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Animals in Romantic Poetry
Many Romantic poets expressed a fascination with nature in their works. Even more specific than just nature, many poets, such as William Blake, Robert Burns, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge all seemed fascinated with animals. Animals are used as symbols throughout poetry, and are also used to give the reader something to which they can relate. No matter what the purpose, however, animals played a major part in Romantic Poetry.
William Blake used animals as basic building blocks for poems such as “The Lamb” and “The Tyger.” By using these carefully selected animals to depict good and evil, the reader truly understands Blake’s words. All readers can relate to animals such as an innocent lamb and a ferocious tiger. Blake spends most of each of these poems carefully describing each animal, and how it relates to the condition of the world through his own eyes. Without the use of these animals, each of these poems would lose their effect and universality, not to mention their titles.
In his poem, “To a Mouse,” Robert Burns expresses his compassion for the small family of rodents whose home is overturned by a plow. Not only does Burns show an equal democracy for all creatures in this piece, but he actually lifts up the mouse above man in lines 43 and 44: “Still thou are blest compared wi’ me! / The present only toucheth thee.” With these lines, Burns shows that the mouse can only see in the present, and therefore does not try to guess and fear the future (48). Burns also expressed his fascination with animals in “To a Louse,” a poem based upon seeing a one on a lady’s bonnet at church. The sight of this louse surprises the narrator, and eventually leads him to the realization that humans see themselves as perfect, judging all others. Through this louse he realizes what a power it would be to see ourselves as other see us (43) and what fools we are, pretending to be God-like (46-48). Burns uses animals in his poetry as a way of looking back at man, and seeing through another perspective.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge based his narrative poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” around the sanctity of nature, especially that of the albatross, a large sea bird who was a sign of good luck to the sailors aboard the mariner’s ship. After the ancient mariner inhospitably kills their good omen, everything starts to fall apart. The mariner eventually is trapped in a solitary, never-ending penance, telling certain people his story. The people he tells however, do not appreciate the story because it points out their lack of spirituality, especially in the case of the wedding-guest. Coleridge, like Blake in “The Lamb,” relates animals and nature to Godliness.
In conclusion, many Romantic poets showed a fascination with nature, and especially with animals. They used animals as symbols for many things, or for another way of viewing the world, but no matter what the use, animals played a major part in the works of Romantic poets.
Blake, William. “The Lamb.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. 2. 6th ed. Ed. M.H. Abrahms. New York: Norton, 1993. 29-30.
- – -. “The Tyger.” In Abrahms. 37-38.
Burns, Robert. “To a Louse.” In Abrahms. 83-84.
- – -. “To a Mouse.” In Abrahms. 82-83.
Coleridge, Samuel. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In Abrams. 330-346.
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