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Thursday, May 07, 2020

Transitional Poets-Precursors of Romanticism


The 18th century is generally tagged as the ‘century of prose and reason' for it was dominated by the prose writers and prose was at its acme in the 18th century; but it does not mean that there were no activities regarding poetic works. The Classical spirit was ruling aggressively due to the alliance between the political parties and literature.

Transitional Poets
Transitional Poets-Precursors of Romanticism



Transitional Poets of Romantic Movement

Though prose became an object of fascination, there were some writers who paid their attention to Nature, country life, daily activities of the rustics, and to the medieval myths, romances, and folk tales. All the romantic spirit was in buds ready to bloom beautifully very soon. 

The budding poets started breaking away from the established rules and principles of Classicism and they introduced a new variety in their work of art. The Classical rigid rules and principles could no longer fascinate them.


There were some writers who were standing in the midst of Classical order and rules and the romantic glory of the past. The writers are known as the “Transitional Poets” or “Precursors of Romantic Poetry”. 

These poets of the century displayed some romantic traits of the Elizabethan poets and they also sought inspiration from the poets like Edmund Spenser as well as John Milton. They skillfully employed stanza forms like the blank verse and Spenserian stanza and discarded the old heroic couplet as a vehicle of expression. 

The transitional poets derived pleasure from the scenery in nature, and life of common man in country-side, they also took interest in medieval myths, superstitions, fairy tales and folk literature. 

The poets really supported liberalism in literature and discarded Classical rules and conventions and trusted poetic inspiration. Secondly, their poetry appealed more to heart than to head for they valued feelings and passions. They were ready to take a imaginative leap in the unknown and unexplored regions of both heart and mind. 


The transitional poets also adored the wild, fantastic, abnormal and the supernatural. Their poetry was no longer coffee house poetry and they appreciated the realm of nature. They emphasized individualism and their works became more subjective than objective.

Man and Nature became centre of their works. They were also inspired by the spirit of Renaissance and they made some experiments with stanza forms which were new to them. These poets, however, were not free from the aura and force of John Dryden and Alexander Pope

The following poets are called as the ‘Transitional poets” or “Precursors of Romanticism”. They are – Bishop Percy, Robert Burns, James Thomson, Oliver Goldsmith, Thomas Gray, Thomas Chatterton, James Macpherson, William Collins, William Cowper, William Blake, and George Crabbe.


1) Bishop Thomas Percy (1729-1811) - 

Bishop Percy's well known ballad book "Reliques of Ancient English Poetry ; consisting of old Heroic Songs and Other pieces of our Earlier Poetry; together with Some Few of Later Date" (1765) laid the foundation of the romantic poetry. He actually polished some of the old ballad which aroused the romantic tastes in the other romantic poets of his time. 

Sir walter Scott was very much influenced by Bishop Percy's "Reliques" and it aroused in him a passionate interest in ancient ballads.The metrical peculiarities ballad included in Bishop Percy's "Reliques" inspired the great romantic poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Keats. 

Bishop Percy's "Reliques of Ancient English Poetry" directly influenced Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Keats' "La Belle Dame san Merci". William Morris and Rossetti were also greatly indebted to Percy's "Reliques".    


2) Robert Burns (1759-1796) -

Robert Burns was a Scottish poet endowed with unrivalled gift of song. His poetry is marked by a strong democratic quality and revolutionary spirit of his age. He maintained utmost sincerity to his surroundings while describing it. He gave vent to pent up feelings of the peasants, their joys and sorrows, thoughts and feelings, humour and philosophy, their superstitions and beliefs through his poetry. 


His famous poem "The Cotter's Saturday Night" is written in the Spenserian stanza. In the poem, Robert Burns contrasts homely life and the simple purity of the peasant and his family with wealth and luxury. He skilfully brought natural passion back into English Poetry. Robert Burns is a mouthpiece of the growing faith of his time in Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.      

3) James Thomson (1700-48) - 

Though James Thomason was a contemporary to Alexander Pope, he broke away from the traditions of his school. He discarded heroic couplet and expressed himself in blank verse and the Spenserian stanza. His famous "The Seasons" is more important for accurate and sympathetic description of natural scenes. 

James Thomson is famous for his "Castle of Indolence" which is written in Spenserian stanza and which captures much of imaginative colours of the Elizabethan poets.   

     
4) Oliver Goldsmith

Goldsmith was an intimate friend of Dr. Samuel Johnson but he showed the romantic traits in his poems "The Deserted Village" and "The Traveller". Natural descriptions and a peculiar note of sentiments and melancholy and the humanitarian outlook for poor villagers bring him closer to the romantics of the 19th century.


5) Thomas Gray (1716-71) - 

One of the most important precursors of romantic revival is Thomas Gray. His "Elegy Written in the Country Churchyard" has made him immortal. He started his career as a classical poet and ended as a real romantic. 

As W. H. Hudson says, "His work is a kind of epitome of the changes which were coming over the literature of his time." His elegy is full of romantic spirit, description of nature, note of melancholy, love for common men and the twilight atmosphere.   

  
6) Thomas Chatterton (1752-70) - 

Thomas Chatterton came into prominence when he said that he had discovered the old poems of Thomas Rowley, the 15th century monk. Chatterton had discovered them in a box lying in a Bristol Church. Chatterton's work considerably influenced the romantic poets.

  
7) James Macpherson (1736-96) - 

James Macpherson also published some poems of third century poet named "Ossian". The poems are highly romantic and they transport the reader to a new world of heroism and super-naturalism.

   
8) William Collins - (1721-59) - 

William Collins is a fine combination of the classical and the romantic spirit. His "Ode on the Popular Superstitions on the Highlands" and "To Liberty" influenced Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In his poems, there is purity of music and clarity of style. 
    
9) William Cowper - (1731 - 1800) - 

William Cowper is a blend of the old and the new. His famous poem "The Task" is written in blank verse. William Cowper was not a student of poetry as an art; he composed poems just to give vent to his pent up feelings in his own fashion. 

In his famous poem, "The Task" he breaks away for the traditions of classical poetry and pursues an independent course. "The Task" is teemed with the spirit of humanitarianism. The poem is pregnant with the poet's philosophy and his ideas of liberty. 

The poem also attacks the practice of militarism and slave trade. Cowper was also the revolutionist who was preaching the gospel of 'back to nature' and the simplification of life.


10) William Blake - (1757-1827) - 

William Blake was an out and out a rebellion against all social, political, literary conventions of the 18th century. He was even more romantic than the romantic poets of the 19th century. Blake is famous for his "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience". His passion for freedom was akin to that which moved Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley in their earlier years. Blake's mysticism also makes him a romantic poet.
       
11) George Crabbe - (1754-1832) - 

George Crabbe expressed the penury, misery, discontent of the poor through his poems for he himself witnessed it closely. Realism is the keynote of Crabbe's Poetry. He says, "I sing the cot as truth will paint it, and as bard will not." 

There is a fine blending of realism and romanticism in Crabbe. "The Parish Register", "The Village", "Tales in Verse", and "The Borough" are some famous poems by Crabbe. There is a fine realistic description of country life and nature.



The Transitional Poets or Precursor's of Romanticism

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