When one reflects on the Romantic Movement in literature, it is assumed to be flourishing with themes of love and overbearing descriptions of nature. However, for the poets and writers in this era, their writings include more than just pretty words. Themes of this Era include darker premises that most would not often associate as being romantic. Death, being a very obvious and common theme with every romantic poet. From the loss of innocence in Blakes ballads to Mary Shelleys heartbreaking curse in The Mortal Immortal, death is a strong, emphatic, impactful subject matter. Death is a unique topic, in that there is no one particular view on death. Each author has their own view on death, dying, leaving this world and going onto the next, or maybe just decaying into the dust, cold and forgotten.
There are many different views on death in Romantic literature especially. This is a time when society was exploring more, discovering more, and thinking more. New inventions were used. New types of writing became popular. And more concepts of life and death were pondered. Some Romantic poems focus on deaths appeal to peoples emotions and imagination. Because death has such a strong impact on the living, Romanticism sought to explore it. For example, William Blake wrote a beautiful poem called The Chimney Sweeper. This is pertaining to the poem from his book The Songs of Innocence. The poem is about a young boy, who is a chimney sweeper, named Tom. In Tom’s dream, he sees his fellow sweepers in coffins. This might remind us that these kids face an early death, but it also shows us that in many ways, they’re dead already. Blake uses irony by showing they’ve lost their childhood, their freedom, and their innocence. According to Blake, the chimney-sweeping life is no life at all. Blake portrays death as it appeals to the little boys emotions and imagination. His view on death is imaginative, optimistic, and innocent. Then naked & white, all their bags left behind/ They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind. And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy, He’d have God for his father & never want joy.
The appeal to emotion and imagination is only one way the Romantic poets viewed death. Another common way was by emphasizing and expressing life. John Keatss Ode to a Nightingale truly has this technique. In the poem, the speaker knows he is aging, and that death is coming, thus he expresses life and the beauty of the nature around him. Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! /No hungry generations tread thee down/ The voice I hear this passing night was heard/ In ancient days by emperor and clown Keats wrote this poem after his brother died. Yet, he expresses the tasting of the flora, a description of a gorgeous glass of wine, flowers, incense, pastoral eglantine all these things emphasize the beauty of nature, and the narrator is ecstatic to be alive, experiencing all of it.
Death was a common and intriguing subject in the literary world during the 1700s and 1800s. The Romantic Era brought new and fascinating views on death. In literature, poets appealed to emotion and imagination, the expression of life, and new beginnings when writing about death. Romantic poets such as William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Percy Shelley truly capture death in these lights. The common topic of this time period is not only a creative one, but also thought-provoking and exciting.