Romanticism was a movement that dominated all genres; including literature, music, art and architecture; in Europe and the United States in the first half of the 19th century. It originated in late 18th century as a reaction against the ideals of order, calm, harmony, idealization and rationality which marked Classicism in general and late 18th-century Neoclassicism in particular. It was influenced by the German movement Sturm und Drang (“storm and drive”), which focussed on intuition and emotion as opposed to rationalism. Romanticism laid emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of the past and of nature. The movement was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the scientific rationalization of nature. The best known English Romantic poets include Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Byron and Shelley. In America, the most famous Romantic poet was Edgar Allan Poe; while in France, Victor Marie Hugo was the leading figure of the movement. Here are the 10 most famous Romantic poets and their best known works.
#10 Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Lifespan: October 21, 1772 – July 25, 1834
Along with William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge is credited with founding the Romanticism movement in England. In 1797, the two friends broke the decorum of neoclassical verse with daring original poetic works which laid emphasis on emotion and glorification of nature. The following year their collection of poetry Lyrical Ballads was published. Though the immediate reaction to Lyrical Ballads was modest, it is now considered a landmark work which changed the course of English literature and poetry by launching the influential Romantic movement. Coleridge is one of the most important figures in English poetry who deeply influenced the major poets of his era including Wordsworth. Among other things, he is credited with utilizing everyday language to express profound poetic images and ideas.
Kubla Khan (1816)
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)
#9 Percy Bysshe Shelley
Lifespan: August 4, 1792 – July 8, 1822
Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the leading “second generation” Romantic poets and he created some of the best known works of the movement. He was a controversial writer whose poems are marked by uncompromising idealism and great personal conviction. Though he produced works throughout his life, most publishers and journals declined to publish them for fear of being arrested for either blasphemy or sedition. As a result Shelley couldn’t gather a mainstream following during his lifetime. However, his popularity grew steadily following his death and ultimately he achieved worldwide fame and acclaim. Apart from being an idol for later generation of poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley also exerted influence on such prominent figures as the German philosopher Karl Marx and the Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi. He is considered one of the greatest poets in the English language.
Ode to the West Wind (1820)
Prometheus Unbound (1820)
#8 Robert Burns
Lifespan: January 25, 1759 – July 21, 1796
Also known as the Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet, Robert Burns is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland. He is considered a pioneer of Romanticism who had a major influence on the movement. The poetic style of Burns is marked by spontaneity and sincerity; and it ranges from love to intensity to humour and satire. His best known works include Scots Wha Hae, which served as an unofficial national anthem of Soctland for many years; A Red, Red Rose, among the best known love poems; and Auld Lang Syne, which is widely sung in the western world at the stroke of midnight on New Year. Robert Burns is the most widely read Scottish poet and he is celebrated not only in his country but around the world. He remains a cultural icon in his nation and in 2009, he was voted as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish television channel STV.
Auld Lang Syne (1788)
To a Mouse (1785)
A Red, Red Rose (1794)
#7 Alexander Pushkin
Lifespan: June 8, 1799 – February 11, 1837
Alexander Pushkin was a poet, playwright and novelist who is widely regarded as the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin published his first poem when he was 15 and by the time he graduated his talent was already widely recognized within the Russian literary scene. The most famous poem of Pushkin is The Bronze Horseman. A work regarding the equestrian statue of Peter the Great in Saint Petersburg and the great flood of 1824, it is considered one of the most influential works in Russian Literature. Pushkin married Natalia Goncharova, one of the most talked-about beauties of Moscow. Rumours of an affair between his wife and French military officer Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d’Anthès led to a duel between the two in which Pushkin was fatally wounded at the age of just 37. Though his work has been associated with several movements, most consider Alexander Pushkin to be a central representative of Romanticism in Russian literature.
The Bronze Horseman (1837)
I Loved You (1830)
Ruslan and Ludmila (1820)
#6 John Keats
Lifespan: October 31, 1795 – February 23, 1821
Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats was one of the most prominent figures of the second generation of English Romantic poets. Keats died due to tuberculosis in 1821 at the age of only 25. His work was in publication for only four years and it was not generally well received by critics during his lifetime. However, his reputation grew after his death and by the end of the 19th century, he became one of the most beloved of all English poets. The most famous and acclaimed poems of Keats are a series of six odes known as the Odes of 1819. The most highly regarded among these is To Autumn, which has been called one of the most perfect short poems in the English language. Through his 1819 odes, Keats created a new type of short lyrical poem, which influenced later generations.
To Autumn (1820)
Ode on a Grecian Urn (1820)
When I have Fears (1848)
#5 Victor Hugo
Lifespan: February 26, 1802 – May 22, 1885
Victor Hugo is one of the most famous French writers of all time. Though most famous in the literary world for his great novel Les Miserables, his poetry is also very well known, especially in France. The first collection of poetry of Hugo, Odes et poésies diverses, was published in 1822 when he was only 20 years old. It earned him a royal pension from King Louis XVIII. His next poetry collection Odes et Ballades, published four years later, established him as a master of lyric and creative song. When Napoleon III seized complete power in 1851, Hugo openly declared him a traitor. He had to leave France and settle in Guernsey. In exile, Hugo produced his most acclaimed poetry collections Les Châtiments (1853); Les Contemplations (1856); and La Légende des siècles (1859). Victor Hugo was at the forefront of the French Romantic literary movement and he is the best known French Romantic poet.
Demain dès l’aube (Tomorrow, at dawn; 1856)
Le Pape (The Pope; 1878)
La Pitié suprême (The Supreme Compassion; 1879)
#4 Lord Byron
Lifespan: January 22, 1788 – April 19, 1824
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, commonly known as just Lord Byron, was one of the leading figures of the Romantic Movement in early 19th century England. Byron first achieved fame with the publication of the first two cantos of his narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812 and his reputation further enhanced with his four highly successful poems referred to as the “Oriental Tales”. Lord Byron is often described as the most flamboyant and notorious of the major Romantics due to his indulgent life and numerous love affairs. Many of his poems are autobiographic in nature and much of his work is pervaded by the Byronic hero, an idealised but flawed character capable of great passion and talent but rebellious, arrogant and self-destructive. Lord Byron is considered the leading second generation Romantic poet and he continues to be influential and widely read.
Don Juan (1824)
She Walks in Beauty (1813)
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1818)
#3 William Wordsworth
Lifespan: April 7, 1770 – April 23, 1850
Wordsworth, along with Coleridge, launched the Romantic Age in English literature with the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798. From 1799 to 1808, he lived at the Dove Cottage in the village of Grasmere in the Lake District of England. Here he became friends with another prominent poet, Robert Southey. Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey were the three main figures of the group known as Lake Poets, as they all lived in the Lake District. The years 1797 to 1808 are now recognized as the best years of Wordsworth and are known as his Great Decade. After struggling initially, Wordsworth became one of the most renowned poets in his later years and was appointed Poet Laureate of Britain in 1843. The Prelude, an autobiographical epic, is widely regarded by critics as his greatest work though his most popular poem is perhaps I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, commonly known as Daffodils. William Wordsworth is considered a pioneer of Romanticism and one of the greatest poets in English literature.
Tintern Abbey (1798)
The Prelude (1850)
#2 Edgar Allan Poe
Lifespan: January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849
Widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States, Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most influential and famous figures of American literature. His poems appear throughout popular culture and lines from them are often quoted. Poe is celebrated as the supreme exponent of Dark Romanticism, a genre which focuses on human fallibility, self-destruction, judgement, punishment and the demonic; as well as the psychological effects of guilt and sin. One of the prominent theme in his poems is the death of a young, beautiful and dearly loved woman; which he called “the most poetical topic in the world”. The best known poem of Poe is The Raven. It influenced numerous later works including the famous painting Nevermore by Paul Gauguin. Apart from being one of the most famous poets, Edgar Allan Poe is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and an important contributor to the emerging genre of science fiction.
The Raven (1845)
Annabel Lee (1849)
A Dream Within a Dream (1849)
#1 William Blake
Lifespan: November 28, 1757 – August 12, 1827
William Blake remained largely unknown during his lifetime but rose to prominence after his death and is now considered a highly influential figure in the history of poetry and one of the greatest British artists. Blake’s most renowned work in poetry is Songs of Innocence and of Experience, considered one of the leading poetic works of the Romantic era. The collection often contains poems with similar themes, and at times the same title, to contrast the innocent world of childhood in Songs of Innocence with the corruption and repression of the adult world in Songs of Experience. Blake claimed to experience visions throughout his life. He revered the Bible but was hostile to the Church of England and organized religion in general. His poetry and art often created mythical worlds full of gods and powers, and sharply criticized industrial society and the oppression of the individual. Blake is considered a key figure in Romanticism for his emphasis on subjective vision and the power of the imagination. He is also highly regarded for his expressiveness and creativity as well as for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents in his work. In 2002, William Blake was placed 38 in BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.
The Tyger (1794)
And did those feet in ancient time (1808)