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One of the most admired American poets of the nineteenth century, and best known for “Thanatopsis,” Bryant struggled out from under his grandfather’s rigid Calvinism and eventually joined the much more liberal Unitarians, some of whom joined the Transcendentalist movement. His discovery of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads in 1810 sent him on his path toward poetry about nature, often in simple diction and blank verse.
The collaborative friendship of Coleridge with Wordsworth was comparable with that between Goethe and Schiller in its mutual inspiration. Its first product was Lyrical Ballads, with A Few Other Poems (first edition 1798), to which Coleridge contributed “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,” “The Nightingale” (below), and two others. Within a few years his poetic powers weakened and there were difficulties in the friendship; Coleridge soon turned mainly to philosophy, theology, and literary criticism, much of which was influential both in Britain and America.
Williams lived an adventurous life, much of it in France beginning in 1790 where, at least in its more moderate phases, she defended the Revolution in books, letters, and poems. Before that time, she wrote poetry on many themes characteristic of the Sensibility and Romantic movements, and took part in the sonnet revival of her time. Wordsworth admired her “Sonnet to Twilight”; his own first published sonnet was addressed to her.
Eichendorff was born of an aristocratic Catholic family in Silesia. He studied at the universities of Halle and Heidelberg, but to prepare for a career in the civil service he moved to Vienna in 1810, where he met Friedrich and Dorothea Schlegel, who encouraged his literary interests. Though he was a conscientious official he found his happiness in his family and in writing: novels, stories, and lyric and narrative poems. His most popular prose work is the novella Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts (From the Life of a Good-for-Nothing), published in 1826. In Germany his lyric poetry has been greatly loved, not only for its quintessentially “Romantic” themes (nostalgia, flights of the spirit, religious feelings in nature, uncanny encounters or emotions at night, love and its loss, the death of a child) but for its clear and simple diction and its musical effects. Some of Eichendorff’s poems are best known through their musical settings by Robert Schumann, a friend of his, who chose twelve poems for his Liederkreis, op. 39 (1840).
As the youngest and the first to die (of tuberculosis) of the second generation of English Romantics, Keats to many readers has seemed the quintessential Romantic poet. He is probably also the most loved, not only for his handful of great poems but also for his great promise cut short. In his few productive years he wrote sonnets, odes, ballads, a play (jointly written), and narrative poems, including a four-book epic, Endymion.
When she was just fourteen, Felicia Browne published a volume of poems by subscription. One of the subscribers, Captain Alfred Hemans, soon sought her out; they were betrothed when she was sixteen and married three years later. In the next six years she bore five children and produced three more books, but the marriage then failed, and she and her husband separated. Despite heavy domestic duties she continued to publish poems and plays until her final illness. She gained the admiration of many writers male and female, and became friends with such luminaries as Walter Scott and William Wordsworth. Hemans’ poetry was very popular in Britain and America well into the twentieth century, and such poems as “The Stately Homes of England” and “The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers” were memorized by countless schoolchildren.
Gautier is best known for his “Parnassian” phase in the 1850s, when he urged l’art pour l’art (“art for art’s sake”), but he started out as a Romantic in Victor Hugo’s circle and the offshoot Petit Cénacle (1830–1833) with Gérard de Nerval and others. The poem here is from his volume La comédie de la mort (1838). He was a prolific author of novels and travel books; more poems, notably Émaux et camées (Enamels and Cameos) (1852); criticism of literature, art, theatre, and dance; and Histoire du romantisme (1872), a valuable memoir of French Romanticism’s heady early years.
Lamartine is said to have brought Romanticism into French poetry with his Méditations poétiques (1820). Though in their phrasing and structure they are often traditional, these poems touched a generation of readers with their elegiac evocations of lost love, deep religious feeling, and affirmation of the high calling of poetry. Much of this “poetry of the heart” arose from his love affair with Julie Charles, who died about a year after they met. In “The Lake,” Lamartine draws from the ancient mode of pastoral elegy, which posits a sentient nature that mourns with the speaker over a lost beloved, but with none of the assurance of the classical elegists.
Amable Vouart began writing poetry at eleven years. She married Joseph Tastu, the editor of one of the journals where she published, when she was eighteen. Her first collection, Poésies (1826), was well received; a second came in 1835. After her husband died in 1849 she devoted herself to her son, living with him during his diplomatic assignments in Baghdad, Belgrade, and Alexandria. Despite these travels, Tastu was known as the “domestic Muse” for the modesty she displayed about her own gifts, but, as we may infer from the poem below, her deference to the sublime poetic “eagles” may be tinged with a critique of their seeming transcendence of common human woes. We might compare it with Karoline von Günderode’s “The Balloonist” (p. x).
Born into a high-ranking family in Karlsruhe, Karoline von Günderode entered a Protestant convent in Frankfurt at age seventeen. She was free to receive guests, and through the jurist and author Friedrich Karl von Savigny she met the Romantic circle around Clemens Brentano. Brentano’s sister Bettina von Arnim became her friend; Arnim later published Die Günderode (1840), a collection of letters between them, which was partly translated by the American writer Margaret Fuller (1842).
Desbordes-Valmore, actress and novelist as well as poet, was befriended by Lamartine, Vigny, and Hugo, and admired by Balzac and Baudelaire, but after her death she was nearly forgotten for a century. She is now appreciated especially for her honest encounters with the pains of love and family relationships.
The Irish have held Moore as their national bard much as the Scots have held Burns as theirs. Moore lived much longer, however, traveled much more widely (including to America), and had advantages Burns lacked, such as a university education and wealthy patrons (though he was sometimes in debt). Like Burns he took an interest in his country’s poetry and music, and in 1808 published his first selection of Irish Melodies, poems set to traditional tunes. This poem is one of them. In a later edition Moore adds a note explaining who Harmodius was: he and his lover Aristogiton slew the tyrant Hipparchus; they got close to him by hiding their swords in myrtle branches, symbols of love. Moore translated the Greek hymn in their honor, once attributed to Alcaeus.
Vigny was born near Tours into a noble family that had suffered under the Terror. After moving to Paris he was sent to a school where his classmates regularly beat him for having “de” in his name; he was then tutored at home. When Napoleon was defeated, Vigny fulfilled his family’s expectations and joined the Royal Guard, where he served ten years as a lieutenant. He was interested in literature as a boy, but it was his friendship with Victor Hugo beginning in 1820 that ignited his creative energies. A volume of Poèmes soon appeared; an historical novel Cinq-Mars (inspired by Walter Scott, whom he met in Paris) in 1826; then translations of several plays of Shakespeare; and finally, several plays of his own, of which one, Chatterton (1834), was a success on stage.
Bécquer, the pseudonym of Gustavo Adolfo Domínguez Bastida, was born in Seville, but lived his brief adult life in Madrid. His rimas, not published together until after his death (1871), are short, musical, often dreamlike meditations in simple diction on love and on poetry itself. They are still popular in the Spanish-speaking world, and several major poets, such as Darío and Alberti, have expressed their debt to him. The only poem we have space to include from the Spanish Romantic movement, which arrived late and remained only briefly, is this delicate little love poem.
For a time Sainte-Beuve was a member of the cénacle or circle around Victor Hugo, whom he revered as a poet. Despite Hugo’s encouragement (his poem “To my Friend S.-B.” may have backfired), Sainte-Beuve gave up his own poetry and turned to criticism; he was to become the most eminent critic of his day. He took an interest in Wordsworth, and enlisted the sonnet “Scorn not the sonnet” (p. x) in his own campaign to revive it in France.
Known for his incantatory longer poems, such as “The Raven,” and for his prose tales of mystery and horror, Poe in this early sonnet makes a familiar Romantic complaint against science for stripping away the beautiful myths of the past. Compare Yeats’ similar lament (p. x below). Some Romantics, however, such as Coleridge and Shelley, were intensely interested in the latest scientific research, and thought it bore out their own ideas about nature and the human mind’s connection with it.