Difference Between Romanticism and Neoclassicism

We all know that literature is a vast subject because it consists various ages, the popular and unpopular genres like poetry, drama and fiction of those periods, well-known and unknown writers and their works. All this needs to be looked at when studying literature. But, for our convenience, we will be concentrating on the genre of poetry and the major writers who contributed to neoclassicism and romanticism.

Neoclassicism (1660-1785)

What oft was thought, but never so well expressed ~ Alexander Pope

Neoclassicism emerged immediately after the restoration in 1660, covering a time span of about 140 years. “Neo” means new. The writers of this age were determined to bring something new, at the same time acquiring or carrying forward some of the classical traits because, they were influenced by the writers of the classic age. They turned especially towards Latin writers for inspiration and guidance. The influence and inspiration is prominently found in the writings of John Dryden and Alexander Pope. They also tried to imitate the French writers. Charles II, when he returned to England after his exile in France, brought new admiration for French literature. The French and Classical models were fused together to form a new type called the heroic play. This type was well represented in Dryden’s Tyrannic Love. Let us now try to grasp something from the above quotation by Alexander Pope. The quote is quite clear in expressing the presence of powerful thoughts in the neoclassic writers, but lacks proper execution. The words were lacking in their expression because their dependence on the classics had made these writers conservative. The Elizabethans were also inspired by the classics but, unlike the neoclassicals, they used the classical concepts liberally and joyously, molding the works according to their will. The school of Pope abandoned freedom altogether and came up with a set of rules based on the style of the classics.

Romanticism (1790-1830)

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility ~ William Wordsworth

Let me elaborate on the above famous quote by William Wordsworth so that it will be easier for you to distinguish between romanticism and neoclassicism. According to the romantic writers, poetry was created out of feelings and emotions and that too from a spontaneous flow of those feelings. His poem Daffodils is the best example to explain his views. One day he wandered lonely through a forest and saw a vast flower bed of daffodils. He watched them and felt joyous and happy and moved on. He came back home and relaxed on his couch. While he was relaxing with his eyes closed, the sight of the golden daffodils appeared in front of his eyes; the feelings and happy emotions of the daffodils started pouring into his mind in tranquility which flowed on to paper immediately. In the romantic era, emotions were regarded as higher than thought and reason. Wordsworth believed and reflected in his writings, the rustic life of the common man. He has expressed this thought in his Lyrical Ballads which was written in collaboration with S.T. Coleridge’s four poems. S.T. Coleridge also made crucial contribution to the romantic era. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the most noteworthy of the four poems contained in Lyrical Ballads. Other writers like Byron, Shelley and Keats also had a major share in blossoming the age.

Romanticism Vs. Neoclassicism

Romantic writers gave prominence to emotions and self experience.Neoclassic writers gave importance to thought and reason.
Poetry reflected personal feelings of the poet as it is spontaneous and not the man in action in the composition.In neoclassicism, poetry was the artful manipulation of real life happenings into a poetic composition portraying a fictional character.
They gave importance to poetic ‘I’, meaning the reader sees the poet in the protagonist.They gave importance to poetic ‘eye’ where the reader sees the other person through the poet’s eye.
Nature to a great extent, became a persistent subject of poetry.Human beings, as an integral part of the social organization, were the primary subject of poetry.
Less importance was given to diction and more to the language of common man.More importance was given to diction, focusing on vocabulary and grammar.

All the periods of English literature are the golden ages because each has its peculiarities and unique characteristics. I hope, I was able to help you in pointing out the major differences between romanticism and neoclassicism.

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