The Romantic sonnet holds in its topics the ideals of the time period, concentrating on emotion, nature, and the expression of “nothing. ” The Romantic era was one that focused on the commonality of humankind and, while using emotion and nature, the poets and their works shed light on people’s universal natures. In Charlotte Smith’s “Sonnet XII – Written on the Sea Shore,” the speaker of the poem embodies two important aspects of Romantic work in relating his or her personal feelings and emotions and also in having a focused and detailed natural setting.
The speaker takes his or her “solitary seat” near the shore of a stormy sea and reflects upon life and the “wild gloomy scene” that suits the “mournful temper” of his or her soul (ll. 4, 7,8). While much Romantic writing dealt with love and the struggles endured due to love, there was also emphasis placed on isolation, as seen in the emotions of Smith’s speaker and also in the setting on the work. Nature, in many Romantic sonnets, is in direct parallel with the emotions being conveyed.
Smith, for example, uses the water to aid the reader’s comprehension of the speaker’s state of mind. Included in this traditional natural setting is the use of the sea as stormy, deep, extensive, and dark which ties the speaker in with the setting as the scene applies to the tone of the poem as well. Also characteristic of the Romantic sonnet is the retreat from the neo-classical age and its significant historical references into a new age where it becomes common to speak of “nothing.
In William Wordsworth’s “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,” there is no deeper meaning to be grasped other than the beauty of the day’s dawning. The speaker’s iew of the morning and its “majesty” and the “calm” that comes over the speaker are central ideas in the poem (ll. 3, 11). In this sonnet, it is again apparent how influential and prevalent nature is. The reflection upon simplicity runs through many works and is seen quite evidently in William Blake’s Songs of Innocence.
In these poems, there is much mention of children, whose lives, ideally, should be the most simple. Also included in this simplicity are the innocence of the children and the simplicity of the tone, metaphors, and images in the works. In Blake’s “The School Boy,” the character of the poem is a young boy whose joy in life should be rising on a summer morning when the birds are singing and when he, in his happiness, can sing with them. Here, there is simplicity in the pleasure of the child and also in the life of the child himself.
The boy’s biggest problem in his life is having to go to school and having to curb his “youthful spring,” which Blake compares to the cutting of a plant’s blossoms (l. 20). In this poem, the simplicity and the innocence are not only key factors, but they are desired factors as well. The speaker notes that these tender plants will not fare well if they are not cared for in the springtime; in other words, the child will suffocate and cease to bloom if not left to be innocent and to just be a child. The innocence and the simplicity must be nurtured.
William Wordsworth’s “Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower” is an example of a poem using simplicity in its construction more than in its content. In this work, a little girl is being compared to a flower and this simple metaphor shadows the reality of the child’s death. The imagery in this poem is also simple in many places; the natural magery of clouds, stars, flowers, animals and landscape is, again, contrary to the temper of the poem. The simplicity in this poem, like the Blake poem, is related to the ideal situation of the child.
The images of the flower and the fawn come in relation to her life after her death and it is here that Nature feels she will be happiest, most innocent, and most like a child should be. As the Romantic movement saw the gradual change from a focus on the past to a focus on the present and the commonality of all humans, it is of perfect sense that the institution of slavery be reflected upon in some works from the eriod. Among others, William Cowper wrote with great sentiment regarding the injustice of slavery.
In his “On Slavery (Book II),” Cowper gives his personal feelings regarding slavery and condition of human nature that could cause such a wrong. Like many poets of the time, Cowper felt that the brotherhood of humanity should run through the hearts and the souls of everyone, and in this instant, the equality of all humankind should be felt. Instead, he notes that “There is no flesh in man’s obdurate heart – / It does not feel for man” (l. 8,9). He also credits the empowerment of the white over the black as an ccident, almost, that resulted primarily from the white man being capable of this domination.
As Romanticism concentrates largely on matters of the heart and other emotions, the notion that slavery came from the white man’s opportunity and false reason clearly negates what it is that romantics praised. England’s outlaw of slavery did not come until 1807 and the works, as they got closer to this date, became more and more vehement regarding the issue. Ann Yearsley was another poet who wrote on the inhumanity of slavery, but she focused on the slave trade itself.
In her “A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade,” Yearsley gives slavery a more personal touch by giving the audience the character of a slave boy, Luco. Like Cowper, there is a concentration on the emotion (or lack thereof) when dealing with slavery. For Luco, “Hope fled his soul he resolved to die” (l. 242, 243). Yearsley incorporates another romantic instrument when she presents the audience with Luco who , like them, has things like parents and hardships and emotions. In pointing out that Luco and the reader have much in common, Yearsley places even more attention on the commonality of all humankind.