Poetry in the age of revolution

January 6, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Social Science, Political Science
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Overview and Political Tensions The French Revolution And The American Revolution

Overview 

1780-1830: a time of many tremendous tensions politically, socially, economically, and religiously. Romantic poets of this time cannot be isolated from these controversies. Dawson examines these tensions and how these poets attempt to grapple with them.

French and American Revolutions 

The late 1600s-mid 1700s: a period of prosperity that led to discontent with the old aristocratic order. American revolution a source of humiliation and hope, while the French revolution revived dormant motions of radical reform. As the French Revolution soured, hope and optimism quickly turned to despair.

French and American Revolutions 

When war finally broke out between England and France, progress became associated with fear and radicalism. Paranoia resulted in government repression that affected many poets personally. Government and religion were also impossible to separate from one another.

Revolution and Religion Rethinking God

The Irish Problem   

The Irish Rebellion The Act of Union Impact on Romantics

Thomas Paine  

Age of Reason Age of Enlightenment

Wordsworth   

Ideology William Godwin Illustration from text

Utilitarianism A Philosophical Revolution

GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES and the influence of nationalism

The “Older” Romantics  

Included Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey Generally believed a more conservative form of “mystical” nationalism, as seen in continental romanticism Believed in the value of protecting a unique way of life…in this way similar to Burke’s ideas of defense of tradition versus modern innovation However their initial revolutionary enthusiasm shows that they were still moved by claims of freedom.

The “Younger” Romantics  

Included Byron, Shelley, Keats Believed in a more liberal and cosmopolitan nationalism Byron for instance was particularly involved in nationalist movements Were more inclined towards more liberal views than their predecessors, though they still “felt the force of the appeal to tradition.” even if it was to a lesser degree

Tensions- Overview 

The tension between tradition and freedom (burke vs. paine) Tension between belief in nationalist ideas and desires for stability Generally believed in nationalism, but as british citizens at a time when the sun never set on the british empire…this was kind of ironic “differences (between generations) a matter of degree rather than kind.”

In the text… 

Shelley’s “Revolt of Islam” written as a sort of coping device, “when the last hope of trampled france had failed” (opening line) Shows how the revolution affected the younger generation of poets

The Romantics v. Utilitarianism 

Utilitarianism – “A philosophy that reduced human action to the calculation of consequences and the pursuit of self-interest and valued hard facts over fine fancies…” (Dawson 68) Peacock - Claims poetry is “frivolous and unconducive” - As society progresses, poetry will degrade Thomas Babington Macaulay - The advance of civilization = decline of poetry

- Poets become child-like because of their society’s “rude state.”

The Romantics v. Utilitarianism Shelley 

- Recognizes that “moral and political knowledge” are above poetry - Counters Peacock with Defence of Poetry (The imaginative vision of poets would be required to guide the labors of reformers)

Keats - Goes to Scotland in 1818 and remarks that Calvinist “kirkmen” have improved the economic status of the common people, yet at the cost of their humanity. - Notes how the poor are “thrown out from their fellows” in cities, or are dirty and wretched if in towns. - Believes that because society “demands” this, “the world is very young and in a very ignorant state – We live in a barbarous age.”

The Romantics v. Utilitarianism 

William Hazlitt - The nature of poetry is in direct conflict with that of liberal political values. - Imagination goes against equality and justice.

Paine - Recognizes that political reformers make an obvious choice between reason and imagination.

- The choice between the two are lamented in Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound and The Triumph of Life, and Keat’s The Fall of Hyperion: The Dream

The Romantics v. Utilitarianism 

Wordsworth - Claims that every great and original writer defines the context in which readers must view his work. Romantics recognized that their duties were to spread ideas and change minds Romantics believed that one’s mind created the world they existed in. (Ignoring that society helps to determine one’s mental being) To what extent had economic and social conditions created the Romantics?

The Romantics v. Utilitarianism -


Marx and Engel would categorize the Romantics as followers of “the German Ideology” “[The Romantics] consider conceptions, thoughts, ideas, in fact all the products of consciousness, to which they attribute an independent existence as the real chains of men.” … and therefore fight against them by proposing new ways of interpretation.

The Romantics vs. Utilitarianism -

The Romantics were privileged enough to imagine a new society yet powerless to actually transform their conditions. Their works were considered “escapist,” but their works were really a method of compensation. Because their other choice was to acquiesce into complacency, which was unacceptable. Their roles were to “keep open a sense of alternative possibility,” and serve as a kind of political vanguard using their imaginations.

Useful Quotations 

“…Poets work in language, the same medium in which political concepts and demands are formulated, contested, and negotiated.” “…public events are also personal events to the individuals living through them…” (50) “Those who thought of themselves as political reformers, like paine, could make the choice between reason and imagination in favor of the former. For poets, this was an impossible choice…”

Discussion Questions 

Are poets more affected by political happenings than, say artists or musicians? If so, why? Whose influence is greater- Poets on politics, or politics on poets? In the reading he states, “Those who thought of themselves as political reformers, like Paine, could make the choice between reason and imagination in favor of the former. For poets, this was an impossible choice…” is that really the only difference between a poet and a reformer? Who has more power?

Discussion Questions, Cont’d 

How was religion an influencing factor for the romantics, or was it at all? How important was the French Revolution in determining the course of the romantic movement, and vice versa?

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