Romanticism was an artistic and literary movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and peaked in the first half of the 19th century. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and of nature. In English literature, the key figures of the Romantic movement were a group poets whose works still remain hugely popular. They include Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Lord Byron, P. B. Shelley and the much older William Blake. The best known American romantic writer is Edgar Allan Poe who is known for his dark romanticism; while in France, Victor Marie Hugo was the leading figure of the movement. Some of the best known poetry in the English language comes from the Romantic era. Here are the 10 most famous Romantic poems including The Tyger by William Blake; Kubla Khan by Coleridge; Ozymandias by P. B. Shelley; and Daffodils by William Wordsworth.
#10 Le Lac
English Title: The Lake
Poet: Alphonse de Lamartine
Lamartine is considered to be the first French romantic poet and Le Lac is his best known poem. The poem is an elegy for Julie Charles, the poet’s muse and the wife of the famous physician Jacques Charles. Lamartine had met Julie in 1816 on the shores of Lake Bourget in Savoie, France. The two were supposed to meet again in August the following year but she became ill with tuberculosis and subsequently died. Lamartine went to the lake alone visiting the places they that explored together the previous year. He then recorded the experience in this poem of sixteen quatrains. Le Lac met with great acclaim on being published and inspired a generation of French Romantic poets. It is the most famous French elegy and one of the most widely read French poems.
O Lake! Scarce has a single year coursed past.
To waves that she was meant to see again,
I come alone to sit upon this stone
You saw her sit on then.
#9 To Autumn
Poet: John Keats
John Keats rose to fame after his death and by the end of the 19th century he became one of the most beloved English Romantic poets. He wrote To Autumn after a walk near Winchester one autumnal evening. The poem marks the end of his poetic career as his efforts were not giving enough financial returns. In its three eleven line stanzas, To Autumn describes three aspects of the season: its fruitfulness, its labour and its ultimate decline. Widely analysed, the poem has been seen as signifying the renewal of life; as an allegory of artistic creation; and as a political poem commenting on England’s contemporary situation. To Autumn is Keats’ most famous poem and it has been praised by scholars and critics as one of the most perfect short poems in the English language. Unfortunately Keats contracted tuberculosis the same autumn which caused his death in 1921 at the age of 25.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
#8 Annabel Lee
Poet: Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is the most famous American romantic poet and one of the most influential figures in English literature. This was his last complete poem and it was published in New York Tribune on 9th October 1849, two days after his death. The poem follows one of Poe’s recurrent themes — the death of a young, beautiful and dearly loved woman. The narrator, who fell in love with Annabel Lee when they were young, believes that their love was so intense that angels became envious and caused her death. He retains his love for her even after her death and is sure they will be reunited. Annabel Lee is thought to be written by Poe in memory of his wife Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe, who had died a couple of years earlier.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
Poet: William Blake
William Blake is regarded as a highly influential figure in the history of poetry and his poetry collection Songs of Innocence and of Experience is considered one of the leading poetic works of the Romantic era. This poem consists of four quatrains in which the speaker describes the plight of London while he wanders through the city. He uses the term “chartered” for the city streets as well as for River Thames to indicate the oppressive and constraint atmosphere in the region. He sees despair and fear in the faces of the people he meets. Among other things, he talks about the money spent on church buildings while children live in poverty. London presents a bleak view of the city during the Industrial Revolution with the society being corrupt and dominated by materialism. It also points at the contrast between upper and working class people and suggests that the this could lead to a revolution in London like the recent French Revolution.
I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse
#6 Demain dès l’aube
English Title: Tomorrow, at dawn
Poet: Victor Marie Hugo
Victor Hugo was at the forefront of the romantic literary movement in France and he is regarded as one of the greatest French poets. Leopoldine Hugo, the eldest daughter of Victor, died in a boat accident with her husband while she was 3 months pregnant. She was only 19. Her death had a deep impact on her father and he wrote many poems expressing his loss, including this one. In the poem, the speaker expresses his love for a person telling her how he is unable to remain away from her. He is going to meet her and he says he knows that she waits for him. In the last lines of the poem it is revealed that he is visiting her grave. One the best-known masterpieces of Victor Hugo, Demain des l’aube is perhaps the most famous French romantic poem.
Tomorrow, at dawn, the moment the countryside whitens,
I will leave. You see, I know that you await me.
I will go through the forest, I will go across the mountain.
I can no longer remain away from you.
I will trudge on, my eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Without seeing anything outside, without hearing any sound,
Alone, unknown, back bent, hands crossed,
Sad, and the day for me will be like the night.
I will not look upon the gold of nightfall,
Nor the sails from afar that descend on Harfleur,
And when I arrive, I will place on your grave
A bouquet of green holly and heather in bloom.
#5 Kubla Khan
Poet: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge co-founded the Romantic Movement in England and he remains one of the most popular poets in the English language. “Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment” is his best known poem and is considered one of the most famous examples of Romanticism in English poetry. It is about a dream the poet had concerning Xanadu, the palace of Kublai Khan, the emperor of China and the grandson of the famous Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan. There are various theories regarding the theme of the poem. It is mostly seen as a poem about the creativity of a poet and his relationship with his readers. Coleridge is said to have written Kubla Khan after waking up from an opium-influenced dream which he had after he had read a work describing Xanadu.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
Poet: Percy Bysshe Shelley
Ozymandias was the Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, perhaps the most powerful king of Ancient Egypt. In Percy’s poem the speaker recalls meeting a traveller who tells him about two huge stone legs and a damaged head of a statue. The sculptor of the work had captured the pride of his subject. On the pedestal of the statue appear the words, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” However around the ruin is nothing but “lone and level sands”. The poem focuses on the momentary nature of power with its central theme being the inevitable decline of all leaders, no matter how great they consider themselves. Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the leading Romantic poets. Ozymandias is his most famous poem and one of the best known sonnets in English literature.
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
#3 The Raven
Poet: Edgar Allan Poe
In January 1845, The Raven appeared in the New York Evening Mirror and became an immediate popular sensation. It was soon reprinted, parodied and illustrated; and made Poe a household name. The poem tells the story of an unnamed lover who, while lamenting the death of his beloved Lenore, is visited by a talking raven. The raven enhances his distress with its constant repetition of the word “Nevermore”, slowly plunging him into madness. The poem makes use of a number of folk and mythological references; and is noted for its stylized language and supernatural atmosphere. It influenced numerous later works including the famous painting Nevermore by Paul Gauguin. The Raven is the most famous poem of Edgar Allan Poe, who is renowned for his dark romanticism.
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
#2 The Tyger
Poet: William Blake
The Tyger is a poem in Blake’s Songs of Experience. It serves as a counterpart to his poem in Songs of Innocence, The Lamb. In The Tyger, the speaker focuses on the subject of creation asking who could have made such a terrifying beast as the tiger. The speaker talks about the fearful features of the tiger and wonders “did he who made the Lamb make thee?“ before he ends the poem with the question with which he began, “What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”. The Tyger, with its strikingly powerful words, serves as a counter to the innocence and tenderness of The Lamb. It is one of the most analysed poems and Cambridge calls it the “the most anthologized poem in English”. The Tyger is not only the most famous work of William Blake but also one of the best known poems of all time.
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Poet: William Wordsworth
Along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth is credited with launching the Romantic Age in English literature. He was Britain’s poet laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850 and he remains one of the best known poets in the English language. This poem is titled “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud“ but it is commonly known as “Daffodils”. Wordsworth was inspired to write it on encountering a long belt of Daffodils while taking a walk with his sister Dorothy in April 1802. The poem simply tells about the poet discovering a field of the beautiful flowers while wandering. As it is among the most popular poems in the English language, it has frequently been the subject of parody and satire. Daffodils is taught in many institutions across the world as a classic of English Romanticism and it is the most famous Romantic poem.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.