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Nostalgia

Urban poetryThe Westminster Bridge featured in Wordsworth’s poem, 1802.
Nostalgia for previous times is one of the most notable characteristics of Romantic poetry, which is, in large part, why this work is associated with nature. Modernity and the advent of city life were things many of Romantic poets seemed to detest. This trait is most apparent in the work of William Wordsworth, who often presented pastoral settings in his poetry. In his poem “Michael,” a young man leaves his home in the peaceful mountains for the city and is permanently corrupted. In his famous preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth, regarding modern urban life, lamented, “…the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies.” For Wordsworth, the city was a place that excited the mind far too much and dulled one’s ability to think clearly and purely. This point of view conveys nostalgia for the times in which society was less centered around urban life. The distractions and spectacles inherent in urban life reduced peoples’ ability to focus on the metaphysical meaning of the world around them, and left them unable to be moved by the simple and calming influence of nature. This preface has much to do with the perception of the Romantics as primarily opposed to the city.

A sense of longing for the past can also be perceived in the work of Percy Bysshe Shelly. He was particularly involved with the idea of radical political reform and often used images of the natural world as metaphors for change. In “Ode to the West Wind,” he presents the wind as a natural force with transcendental properties, allowing the reader to see how the force of the wind runs parallel to the idea of agents of change. In order to consider the tyrannical nature of his government, he uses pre-modern Greek mythology in his play Prometheus Unbound. He also uses the past to consider the impermanent nature of societies; in “Ozymandias,” he presents the ruins of a fallen empire of which nothing is left but a statue. Overall, an interest in the ancient world is discernable in many Romantic poems, as many of the poets use language in their poetry that was, at the time, archaic. The investment in the ancient world in these works illustrates that many Romantic poets were nostalgic for the pre-modern times in which society was not so centered around urbanization.

Brandon Haynes






Select Bibliography

Goodman, Kevis. “Romantic Poetry and the Science of Nostalgia.” The Cambridge Companion to British Romantic
      Poetry
. Eds. James Chandler and Maureen N. McLane. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 195 -
      217.

Wordsworth, William. Preface to Lyrical Ballads. Critical Theory Since Plato. Eds. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle.
     New York: Thomason Wadsworth, 2005.