Thursday, February 2, 2006

Favorite Romantic Poets

Godsend and American Lit teacher Dana Huff asks after reading my previous post, "Who is your first (or second) favorite [Romantic poet], then?"

Hm, that's a tough one. It's always a toss-up between Wordsworth and Blake. When I was a junior in high school, I "discovered" Wordsworth. I'd been in English Lit all year and liked it well enough, but, up until we got to the Romantics, I actually missed American Lit. (I'd "discovered" Emerson the year before and was still high on "Self-Reliance.")

But then we got to Wordsworth. We read Blake first, and I liked him as well as I'd liked anything else. But when we read "Tintern Abbey" ... woo, boy. I was hooked. I couldn't get enough Wordsworth. The first two classes I signed up for in college were Shakespeare and Romantic Literature. The first class I signed up for in grad school was Early Romantic Writers. And in all the years in between, I read line after line of Wordsworth on my own--all of the Lyrical Ballads, the sonnets, The Prelude, The Recluse (OK, I didn't read The Recluse ... but I tried. I really did.)

I read so much Wordsworth that his lines just rattle around in my head now. When we went to Springer Mountain for New Years a few weeks ago, I stood at the summit overlooking the north Georgia hills, and thought so myself, "Five years have passed; five summers, with the length of five long winters ...." It's really kind of sad, the way Wordsworth still seems to narrate moments of my life.

So yes. I love Wordsworth. I think he gets a bad rap (I know very few people who are "into poetry" that actually like Wordsworth, and then there is that male chauvanist thing ...), but I can honestly say that his poetry was instrumental in my own development. I am who I am, in part, because of Wordsworth's poetry.

Wow. That sounded really sappy.

I was a late bloomer when it comes to Blake. I always liked Blake, but was never ga-ga over him ... until grad school. When I first started grad school, my primary interest was, of course, the poetry of the early Romantics. By the time I finished my first semester, I was poring through everything I could find on Blake, thinking about what aspect of Blake and his poetry I would focus on for my master's thesis. I had some fuzzy idea of Blake and C.G. Jung and archetypes which I don't really remember now ... once I switched from lit to Rhetoric and Composition, my focus changed.

So sometimes Wordsworth is my favorite poet, and sometimes Blake. Whenever I take the time to read either, I end up on a manic high for days, thinking silly Romantic thoughts like, "There is nothing--NOTHING!--more important in this world than poetry! Except maybe music! No, not even music! Poetry! Poetry! I would die for poetry!"

I know. It's silly and perhaps a little juvenile. I try to avoid public places when I get like that.

Keats is my third-favorite Romantic poet, but when I'm actually reading Keats, I wonder why I ever liked Wordsworth, or Blake, better than Keats. Reading Keats's poems is like having wine or honey poured all over me while bathing in the moonlight on a warm summer night. And what's more pleasurable than that? So generally, Keats will edge out Wordworth or Blake (whichever one happens to be in Spot #2).

The other three giants of English Romantic poetry are Coleridge, Byron, and Shelley. Coleridge probably holds spot #4 with me, though there are some passages in Byron that occasionally bump him up in the ranking. An oh, how his dark, delicious melancholy appealed to me when I was in my teens and twenties! I mean, does it really get better than this when you're a young, passionate, dark, and melancholy poet-type yourself??

In my youth's summer I did sing of One,
The wandering outlaw of his own dark mind;
Again I seize the theme then but begun,
And bear it with me, as the rushing wind
Bears the cloud onwards: in that Tale I find
The furrows of long thought, and dried-up tears,
Which, ebbing, leave a sterile track behind,
O'er which all heavily the journeying years
Plod the last sands of life,--where not a flower appears.

Then there's Shelley. I can't stand Shelley. I have tried so hard to like Shelley. In my Bibliography and Research Methods class in grad school, I made Shelley the subject of my big research project. I told my prof, "You know, there's something I'm not getting. It's not right for me, a Romantic poetry nut, to dislike Shelley. I'm going to do all this research on him, and read all the Shelley I can get my hands on, and figure out what I've been missing all this time." My prof nodded approvingly and said that yes, I would learn to love Shelley. I was certain that I would.

By the end of the project, I hated Shelley.

In "Later Romantic Writers" one semester later, I did final paper on Shelley's "Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills." I tried so hard. Perhaps I tried too hard. To this day, I simply cannot muster more than a mild appreciation for the poetry of Shelley. He just doesn't compare, for me, to the others.

So. To answer your question, Dana ... :)

(Oh, how I love to ramble and procrastinate. Time to go write a composition worksheet!)

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