Short Notes on Neo-Romanticism

The term Neo-Romanticism came to be associated with writers, musicians and artists who rejected the ideals of naturalism, realism and Avant-garde modernism because of their failure to fulfil the inescapable void of the modern era. Critics came to be closely associated with the movement demanding a new cultural orientation which was sensitive to the ‘soul’s longing to find meaning and content in life’ and seeking to replace the fragmentations of the modern society.

Much of the nineteenth and twentieth century saw a rapid encroachment by industrial forces and Britain metamorphosed from a feudal agrarian nation to a working class industrial country in a very short span of time. The idyllic nature which was celebrated by the Romantic poets and in the pastoral traditions was taken over by soporific factories and townships. The water was polluted and the air quality of cities such as London was not fit to breathe anymore. There was a gaping class divide and the poor and the destitute kept growing in number. Mechanized utilitarianism had become the fashion of the times, which took a heavy toll upon the masses. The living space grew more and more claustrophobic, both literally and figuratively. It was also the time when the world got to witness the aftermath of the absolute devastation caused by the two world wars. England had issued orders for compulsory conscription into the war and the public spirit was running at an all-time low.

The Neo-Romantic tradition can be seen as a reaction towards civilization and the chase after materialistic gains. The artists of this tradition believed in the talisman of nature – fresh, rejuvenating and original. The Neo- Romantics focused on the internal state of mind as opposed to the political concerns which drove the modern age. Poets of this tradition more often than not, wanted to distance themselves from the social problems and turn their gaze towards the pristine and powerful imagery of nature. The use of different figure of speech was employed by the poets to appeal to the senses of the readers. Metaphysics and religion became more interesting, and the belief in mankind elevating itself from the modernist crisis seemed to grow. The cycle of life and death was also celebrated by the poets of this tradition who believed death to be merely the precedent for new life and regeneration. Nature possessed the qualities and the power of both life and death which was evident in her functioning.

Neo-Romantic poetry does not pertain to any specific and staunch thematic pattern, but the general viewpoint, attitude, and style of the poet could be virtually about anything. It is a poetical tradition which seeks freedom from the self. Neo-Romanticism was a major poetic movement in the post-war 1940s Britain and was populated by many notable poets like Dylan Thomas, George Barker, W. S. Graham, Kathleen Raine, Henry Treece and J. F. Hendry.

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The Neo-Romantic phase roughly started around 1840 and lasted till the first half of the twentieth century. The poetry grew more personal, lyrical, and intimate, with poets often composing lyrics depicting young love and the beauty of Mother Nature. Their admiration for nature was such that the poets encountered pressing issues regarding their mortality. Many poets and authors, including Dylan Thomas, used the imagery of death which always seemed to be a lurking presence in the human life. Death was also a major theme into which the Romantic poets like Percy Shelley, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge delved into in their writings.

The Neo-Romantic movement of the early twentieth century represents the inheriting of the Romantic traditions by new authors and poets but also reflects upon the transforming social, political and intellectual contexts of modernism. According to M.H. Abrams, ‘Romanticism drastically altered perspective on man and nature and human life,’ it is through this exploration that they (Neo-Romantic movement) ‘continue to embody Romantic innovations in ideas and design’.

It is, therefore, possible to comment that though poets of the Neo- Romantic movement constantly tried to find solace’ which Wordsworth and Shelly talked about in their poems, they could also never actually break free from their mind’s preoccupation with the death which was a formidable/chain’ of a material understanding of human existence.



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