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Romanticism in The Poetry of William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley

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The idea of Romanticism has changed over many years as mentioned by Jerome McGann in his work Rethinking Romanticism by stating that ‘The contrast of Romanticism that dominated 1945-80 seemed to be equally startling.’ Thus the concept of Romanticism is a prevalent idea in William Wordsworth’s “She Dwelt Among The Untrodden Ways” and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind.” However, in ‘She Dwelt Among The Untrodden Ways’ the romance aspect of the piece is clear and focused throughout the entire poem. Thus, making it a better representation of the idea of Romanticism. Before we begin analyzing these poems it is important to understand the aspects of Romanticism. Romanticism is a concept based and driven by creative ideas about strong feelings of nature and humanity. This concept set an innovative notion about the way poets thought about such ideas.

There are various ideas that make Wordsworth’s ‘She Dwelt Among The Untrodden Ways’ a clear idea of Romanticism as it reflects a young woman’s life in solitude as she left an impression on the narrator in life. A number of Romantic ideas can be found at the beginning of the poem. For instance, in the second stanza, Wordsworth begins by describing her and his thought of her by comparing her to a violet hidden by a mossy stone as he also stated how she was ‘fair as a star, when only one, is shining in the sky'(Wordsworth 7-8). From this idea, it is clear that despite the few people that noted her existence and the isolation aspect of her life, she had a good personality and such a rare light about her that made her special to the narrator. The Romantic ideal is found through the creativity of the narrator’s comparisons as comparing her to a violet hidden by a moss highlights this idea of the narrator’s feelings towards her because simply stating how great she was in simple words such as ‘beautiful’ or ‘amazing’ was not enough to fulfill his image of her.

In the last stanza, Wordsworth states that ‘She lived unknown, and few could know, When Lucy ceased to be;’ from these stanzas the reader has know discover the name if this woman the narrator has been speaking of and since few people knew Lucy personally, it is understood that no one really paid attention to her death. A slight change from the simple description the narrator was first giving of Lucy to now as it has turned into the personal feelings of the narrator, that can be found in glimpses as we close in on the final two lines of the last stanza as Wordsworth states ‘But she is in her grave, and, oh, The difference to me!.’With this stanza, the reader understands the meaning of the poem the narrator is trying to convey. Even though not a lot of people cared about Lucy when she was alive and now dead, her death made a difference to the narrator and he notices a difference now that she is no longer there.

Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ is describing the narrator’s thoughts of the process of nature as well as asking the wind to preserve and convey his thoughts across the minds of humanity. In the first three lines of the first stanza, the narrator begins by talking to the presence of the wind on an Autumn day ‘O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead, Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.’ (Shelley 1-3) The language that the narrator uses in this stanza states gives a view of the narrator’s thoughts toward the wind itself. As he compares the wind to a ghost and the leaves as an enchanter fleeing interprets into the imagery of the reader. Romantic instances can be found in this stanza but the reader mainly gets the imagery of nature. For readers who do not make a close analysis of what the narrator’s message is it can be difficult to understand the concept that the narrator is trying to convey. As mentioned in William Van O’Connor in the Sewanee review as he states’ It is conceptual through which each abstract statement is played off against a concrete figure.’ Thus, the idea of the abstractness of the language that Shelley uses in the poem begins to come into reference.

In the seventh line of the fifth stanza, Shelley states ‘Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!'(Shelly 7-8) and in the next few lines ‘Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth, Ashes, and sparks, my words among mankind!, Be through my lips to unawakened earth.’ The romantic idea of these lines can be discovered in the narrators deep connection to nature but the abstract language in this poem, is difficult to understand, as the reader make a closer analyzation of the meaning to understand that the narrator’s conversation with the wind has gone into a deeper aspect as now the narrator is asking the wind to carry his thought across the universe so that all of mankind can be affected by his words.

In essence, both of these poets relayed the idea of Romanticism in these poems but the ideas in Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ come across as more abstract because the message that the narrator is trying to convey does not come quickly to the mind so the reader may have to search for the true meaning which does not lessen the value or ideas of Shelley’s poem. However, since the message that the narrator is trying to convey might be lost in the abstractness of the poem, it makes it harder to get the full idea of Romanticism. Only half the story is told when the reader only reads and does not obtain the true meaning of the poem, making Wordsworth’s ‘ She Dwelt Among The Untrodden Ways’ a better representation of Romanticism as its meaning is clearly displayed.

Works Cited

  1. Byron, Lord ‘She Walks in Beauty’ Lord Byron (George Gordon) – Assorted Poems, 1815
  2. Mcgann, Jerome. ‘Rethinking Romanticism.’ ELH, vol. 59, no. 3, 1992, pp. 735–754. JSTOR,
  3. Van O’Connor, William. ‘Tension and Structure of Poetry.’ The Sewanee Review, vol. 51, no. 4, 1943, pp. 555–573. JSTOR,
  4. Shelley, Percy.’Ode to the West Wind’ -Assorted Poems, 1815  

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Romanticism In The Poetry Of William Wordsworth And Percy Shelley. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from
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