‘The idea that poetry, or even consciousness, can set one free of the ruins of history and culture is the grand illusion of every Romantic poet’ (Jerome McGann). Would you agree with McGann’s assessment of the illusory nature of Romantic poetry?
Wordsworth recognises in the Preface to the 1802 print of Lyrical Ballads that he and Coleridge, viewed by many as the most influential pioneers of Romantic poetry, are guilty of imbuing a “certain colouring of imagination” throughout their poetry. Indeed, Romantic poetry is often characterised by its fascination with the imagination and the idea that the mind can create a world that transcends the physical senses. In light of this concept that a new and greater world can be forged through poetry, some credence can certainly be found in Jerome McGann’s evaluation that the primary purpose of Romantic poetry is to “set one free of the ruins of history and culture”. However, McGann, in my opinion, also oversimplifies the nuances and implications found throughout Romantic poetry, and seems to dismiss it as somewhat escapist, or reliant on its displacement from reality to convey meaning; ultimately, as a “grand illusion”. Through examination of works by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats, I mean to propose, firstly, that Romantic poetry varies greatly throughout the period - meaning it frequently defies generic summation. Secondly, that Romantic poets often directly confront their historical and social contexts, and in many ways,