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How did the social upheaval of the French Revolution influence the beliefs of the romantic poets Essay Sample

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How did the social upheaval of the French Revolution influence the beliefs of the romantic poets Essay Sample

The Romantic Movement was first established in Europe around 1770. A group of writers and artists noticed that the natural beauty of the Earth was no longer being appreciated, and that man made things and the rewards that had been introduced with the ‘Industrial Revolution’ in the late 18th century, were the only acknowledged and talked about topics. At this time, a democratical view was hard to find, and the poor got poorer, whereas the rich got richer. So, two authors known as Jean Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Paine wrote about how every man should be equal and liable to freedom.

This quickly swept through all areas of European society. And as a result, more authors and artists joined the ranks to speak out to the mass clergy, to revolt against the minor nobility. Some of these romantic artists and writers were William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley. So, obviously when these men realised a French Revolution was developing in 1789, with the slogan ‘Equality, Liberty, Fraternity’ every one of these men felt inspired to keep pushing their view until they had won, and regained what they believed in, Democracy, Freedom, Nature, Beauty and Equality between men.

As a result in 1789, the French stormed the Bastille to release political prisoners, this attracted more strong support and was seen as the ‘first move’ towards self-government. However, as a result there was violence, extremism and bloodshed as the aristocracy was massacred. Although, the threat of the aristocracy was gone, the initial hope led to despair as Napoleon, with the military power behind him, elected himself Emperor and Dictator. Therefore, society was back to stage one being dictated to once more, ironically society was in a ‘Pandora’s box’ predicament.

Therefore, if you look at poems and art of this era you can see the line of how jubilation slowly turned to despair reflecting society’s view. William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ reveal many of the early revolutionary ideas. For instance, ‘The Lamb’ is used to portray a sense of positivity, joy and that childhood is a pure, unspoilt state. If you look past the literal meaning of the poem you can see that the Lamb the child in the poem is talking to is in fact, Jesus Christ. We know this because in the poem it says “He is called by thy name, for he called himself a lamb” and Jesus Christ is often represented as a lamb.

It also seems in the poem the child is represented as being naive and innocent, this seems to reflect society’s initial preconceptions of the revolution. It seems in the poem William Blake wants to stress this idea that children often ask a lot of naive questions and so he keeps repeating the line” who made thee” in the poem. This use of repetition clearly shows the reader that one of the main aims of the poem was to show the naivety of the child, and therefore show the naivety of how everyone believed the revolution would succeed.

This is where Blake established the idea to name his first collection of poetry ‘Songs of Innocence. ‘ If you study the poem you can see how Blake wanted to represent the naivety of the child and how it is asking such a simple, yet massive question ‘ who made us? ‘ ‘Where are we from? The idealistic optimistic feeling that you receive from the poem shows the hope that society initially felt, and how they were asking for something so simple as a democracy, yet this was so complicated to achieve.

A poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge called ‘France: An Ode’ gave a summary of the French Revolution from start to finish. In the first half of the poem it shows the initial passion and optimism previous to the revolution, yet in the second half it shows the disillusionment and negativity after the revolution. If you study the first two stanzas in the poem, the poet has used personification and imagery to present nature as the Romantic’s strong military power. This was something that they strongly believed in. In the first stanza it say’s “Ye clouds!

That fare above me float and pause, which’s pathless march no mortal may control! ” this is basically saying that this natural army cannot be defeated by any man. He has used personification to present nature as a dominating force, which nothing will stop from achieving its goal. Throughout this first stanza the poet seems strongly pre-occupied by nature, and how nature, freedom and equality would triumph. He uses it a lot of imagery for example, “rising sun” and “unconquerable sound” this gives an image of how nature is unbeatable.

During the second stanza he used more of the same poetical devices to show how France took a stand against the social structure, the monarchy and the aristocracy. Firstly is the line “When France in wrath her giant limbs upreared”, this shows how France revolted, also by using words like ‘limbs’ and ‘upreared’ it gives a great image of a horse in anger, this represents France’s actions, and how they overcame their enemy. Secondly, he uses the line “Stamped her strong foot” and said “she would be free”.

Once again he uses personification and imagery to portray visually France revolting as if it was someone who had had enough of being treated poorly and is taking a stand for themselves, as France in the poem represents the people of France. ‘Bastille: A Vision’ explores how the Bastille was a symbol of how corrupt the political system was at the time. The poet Helen Maria Williams decided to use metaphors and brutal imagery to give the audience a realisation of the squalid conditions and terror that the political prisoners lived in.

She does this to give a poor view of the French aristocracy. For example, immediately the reader is struck with words like ‘Abyss’ and ‘annihilates’ to affect the reader on an emotional level, and strongly show them how brutal the prison was. She also uses phrases like “Abyss, where mercy never came”, this shows how heartless they were against these prisoners and helps the reader dwell on the terror of the concept. She also shows the different emotions the men would feel.

The phrases “annihilates the mind” and “terrific visions hover near” show how they would begin to lose their sanity and start hallucinating through the torture they were receiving. Throughout the end of the poem she uses the same effects to show the joy they felt once they were freed. She uses the phrase “with natures execrations hurl’d and charm an emulating world” this shows how nature had defeated them and the joy and freedom these men felt, once again this was something the romantic poets strongly believed in, and so this would have influenced their work.

Although these poems do reveal the hope and confidence at the start of the revolution they also go onto show that the revolution did not deliver, what it had promised. If you refer back to ‘France: An Ode’ in stanza three, it shows the disillusionment of society after the revolution. It states “The sun was rising, though ye hid his light”, this gives the impression that although they had achieved their goal, the final outcome wasn’t what they had bargained for. Once again the poet uses nature to show this.

It seems this was the turning point in the revolution, where although the aristocracy was defeated, a democracy was not won and through all the violence France was affected in a negative way. Coleridge refers to this by writing “When France her front deep-scarred and gory” this also shows how France was left looking unpleasant, and how society was scarred from the revolution. William Blake’s increasing awareness of the social injustices of his time led to the production of the ‘Songs of Experience’ collection towards the end of the French Revolution.

If you study one of Blake’s late poems after the revolution, ‘The Tyger’ it reflects the experienced view of society. The poem also represents the tiger as God, as it describes it as being omniscient, all seeing and all knowing. Firstly, in the fifth stanza it says, “Did he who made the lamb make thee? ” This gives the idea that like God had made Jesus, did he make us as well? So the reader also gets the impression from the poem that the lamb evolved into the tiger, just the same way a hopeful and optimistic French society evolved into a more disillusioned, pessimistic society.

This shows a connection between ‘The Lamb’ being innocent and optimistic reflecting society before the revolution, and on the other hand ‘The Tyger’ being more experienced yet negative, reflecting society after the revolution. So, William Blake combined both his beliefs of being a Christian and a Romantic with society’s view, and showed this throughout both poems. The difference in these two poems also shows how the Romantics were influenced throughout the revolution, and gives an insight into how society’s attitude changed aswell.

In conclusion, the French Revolution turned the hopes of the romantic poets into disillusion as the horrific events unfolded before them. The social upheaval throughout the revolution influenced the romantic poets to write about hope and freedom, yet as the revolution transpired their work reflected the disillusion and anger felt afterwards, as the poets never fully achieved what they were fighting for. As the revolution grew their work got more negative and brutal, yet before the revolution their work was more optimistic and joyous, as the unforeseen destruction hadn’t influenced them yet.

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