The poetry we’ll read in this seminar was written against the background of momentous social, political and economic transformation. Alternately inspired by and aghast at these transformations, Romantic writers undertook an ambitious project to expand and redefine poetry and what it means to be a poet. Beyond inventing new poetic genres, styles, and theories of poetry, these authors envisioned nothing less than a thoroughgoing reevaluation of the writer’s vocation in the modern world. To write (and to read) was to be part of a world-making, potentially world-changing enterprise – as potentially efficacious in changing the world as the historical and political events to which their poetry responded.
Our reading will focus on the work of two friends and collaborators, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and that of William’s sister Dorothy. Along the way we’ll encounter a colorful secondary cast of poets, radicals, philosophers, and scientists. We will also read some later poetry and prose (Lord Byron’s Don Juan, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater) that revisits the poetry and ideas of the previous generation with irony, remorse, or humor.