Monday, January 21, 2013

Bad Romantic Poetry

My Modernism and Naturalism (American Literature) professor read bad poetry to us in class today. He was giving us an example of what many of the poems looked like at the tail end of the Romantic Period to smooth the way for Miss Emily Dickinson.*

For those of you who don't know, the American Romantic Period (1830-1865) was marked by sensibility, passionate adoration for nature and "natural man," and a strange fixation with the Middle Ages. You thought people dressing up in cloaks and chain mail and reenacting tournaments was a modern thing? Nope. People were doing it in 1850 too.

modern people cloaks
Awkwardly Modern Looking People in Cloaks

Anyway, they were all about nymphs and how marvelously peaceful being dead would be and were, to quote my professor, "about a millionth of an inch deep" and badly rhymed. Unfortunately, I can't post this awesomeness for you to read for yourselves right now. They are so epically bad they have not been preserved on the Internet. I will have to ask my professor for copy and then transcribe them for you. They really were wonderful.

While listening to my professor reading these poems (one of which was published in Edgar Allen Poe's literary magazine--How did something like that get past him???), I had a mini epiphany about what people mean when they say "books with heart." These poems had all the sincerity of tofu bacon.

There is a reason these poems didn't survive to be honored as part of the regular curriculum. They were forced, insincere and shallow. I believe my professor whipped out the word "trite" at some point. Ouch.

I feel like I have read a story or two like that recently.


They were both mine, but I hope think other people have this problem sometimes too.

The moral of bad Romantic poetry:

Tell your truth as slant as you like, but for God's sake, tell it somehow. 

*An amusing side note: there is a girl in my class named Emily Dickinson. I always have the strange urge to adopt an English accent and call her "Miss Dickinson." She must have had cruel parents.


  1. Some parents...

    I met a kid named Spencer Tracy once. I thought, if your last name is Tracy, why would you name your kid Spencer?

  2. Poetry or not, I think forced, insincere and shallow pretty much never work. :)

    Maybe her parents wanted people to never forget her name. ;)

  3. Well, Anne Hathaway hasn't done too badly.

  4. hahaha poor girl. lol

    But yeah, I oddly love the romantic period. I always am surprised it continued to go after the carnage and destruction of the Civil War. I love Edgar Allan Poe. :D

  5. I would have never guessed that the poetry for this period would have been so bad. Interesting!

    1. It's not all bad. A lot of it is wonderful. Think Byron, Shelley, and Keats. They poets that make it into the curriculum are the cream of the crop. The poems we read were from poets no one bothered to remember because their poems were bad. While being bad, they accurately (and blatantly) reflected the cliches of the era.

    2. Let me point out that Byron, Shelley, Keats are English poets who influenced the later American Romantic Period. Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Longfellow, and Whitman are examples of American who joined the Romantic Party.

  6. I think you mean the pre-Raphaelites, a literary/artistic movement that began in 1848. The Romantic period is generally dated from the late eighteenth century to about 1840. Some of the most famous Romantic poets are Blake (1757-1827), Byron (1788-1824), Coleridge (1722-1834), Keats (1795-1821), Shelley (1792-1822), and Wordsworth (1770-1850), who were all dead by the time you’re stating their movement had just started. The Romantics were heavily focused on nature, but the death and Medieval fixations were not their cup of absinthe; those themes emerged later. Incidentally, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was not a Romantic and was also American, so addressing her namesake in an English accent might cause some confusion. Slogging through some of the pre-Raphaelite work is like trying to build a sand castle out of maple syrup, but a lot of the Romantic material is quite good. Great blog though, thanks for taking the time to create and share it.

    Here’s a quote from one of the Romantics you might appreciate:
    ‘Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange,
 Stranger than fiction.
    Lord Byron, Don Juan (1818-24), Canto XIV, Stanza 101.

    1. Thank you, Kathryn, for your close reading of my post. You are right. My dates were incorrect. It was a transcriptional error. I've since fixed them.

      Now let me clarify. I was referring to the Romantic Period in American Literature (aka The American Renaissance). To my knowledge, Byron, Keats, and Shelley all had a profound influence on that era in American Literary History. Perhaps I should have found more American Romantics to allude to besides Emily Dickinson (who was indeed an American and an American Romantic) and Edgar Allen Poe.

      My urge to address Miss Dickinson in an English accent has nothing to do with the nationality of the original Emily Dickinson. Miss Dickinson maintains that she was not NOT named after the famous poet.

      It doesn't stop me wanting to call her "Miss Dickinson" in an English accent. Sometimes I'm just weird that way.

    2. And thank you for the quote. I like that one ;)

    3. Yeah, I think the crucial detail was that she's in an *American* Modernism and Naturalism class.