their experience. Keats, Coleridge, and Shelley represent how the Romantics were not about this world but about something bigger and more powerful than anything man could create. Their imagination allowed them to think it and nature allowed them to experience it and, as a result, they capture life through nature and imagination.
Coleridge, Samuel. “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol I.M.H. Abrams, ed. New York W.W. Norton and Company. 1986.
Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” English Romantic Writers. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers. 1967.
Shelley, Percy Blythe. “Ode to the West Wind.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. II. New York W.W. Norton and Company. 1986.
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