Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.John Keats, 1819
When I was younger for some strange reason everyone outside my circle of friends who read, wrote and performed poetry thought of all poets (as well as me) as a romantic. Why is that? Because in that time period it still seemed that all poets and writers were probably still viewed by society and the media as dreamers. And many musicians were labeled and viewed in the same light. The late 80s and early 90s before the grunge era there were a lot of musicians wearing poofy pirate shirts and singing love songs hadn’t gone out of style yet. The Goth scene was a huge macrocosm of poofy pirate shirts and even pop metal bands wore them setting this bizarre image that didn’t make a comeback until Pirates of The Caribbean hit the theater screens. But honestly? Back in the day I never wore or actually ever owned a single poofy pirate shirt but I did wear a lot of white & black shirts (not shiny) which I suppose added to the romantic poet problem. If anything my trend or style looked more like Kiefer Sutherland’s outfit in The Lost Boys out at the bar for a drink or on a bender at times. But we poets and writers who attended local readings knew better. We had heard just about everything under the sun and knew that the language that poets used and the content of their poems varied and like my own work over the years ranged from the political & the satirical to rants as well as even haikus and yes also love sonnets and nature poems. But the friends and outsiders? They only imagined a poetry reading or saw it as some kind of posthumous dead and buried icon joke. Never attending a single reading. Ever.
Reminiscing, if I had a dollar for every quip or Lord Byron comment over the years I’d be a millionaire by now. Edgar Allan Poe comments were also prevalent as well. I suppose that those who never truly understood poets and poetry always had to connect it to something known.
Anyways after that brief and tragic history of MTV styles, the local poetry scene, black clothing and all that is nostalgia let me emphasize this; that believe it or not the poetry of the real romantic poets was some of the most amazing and powerful work ever written. Shelly, Byron, Wordsworth, Blake, and Keats are still in my view some of the most incredible wordsmiths to ever walk this planet poofy shirts or not. Shelly’s”In Defence of Poetry” is one of the trail setting essays of its age that states poetry as a true art form and that poets and their words should be taken seriously and politically. This means you and everyone else should read it sometime. It’s not a book of medieval chivalry or a dusty old soul and not just boring ancient academia. It’s a wake-up call for society and has strong insight and meaning that well resounds into the twenty-first century and was written in a time when these views? They were still dangerous. So as much as people think that romantic poetry is a bygone silly era full of Monty Python skits and over emphasized words about love there is much much more to it all than that. Transcendence being the voice of humanity. I challenge you to read their work. I think you’ll walk away a bit surprised. And remember that all the poofy shirts weren’t their fault. Society made them dress like that.
Romantic poetry isn’t dead but it’s just waiting to be rediscovered.