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The Difference Between Augustanism and Romanticism

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Alexander Pope’s poems ‘An Essay on Criticism’ and ‘Windsor Forest – To the Right Honourable George Lord Landsdowe’ compared with the critical extract of William Wordsworth’s Preface ‘Poems Volumes 1’ creates a basis in which one can demonstrate the difference between Augustanism and Romanticism. Pope was regarded as ‘one of the primary taste makers of the Augustan Age’ whose works appraised the work of Augustan Age writers such as: Horace, Ovid and Virgil. Whereas Wordsworth was a primary influence in the launch of Romanticism in literature through the joint publication of ‘Lyrical Ballads’ with Samuel Coleridge. This essay will first define both movements, providing historical context to analyze both movements separately. It will then discuss Augustan conformity and taste with Romanticism and its individualistic style. And, by comparing Wordsworth’s Poem ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour’ and Pope’s ‘Windsor Forest’ this essay can compare their use of nature and place in their respective literary movements, and the poetic form that naturally follows.

Augustanism was a literary period dating approximately from 1700-1745, reacting against the lack of discipline of Renaissance poetry, which had an excessive aptitude for innovation – rather than understanding that ‘many of the important genres of this period were adaptations of classical forms: mock epic, translation, and imitation’ with Pope explicitly imitating Horace, mirroring his ‘informal candor and conversational tone, and applying the standards of the original Augustan Age to his own time, even addressing George II satirically as “Augustus.’ Notably, the availability of literacy, the relatively low printing cost expanded the readership through social, class and economic backgrounds. Emergence of coffee houses where people discussed literature, recognizing the importance of literature in the public sphere. Rapid improvement within science and medicine began to replace the religious understanding of the world, encouraging a rational and intellectual mind-set. Thus, contrasting with Romanticism, and what it valorizes within its movement. Unlike Augustanism that favors a communal understanding of society and politics, Romanticism focuses on: interiority, deep thoughts and individual emotion. One could argue that poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge created a more accessible form of through breaking traditions. Those traditions are found in Pope’s poetry, with structured and applausive literature dedicated to classical Augustan Age literature. Romanticism aims to avoid using allusions, which restrict the readership to the highly educated. Wordsworth states this his Preface that he ‘[chose] incidents and situations from common life and to relate or describe them, in a selection of language really used by men’ underlining his purpose of creating a poetry that reflects verity, and the beauty in the complexity of nature.

Furthermore, ideas of Augustan conformity versus a Romanticist’s individualistic viewpoint is shown through Pope’s ‘An Essay on A Criticism’ and in Wordsworth’s preface. The Romanticist’s ability to create poetry that can be fully comprehended by anyone who reads it, with a stress on the verisimilitude found in life and nature, means that Romanticism is ultimately most accessible than Augustan literature, and its allusiveness. Augustan literature is littered with classical allusions, such as in Pope’s poem ‘An Essay on Criticism’ focusing on what constitutes bad poetry and criticism. He begins to discuss attributes of bad writers and taste. He alludes to Horace’s Epistles on lines 67-8 ‘Would all but stoop to what they understand / First follow Nature, and your judgment frame.’ Strengthening his own belief of following the rules in the creation of good writing and taste. The Augustan age was believed to be a golden age of Classical Rome, omitting a superiority and complexity in language that can only be achieved through ‘a set of skills which, although it requires innate talents, must be perfected by long study and practice’ A strong belief in order, structure and acknowledgement of the classics is they only way in which one can create great poetry in the viewpoint of Augustanism. In Juxtaposition, Romanticists like Wordsworth are focused on the sensuality of nature, and its synergy with the mind. For example, Wordsworth states that ‘we shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a nature and in such connection with each other…[we] be in some degree enlightened, and his affections ameliorated.’ Suggesting that our feelings are directed by our thoughts and understanding connection with nature creates an enlightenment and amelioration within the self. Romanticists have a personal response that is self-created, rather than a communal understanding the Augustan literature like Pope’s ‘Essay on Criticism’ encourages. Pope’s concern of the literary commerce, and the spread of bad writing and criticism is entirely different to Wordsworth’s intentions for his poetry, with emotion and feeling as central focus. He also criticizes modern writing for its preoccupation with what he calls ‘a craving for extraordinary incident’, condemning ‘frantic novels’ similar to that of Pope.

Another major difference between both Augustanism and Romanticism in relation to Pope and Wordsworth is the use of place in Pope’s poem ‘Windsor Forest’ and Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’. Pope makes nature act as a metaphor for the emergence of industry, with technology and the printing press rapidly improving ‘Here Ceres’ gifts in waving prospect stand/…Rich Industry sits smiling on the plains’. Pope argues that nature and politics combine, and the effects of the political stability as a result of a Queen Anne’s reign. Afterwards, alludes to tyrants such as William the Conqueror’s destruction of the New Forest, littering lines 50-65 with predatory, war and animalistic qualities of the tyranny that existed such as ‘his prey was a man/…And makes his trembling slayes the royal game’. Windsor Forest acts as both a visual representation of; the history of political instability, its current peaceful reign, and the potential for more future prosperity – he shows this in the apostrophe to peace ‘Augusta’s glittering spires increase/ And temples rise, the beauteous works of peace’ suggesting that power will only come from peace, rather than the tyranny that was used in the past. Anne’s reign restored the balance of nature, representing a new era of political stability, which is then furthered by alluding to Mount Olympus – making Windsor Forest into a classical paradise. On the other hand, Romanticism stresses the importance of the mind and nature, and as Wordsworth describes this as ‘passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.’ Taking Wordsworth’s poem ‘Tintern Abbey’ as an example of place to compare to Pope’s ‘Windsor Forest’ we can see the difference in use of nature in both literary movements. In Wordsworth’s poem, he discusses an individual response to nature. Entirely contrasts to Pope’s use of nature, as Windsor Forest simply acts as a metaphor for the tyranny that existed, and the peace that can be achieved in the future. Wordsworth furthers the beauty in nature in ‘Tintern Abbey ’with ‘These forms of beauty have not been to me/ As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:’ but rather, nature being a spiritual guidance, instead of God. Both writers recognize the significance of nature, but Pope has an almost sociological and communal purpose for nature, compared to Wordsworth’s individual response to nature’s complexities, and its importance in the development of the human mind.

Naturally, both Romanticism and Augustanism follow their own conventions when it comes to form in their poetry. Pope’s ‘Windsor Forest’ adheres to the dominant poetic form in this period – the heroic couplet with an iambic pentameter rhyming scheme. A strong example of this is Pope’s reference to Discors Concordia ‘Not chaos-like together crushed and bruised, / But, as the world, harmoniously confused’ The use of complex language, with classical allusions, paints beautiful imagery that flatter his readership. You could argue that the use of heroic couplets, paired with classical allusions only distances the reader from the poet, or rather, only the highly educated can fully understand his poetry. Another example of this is ‘Here too, ‘tis sung, of old Diana strayed, / And Cynthus’ top forsook for Windsor Shade’ where Pope compares Queen Anne to the goddess of the moon, Dianna, which glorifies Anne’s reign of Britain. Form and language plays an important part in strengthening Pope’s points, rather than Wordsworth, whom attempts to illicit an emotive and individual response from the reader. Romantic form avoids the rigidity of the Neo-classical form, with a poetry that emulates the spontaneity and innovation in natural speech. Wordsworth follows Romanticism’s conventions by using Blank verse – and an unrhymed iambic pentameter to achieve this. Wordsworth argued that this disrupts and slows down the reading process, encouraging his readership to pause and stress the final syllables of each line, and then pause bringing out the ‘passion’ of the poem’s subject and sound. Wordsworth states that ‘[to] speak a plainer and more emphatic language…may be more accurately contemplated, and more forcibly communicated’ suggesting that for Wordsworth, form, narration and its accessibility in its ease of reading, are ultimately the driving force for the success of their poetry. Establishing the idea that form, conformity and narration all create good poetry. Whereas for Pope, structure and acknowledgment of the classics produces successful poetry.

Pope’s poems ‘An Essay on Criticism’ and ‘Windsor Forest’ reflect Augustan literature through its discussion of taste, conformity to the Augustan Age literature, structure and allusiveness. This juxtaposed with Romantic literature, favoring the response of a free, individualized poetry, avoiding classical literature. Wordsworth’s aims of using real situations that is easily relatable, with vivid descriptions and imagery, and the stress on the importance of nature in the development of the human mind – all of which, allow there to be an accessibility that isn’t found in the same way Augustan literature. Pope’s poetry only favors an elite society, only those with extensive education and awareness of classical literature can appreciate the meticulous poetry of Alexander Pope; and his ability to articulate, satirize and voice his comments on society and politics. His imitation of Horace adds flair to his work which allowed him to be a part of the literary commerce, permitting him to speak with authority, mirroring that same authority found in the classics. Despite Romanticism avoiding these references, it achieves a different purpose, of evoking a human response only created because of the synergy between humanity and nature. It may appear to be an adolescent and immature mind set, but once could argue that the modernity of neoclassicism creates a dogmatic and arrogant society, but undeniably, a product a more educated society full of literary discussion. Or in the case of the Romanticism movement, the encouragement of striving towards a harmonious society that understands the importance of nature and its driving effects on humanity.

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