The Deserted Village
Overview of 18th-Century English PoetryMany critics believe that most the eighteenth-century was not a great age for English poetry. They suggest that the verse is second rate or inferior when compared to the verse of other eras. The poetry of this time, however has a distinct identity. It offers distinctive styles, themes, and theories. "On the whole, the literature of this period is chiefly a literature of wit, concerned with civilization and social relationships, and consequently, it is critical and in some degree moral or satiric" (Monk 1778).
Many different styles of poetry were used during this time period. Much eighteenth-century poetry is described as neoclassical. This was the major style used throughout the century. Writers used particular vocabulary, phrase formations, technical terms, and archaisms. John Dryden popularized this style in his late seventeenth-century poetry. Eighteenth-century poetry has an ". . . anomalous style . . . in which descriptive words, especially adjectives, verbs turned into adjectives, and long periodic passages of description predominate; action is at a minimum; wit and irony disappear" (Quintana 16). Other poetic styles made use of blank-verse, humanistic themes, odes, allegorical imagery, and descriptive styles.
There were numerous themes used in eighteenth-century poetry. In the beginning of the century James Thompson published Winter. This was the start of a new trend during this time period. Nature was a prevalent theme and inspired many writers. Satire also flourished in this century. Its most distinguished writers were Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift. According to Alex Preminger what we value most in eighteenth-century poetry is satire. Other themes used were English life and culture, love, humanitarianism, and death.
There were many brilliant poets who wrote some amazing poems in the eighteenth century. Alexander Pope is a famous satirist for The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad. The other principal satirists of the eighteenth century are Jonathan Swift, John Gay, and Samuel Johnson. William Collins wrote "Ode to Evening." Oliver Goldsmith wrote The Deserted Village, which "mingles sentimental social commentary with the pastoral traditions" (Preminger 343). In the middle of the century George Crabbe began with The Village and went on to write humorous narratives, such as, "Peter Grimes." William Blake is ranked as one of the great poets of the century, although he breaks with much of the strict neoclassicism used during the earlier part of the century. He began with Political Sketches, then wrote Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. At the end of the century Wordsworth and Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads, ushering in the Romantic period.
Compared with other literary genres, poetry had a small reading public during the eighteenth century; it was, however, an educated public, consisting of the aristocracy and the upper-middle class. Enjoyment of eighteenth-century poetry places heavier demands on modern readers than poetry from other time periods. According to Ricardo Quintana, eighteenth-century English poetry does not rise clear of the idioms--linguistic and otherwise--of its own period; a sympathetic approach requires some historical understanding. "Even if the absolute value of poetry is ultimately an aesthetic matter and not an historical one, all art is mediated by its particular time and place in human culture and is interesting for this reason as well" (Quintana 4). Throughout the eighteenth century, poetry introduced new styles, themes, and brilliant writers. We can read this poetry and appreciate it for what it was. Even if critics feel it is not the greatest poetry of our history, it can be read for our enjoyment, or studied to learn about our past.
Last update: Saturday, March 3, 2001 at 2:45:38 PM.