British Romanticism – Poem Summary Essay

William Blake
The Lamb
The entire first stanza centers on the question of the creator. Blake describes the Lord Jesus Christ as the creator of the lamb.
William Blake
The Chimney Sweeper
The poem is narrated by a chimney sweeper. He tells us a little bit about himself first before giving us the lowdown on another chimney sweeper, Tom Dacre. After introducing us to Tom, he relates a very strange dream that Tom had one night (it involved chimney sweepers in coffins, angels, flying, and a few other bizarre things). The poem concludes with Tom and the speaker waking up and going to work, sweepin’ chimneys
William Blake
The Little Boy Lost
The boy was lost in darkness
William Blake
The Little Boy Found
God appeared in the form of his father and led him to his mother.
William Blake
The Tyger
Who created the Tyger
William Blake
The Sick Rose
The speaker, addressing a rose, informs it that it is sick. An “invisible” worm has stolen into its bed in a “howling storm” and under the cover of night. The “dark secret love” of this worm is destroying the rose’s life.
Robert Burns
To A Mouse
The speaker is plowing a field and accidentally turns up a mouse’s nest. The mouse is shivering and terrified. The man stops his work to try to comfort the mouse.

He tells her to relax. He didn’t mean to break into her nest. But then the speaker starts thinking more about it—the mouse is, after all, pretty justified in being freaked out. Mice should be scared of humans. We set traps for them, we set cats after them, and we plow up their winter nests. The speaker apologizes on behalf of all humankind. He says that the mouse might steal little bits of food from human farms, but who cares? That one little mouse doesn’t eat much. And now her little winter house is all in a ruin. He imagines the mouse planning ahead carefully for the winter—she worked so hard to make her nice little nest, and then, BOOM. The plow goes right over it.

But hey, says the speaker—that’s life. Whether you’re a mouse or a man, your plans—however well-laid—often get messed up. And after all, the mouse has it easy, compared to a human. Mice live in the present moment, while humans look to the past with the regret and to the future with fear. Lucky mouse.

Robert Burns
To A Louse
In this poem the narrator notices an upper class lady in church, with a louse that is roving, unnoticed by her, around in her bonnet. The poet chastises the louse for not realising how important his host is, and then reflects that, to a louse, we are all equal prey, and that we would be disabused of our pretensions if we were to see ourselves through each other’s eyes. An alternative interpretation is that the poet is musing to himself how horrified and humbled the pious woman would be if she were aware she was harboring a common parasite in her hair.
William Wordsworth
Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey
he used to enjoy nature, but he didn’t fully understand it. Able to sense the deeper and wider meaning of beauty than when he was a energetic kid.
William Wordsworth
Composed upon Westminster Bridge
The speaker declares that he has found the most beautiful scene on earth. The speaker compares the sunlight on the buildings to the light that shines on the countryside, and he seems surprised to feel more at peace in the bustling city than he has anywhere else. The River Thames moves slowly beneath him. In a burst of emotion, he pictures the city as blissfully asleep before another busy day.
William Wordsworth
The World Is Too Much With Us
The speaker complains that “the world” is too overwhelming for us to appreciate it.We’re so concerned about time and money that we use up all our energy. People want to accumulate stuff, so they see nothing in Nature that they can “own.” According to the speaker, we’ve sold our souls.

We should be able to appreciate beautiful events like the moon shining over the ocean and the blowing of strong winds, but it’s like we’re on a different wavelength from Nature. We’re kind of like, “Eh.”

The speaker would rather be a pagan who worships an outdated religion so that when he gazes out on the ocean (as he’s doing now), he might feel less sad. If he were a pagan, he’d see wild mythological gods like Proteus, who can take many shapes, and Triton, who looks like a mer-man.

William Wordsworth
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
The speaker was walking around through the hills and valleys, but he felt all lonely and mopey. Suddenly, as he passed a lake, he noticed a big group of yellow daffodils waving in the breeze. This wasn’t just some scattered patch of daffodils. We’re talking thousands and thousands around this particular bay. And all these flowers were dancing.

Yes, the daffodils danced, and so did the waves of the lake. But the daffodils danced better. The speaker’s loneliness was replaced by joy, but he didn’t even realize what a gift he has received until later. Now, whenever he’s feeling kind of blah, he just thinks of the daffodils, and his heart is happily dancing.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Rine of the Ancient Mariner
Three guys are on the way to a wedding celebration when an old sailor (the Mariner) stops one of them at the door (we’ll call him the Wedding Guest). Using his hypnotic eyes to hold the attention of the Wedding Guest, he starts telling a story about a disastrous journey he took. The Wedding Guest really wants to go party, but he can’t pry himself away from this grizzled old mariner. The Mariner begins his story. They left port, and the ship sailed down near Antarctica to get away from a bad storm, but then they get caught in a dangerous, foggy ice field. An albatross shows up to steer them through the fog and provide good winds, but then the Mariner decides to shoot it. Oops.

Pretty soon the sailors lose their wind, and it gets really hot. They run out of water, and everyone blames the Mariner. The ship seems to be haunted by a bad spirit, and weird stuff starts appearing, like slimy creatures that walk on the ocean. The Mariner’s crewmates decide to hang the dead albatross around his neck to remind him of his error.

Everyone is literally dying of thirst. The Mariner sees another ship’s sail at a distance. He wants to yell out, but his mouth is too dry, so he sucks some of his own blood to moisten his lips. He’s like, “A ship! We’re saved.” Sadly, the ship is a ghost ship piloted by two spirits, Death and Life-in-Death, who have to be the last people you’d want to meet on a journey. Everyone on the Mariner’s ship dies.

The wedding guest realizes, “Ah! You’re a ghost!” But the Mariner says, “Well, actually, I was the only one who didn’t die.” He continues his story: he’s on a boat with a lot of dead bodies, surrounded by an ocean full of slimy things. Worse, these slimy things are nasty water snakes. But the Mariner escapes his curse by unconsciously blessing the hideous snakes, and the albatross drops off his neck into the ocean.

The Mariner falls into a sweet sleep, and it finally rains when he wakes up. A storm strikes up in the distance, and all the dead sailors rise like zombies to pilot the ship. The sailors don’t actually come back to life. Instead, angels fill their bodies, and another supernatural spirit under the ocean seems to push the boat. The Mariner faints and hears two voices talking about how he killed the albatross and still has more penance to do. These two mysterious voices explain how the ship is moving.

After a speedy journey, the ship ends up back in port again. The Mariner sees angels standing next to the bodies of all his crewmates. Then a rescue boat shows up to take him back to shore. The Mariner is happy that a guy called “the hermit” is on the rescue boat. The hermit is in a good mood. All of a sudden there’s a loud noise, and the Mariner’s ship sinks. The hermit’s boat picks up the Mariner.

When they get on shore, the Mariner is desperate to tell his story to the hermit. He feels a terrible pain until the story had been told.

In fact, the Mariner says that he still has the same painful need to tell his story, which is why he stopped the Wedding Guest on this occasion. Wrapping up, the Mariner tells the Wedding Guest that he needs to learn how to say his prayers and love other people and things. Then the Mariner leaves, and the Wedding Guest no longer wants to enter the wedding. He goes home and wakes up the next day, as the famous last lines go, “a sadder and a wiser man.”

George Gordon, Lord Byron
She Walks in Beauty
The poem is about an unnamed woman. She’s really quite striking, and the speaker compares her to lots of beautiful, but dark, things, like “night” and “starry skies.” The second stanza continues to use the contrast between light and dark, day and night, to describe her beauty. We also learn that her face is really “pure” and “sweet.” The third stanza wraps it all up – she’s not just beautiful, she’s “good” and “innocent,” to boot.
George Gordon, Lord Byron
When We Two Parted
This poem is kind of like an upset guy’s internal monologue when he finds out his old flame is dating somebody else: “OMG, I remember when we broke up. It was cold, your cheek was cold, and that kiss you gave me was so unaffectionate. You made a vow to me, and you didn’t even bother to keep it. Sigh. I should have known I would feel like this now, just based on how our goodbye was. I can’t even hear your name without getting upset. You’ll never know how deeply I mourn your loss. If I meet you again, I will simply be quiet and cry.”
George Gordon, Lord Byron
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
Percy Bysshe Shelley
The speaker describes a meeting with someone who has traveled to a place where ancient civilizations once existed. We know from the title that he’s talking about Egypt. The traveler told the speaker a story about an old, fragmented statue in the middle of the desert. The statue is broken apart, but you can still make out the face of a person. The face looks stern and powerful, like a ruler. The sculptor did a good job at expressing the ruler’s personality. The ruler was a wicked guy, but he took care of his people.

On the pedestal near the face, the traveler reads an inscription in which the ruler Ozymandias tells anyone who might happen to pass by, basically, “Look around and see how awesome I am!” But there is no other evidence of his awesomeness in the vicinity of his giant, broken statue. There is just a lot of sand, as far as the eye can see. The traveler ends his story.

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Ode to the West Wind
The speaker of the poem appeals to the West Wind to infuse him with a new spirit and a new power to spread his ideas. In order to invoke the West Wind, he lists a series of things the wind has done that illustrate its power: driving away the autumn leaves, placing seeds in the earth, bringing thunderstorms and the cyclical “death” of the natural world, and stirring up the seas and oceans.

The speaker wishes that the wind could affect him the way it does leaves and clouds and waves. Because it can’t, he asks the wind to play him like an instrument, bringing out his sadness in its own musical lament. Maybe the wind can even help him to send his ideas all over the world; even if they’re not powerful in their own right, his ideas might inspire others. The sad music that the wind will play on him will become a prophecy. The West Wind of autumn brings on a cold, barren period of winter, but isn’t winter always followed by a spring?

John Keats
When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be
Keats’ speaker contemplates all of the things that he wants in life: namely, success, fame, and love. C’mon, is that too much to ask?

Well, as it turns out, the speaker is pretty sure that it is. See, he doesn’t want just any old fame. He wants Fame. Capital letters and neon lights. (Okay – so they didn’t have neon lights in the early 19th century, but you get our point.) He doesn’t want just any old love, either. He wants that soul-stripping, earth-shaking, sky-tumbling once-in-a-lifetime sort of rapture. To sum it all up, he wants to be the star of pretty much every romantic movie ever.

Here’s the problem: the speaker is also pretty sure that his life will end long before he’ll be able to achieve any of these goals. That’s why his description of his desires is so tinged with desperation – chances are, his life will be over far, far too quickly.

John Keats
Ode on a Grecian Urn
Keats’ imagined urn is addressed as if he were contemplating a real urn. It has survived intact from antiquity. It is a “sylvan historian” telling us a story, which the poet suggests by a series of questions. Who are these gods or men carved or painted on the urn? Who are these reluctant maidens? What is this mad pursuit? Why the struggle to escape? What is the explanation for the presence of musical instruments? Why this mad ecstasy?

Imagined melodies are lovelier than those heard by human ears. Therefore the poet urges the musician pictured on the urn to play on. His song can never end nor the trees ever shed their leaves. The lover on the urn can never win a kiss from his beloved, but his beloved can never lose her beauty. Happy are the trees on the urn, for they can never lose their leaves. Happy is the musician forever playing songs forever new. The lovers on the urn enjoy a love forever warm, forever panting, and forever young, far better than actual love, which eventually brings frustration and dissatisfaction.

Who are the people coming to perform a sacrifice? To what altar does the priest lead a garlanded heifer? What town do they come from? That town will forever remain silent and deserted.

Fair urn, Keats says, adorned with figures of men and maidens, trees and grass, you bring our speculations to a point at which thought leads nowhere, like meditation on eternity. After our generation is gone, you will still be here, a friend to man, telling him that beauty is truth and truth is beauty — that is all he knows on earth and all he needs to know.

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