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Great Britain

07 April 2020

The Romantic Poets

Great Britain: The Romantic Poets, 7 April 2020. Images from Royal Mail and Collect GB Stamps.

Technical Specifications:

Number of stamps Ten
Value of Stamps 10 x 1st class stamps
Design The Chase
Stamp format Landscape
Stamp size 41mm x 30mm
Number per sheet 25/50
Printer International Security Printers
Print process Lithography
Perforations 14.5 x 14
Phosphor Bars as appropriate
Gum PVA

Delve into the domain of Romantic poetry with these 10 Special Stamps, in two horizontal se-tenant strips. Romantic poetry is the poetry of the Romantic era, an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century. It involved a reaction against prevailing Enlightenment ideas of the 18th century,] and lasted approximately from 1800 to 1850.

In early-19th-century England, the poet William Wordsworth defined his and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s innovative poetry in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1798):

I have said before that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin in emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.

The poems of Lyrical Ballads intentionally re-imagined the way poetry should sound: “By fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men,” Wordsworth and his English contemporaries, such as Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Shelley, and William Blake, wrote poetry that was meant to boil up from serious, contemplative reflection over the interaction of humans with their environment. Although many stress the notion of spontaneity in Romantic poetry, the movement was still greatly concerned with the difficulty of composition and of translating these emotions into poetic form. Indeed, Coleridge, in his essay On Poesy or Art, sees art as “the mediatress between, and reconciler of nature and man”. Such an attitude reflects what might be called the dominant theme of English Romantic poetry: the filtering of natural emotion through the human mind in order to create meaning.

Each stamp features a quote from some of poetry’s most iconic verse.

John Clare First Class

Samuel Taylor Coleridge First Class

William Blake First Class

Walter Scott First Class

Percy Bysshe Shelley First Class

William Wordsworth First Class

Mary Robinson First Class

Letitia Elizabeth Landon First Class

John Keats First Class

Lord Byron First Class

Today the word ‘romantic’ evokes images of love and sentimentality, but the term ‘Romanticism’ has a much wider meaning. It covers a range of developments in art, literature, music and philosophy, spanning the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Romantics would not have used the term themselves: the label was applied retrospectively, from around the middle of the 19th century.

In 1762 Jean-Jacques Rousseau declared in The Social Contract: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” During the Romantic period major transitions took place in society, as dissatisfied intellectuals and artists challenged the Establishment. In England, the Romantic poets were at the very heart of this movement. They were inspired by a desire for liberty, and they denounced the exploitation of the poor. There was an emphasis on the importance of the individual; a conviction that people should follow ideals rather than imposed conventions and rules. The Romantics renounced the rationalism and order associated with the preceding Enlightenment era, stressing the importance of expressing authentic personal feelings. They had a real sense of responsibility to their fellow men: they felt it was their duty to use their poetry to inform and inspire others, and to change society.

When reference is made to Romantic verse, the poets who generally spring to mind are William Blake (1757-1827), William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron (1788-1824), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and John Keats (1795-1821). These writers had an intuitive feeling that they were ‘chosen’ to guide others through the tempestuous period of change.

This was a time of physical confrontation; of violent rebellion in parts of Europe and the New World. Conscious of anarchy across the English Channel, the British government feared similar outbreaks. The early Romantic poets tended to be supporters of the French Revolution, hoping that it would bring about political change; however, the bloody Reign of Terror shocked them profoundly and affected their views. In his youth William Wordsworth was drawn to the Republican cause in France, until he gradually became disenchanted with the Revolutionaries.

The Sublime
One of the most important concepts in Romantic poetry, the sublime in literature refers to use of language and description that excites thoughts and emotions beyond ordinary experience. Though often associated with grandeur, the sublime may also refer to the grotesque or other extraordinary experiences that “take us beyond ourselves.”

The literary concept of the sublime became important in the eighteenth century. It is associated with the 1757 treatise by Edmund Burke, though it has earlier roots. The idea of the sublime was taken up by Immanuel Kant and the Romantic poets including especially William Wordsworth.

Reaction against Neoclassicism
Romantic poetry contrasts with Neoclassical poetry, which was the product of intellect and reason, while Romantic poetry is more the product of emotion. Romantic poetry at the beginning of the nineteenth century was a reaction against the set standards, conventions of eighteenth-century poetry. According to William J. Long, “[T]he Romantic movement was marked, and is always marked, by a strong reaction and protest against the bondage of rule and custom which in science and theology as well as literature, generally tend to fetter the free human spirit.”

This First Day Cover is cancelled with the Grasmere, Ambleside postmark, marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth.

The Imagination
Belief in the importance of the imagination is a distinctive feature of romantic poets such as John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and P. B. Shelley, unlike the neoclassical poets. Keats said, “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination- What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.” For Wordsworth and William Blake, as well as Victor Hugo and Alessandro Manzoni, the imagination is a spiritual force, is related to morality, and they believed that literature, especially poetry, could improve the world. The secret of great art, Blake claimed, is the capacity to imagine. To define imagination, in his poem “Auguries of Innocence”, Blake said:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Nature Poetry
Love for nature is another important feature of romantic poetry, as a source of inspiration. This poetry involves a relationship with external nature and places, and a belief in pantheism. However, the romantic poets differed in their views about nature. Wordsworth recognized nature as a living thing, teacher, god and everything. These feelings are fully developed and expressed in his epic poem The Prelude. In his poem “The Tables Turn” he writes:

One impulse from the vernal wood
Can teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and good,
Than all sages can.

Shelley was another nature poet, who believed that nature is a living thing and there is a union between nature and man. Wordsworth approaches nature philosophically, while Shelley emphasises the intellect. John Keats is another a lover of nature, but Coleridge differs from other romantic poets of his age, in that he has a realistic perspective on nature. He believes that nature is not the source of joy and pleasure, but rather that people’s reactions to it depends on their mood and disposition. Coleridge believed that joy does not come from external nature, but that it emanates from the human heart.

Melancholy
Melancholy occupies a prominent place in romantic poetry, and is an important source of inspiration for the Romantic poets. In ‘”Ode to a Nightingale”, Keats wrote:

……………………………………………for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain.

Medievalism
Romantic poetry was attracted to nostalgia, and medievalism is another important characteristic of romantic poetry, especially in the works of John Keats and Coleridge. They were attracted to exotic, remote and obscure places, and so they were more attracted to Middle Ages than to their own age.

Hellenism
The world of classical Greece was important to the Romantics. John Keats’ poetry is full of allusions to the art, literature and culture of Greece, as for example in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.

Supernaturalism
Most of the romantic poets used supernatural elements in their poetry. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is the leading romantic poet in this regard, and “Kubla Khan” is full of supernatural elements.

Subjectivity
Romantic poetry is the poetry of sentiments, emotions and imagination. Romantic poetry opposed the objectivity of neoclassical poetry. Neoclassical poets avoided describing their personal emotions in their poetry, unlike the Romantics.

The Romantic Poets Silver Coin Cover:

Acquire your own slice of literary legacy with this stunning Silver Proof Coin Cover, celebrating William Wordsworth’s 250th birthday.

This unique set features an individually numbered, limited-edition Coin Cover, with a timeline and overview of William Wordsworth’s life, written by expert Sir Jonathan Bate.

Includes the Royal Mint’s Silver Proof £5 coin, with the obverse design featuring Wordsworth’s quote; ‘Nature never did betray the heart that loved her’.

As well as the 925AG Coin Cover, you’ll receive the full collection of 10 Special Stamps, cancelled with a special issue-dated Cockermouth handstamp in honour of Wordsworth’s birthplace.

Limited edition of 750.

PHQ Cards:


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