Emotion in Romantic Modern Literature

Updated on August 30, 2013
'"Romeo and Juliet" 1884
'"Romeo and Juliet" 1884 | Source

Emotion in Romantic Modern Literature

The poetry of the early modern period into the age of enlightenment forged the way for romantic literature. William Shakespeare’s sonnets of the 17th century as well as William Blake’s and William Wordsworth’s poetry of 18th century follow the romantic formula of expressing emotion through the delightful language, rhythm, and meter of the written word. An emotional tie that these three writers of romanticism have is the idea of memories, and the wistful, happy, and sometimes sorrowful connections people have to the past.

Emotion and Memories

The idea of memories holding emotional power has been told in literature for generations. Literary masterpieces share common threads that relate the human experience in ways that engage the reader while broadening their perceptions of the concepts written about. Wistful memories are something that every person considers. These memories may be about the joys of childhood, the regrets of past mistakes, or the hope of a person’s memory living on after he or she is gone. Memories stir powerful emotions, and great literature is a way to relive the times of the past while connecting the romanticism of the present.


Romantic literature does not necessarily follow the modern idea of romance. Modern “romantics” consider the idea of hearts and flowers with poetry about love as romanticism. The Romanticism movement in literature of the 17th and 18th century was a shift in writing from an imitation of life to a reflection on the self. The imagination, individual, and focus on feelings and intuitions were more evident in romantic writing (Brooklyn College English Department, 2009). Looking at nature and creativity were also facets of this form of literature. The focus on writing about human behavior and deities as in the early works such as Dante, Hesiod, and Genesis became a thing of the past. The focus on human emotion and our place in nature such as the writings of Henry David Thoreau are evidence of these shifts.


The poetry of this time of romanticism reflects the changing ideas of literature. Poetry was an excellent vehicle for portraying these new ideas. Poetry offers a musical quality with rhythm and language. Although not altogether necessary, a poem can have a rhyming quality that makes the words read like a song. The meter and rhythm of a poem serves as a way the author can create feeling in the words beyond the use of language. The captivating romantic poetry of the 17th and 18th century exhibits these factors.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare | Source

Masterpieces of Poetry

William Shakespeare was an early writer of romantic poetry. In the 17th century, during the early modern period of literature, Shakespeare was a pivotal writer of Romanticism. His sonnets are filled with the relations between people and his inner musings on emotion. Shakespeare’s notable lines on memory focus on creating his long lasting imprint on the world. His idea for doing this involve a son “but as the riper should by time decrease, his tender heir might bear his memory” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 1, lines 3-4). This emotion of fear of being forgotten once he is deceased is one that resonates with many people. Memories often bring the realization of one’s own mortality. Shakespeare considers how his words will be remembered once he is gone “if I could write the beauty of your eyes and in fresh number all your graces, the age to come would say ‘this poet lies such heavenly touches ne’er touched earthly faces’ so should my papers, yellowed with their age, be scorned, like old men of less truth than tongue, and your true rights be termed a poet’s rage and stretched metre of an antique song. But were some child of yours alive that time you should live twice – in it and in my rime” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 17, lines 5-14). An heir, or child, would be his evidence to the world of his existence. The child would relate the memory of Shakespeare which will quell the emotion of fear at being forgotten.

William Blake painting by Thomas Phillips 1807
William Blake painting by Thomas Phillips 1807 | Source

Another emotion created through memory is happiness and joy. William Blake provides evidence with his reflections of an elderly gentleman “Old John with white hair does laugh away care, sitting under the oak, among the old folk, they laugh at our play, and soon they all say, such such were the joys when we all girls & boys in our youth-time were seen on the Ecchoing Green” (Damrosch, Alliston, & Brown, et. Al., 2008, p. 2153, 11-20). The romantic nature of reflection and looking inward has created a wistful memory of days gone by for old John. Wordsworth also relates the idea of joyful youth “though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first I came among these hills; when like a roe I bounded o’er the mountains” (Damrosch, Alliston, & Brown, et. Al., 2008, p. 2157, 66-68). Wordsworth’s poem also uses the focus on nature which was popular in the Romantic Movement.

William Wordsworth painting by Benjamin Robert Haydon 1842
William Wordsworth painting by Benjamin Robert Haydon 1842 | Source

William Wordsworth poetry describing him revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour in 1798 also shares the sadness that also comes with memories, “with many recognitions dim and faint, and somewhat of a sad perplexity” (Damrosch, Alliston, & Brown, et. Al., 2008, p. 2155, 59-60). Memories can create many different emotions. Often sadness over time gone by, regrets over time lost, and a longing for the past can happen when remembering past events. The emotions of literature of the Romantic Movement are often written with poignant detail as the writer looks inward to share his or her innermost feelings.

Memories in Literature Prior to 17th Century

Memories have been used in literature since ancient time, but the use of memories in relation to emotions have been less evident prior to the introduction of individuality as seen in later writings. Homer writes an entire epic in “The Iliad” giving a memorable account of the gods and their actions “sing goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation…since that time when first there stood division of conflict Atreus; son the lord of men and brilliant Achillues” (Damrosch, Alliston, & Brown, et. Al., 2008, p. 140, 1-8). Although this quote gives strong ideas to the reader the emotions of recounting the story are not evident. The entire epic is written as a formal account with no personal reflection by the narrator. Another example is the writing of Genesis.

The account of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden given in chapter three gives little insight into the role of human emotion, “and the woman saw that the tree was good for eating…she took of its fruit and ate, and she also have to her man and he ate, and the eyes of the two were opened, and they knew they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves loincloths” (Damrosch, Alliston, & Brown, et. Al., 2008, p. 64, para. 2). This ancient writing did not give any insight into how this profound action affected the emotions of Adam and Eve. It is not until we read the 17th century version of this story in “Paradise Lost” by John Milton that readers are given an idea of how the couple felt. An exceptional example of emotion comes when Eve is faced with the fact that she has sinned and wishes Adam to join her because she is fearful of being alone in her sin “confirm’d then I resolve, Adam shall share with me in bliss or woe: so dear I love him, that with him all deaths I could endure, without him live no life” (Damrosch, Alliston, & Brown, et. Al., 2008, p. 1790, 830-833). It is evident that the later writing of offers far greater example of emotion than that of the past. The memories of ancient literature do not express feelings of happiness, joy, regret, or remorse, as in the case Eve in “Paradise Lost”, they merely offer the reader an account of deeds done by the characters. Readers are left to consider for themselves how the actions affected the characters.

Emotion and Romanticism

The literary masterpieces of the 17th and 18th century were written in a time when romanticism was changing the way authors were writing. The dry accounts of the ancient times shifted as writers became more focused on the individual. With consideration of the individual there was more focus on feelings, emotions, and nature. The significant works of poetry of this time period give excellent insight into emotions. Memories and the emotions that they create are a common focus of the time of romanticism. Memories evoke different emotions in different people, and the literature of this time captures these emotions allowing readers to explore these emotions and relate to others in their own humanity.


Brooklyn College English Department. (2009). Romanticism. Retrieved from http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

Damrosch, D., Alliston, A., Brown, M., duBois, P., Hafez, S., Heise, U.K., et al. (2008). The Longman anthology of world literature: Compact edition. New York, NY: Pearson Longman

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • profile image

        m r shetty 

        6 years ago


        Memory= Emotion Rhyme Rhythm

        m r shetty

      • Jasperessentials profile image

        Delia Almestica 

        6 years ago from United States Virgin Islands

        I like


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)