Main Purpose: To reinvigorate the significance of nature, emotion and passion in literature as a response to (1) Enlightenment-era rationalism and (2) Rising industrialism and urbanism in Western Europe.
The preface to this landmark book of poetry would go on to transform the nature of poetry and poetics for the next 200 years, as its emphasis on returning to the more ordinary aspects of life (such as our relationship nature and transcendent daily occurrences) would end poetry’s dependence on overly-technical and structured verse. Wordsworth did not simply want to lower its standards, but rather to make poetry a conduit for genuine emotion, as opposed to esoteric philosophical concepts. Included in the Lyrical Ballads are some of Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s finest efforts, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Lines Written a few miles above Tintern Abbey.
Perhaps Coleridge’s most famous poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is about an old, grizzled sea-captain telling a quasi-religious fable to some wedding guests revolving around the indifferent killing of an Albatross in the South Seas. The poem is today known best for its musical quatrains, which include the unforgettable:
“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”
The poem, however, is not in the least straightforward. Marginal commentaries and archaic vernacular do little more than further confuse the reader, though such juxtapositions have a purpose. Coleridge made many aspects of The Rime quite cryptic and unknowable so that the poem’s emotional qualities would linger at the end of a read.
Goethe will likely retain his status as the greatest German writer of all time for years to come, but it is his theater and poetry that have more strongly endured over the past 200 years. His famous coming-of-age novel, however, helped spurn the Romantic literary movement in Germany, and it is today regarded as one of the first novels of a genre later explore by F.Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger. About a young man’s decline into a deep melancholic depression, the novel’s epistolary style allowed for a multi-dimensional revelation of both character traits and emotional conflict.
Schiller’s play about the tense conflict between Queen Elizabeth and the woman-who-would-be-Queen, Mary Queen of Scots is one of the finest works of Romantic Drama, the movement that brought a deeper emotional aspect to theater in the era. While plays in the 18th century Restoration period would focus more on the rhetorical tact of those seeking quick social mobility, plays in the Romantic era used political conflict as a means of separating the deviant from the genuinely moral.