Creative process: Byron’s poetic nostalgia for youth’s insights

During the Romantic period of English literature, which spanned the late 1700s and the first half of the 1800s, intellectuals and artists, and in particular writers and poets, challenged the views of the establishment; they renounced the establishment’s rationalism and order and emphasized expressing authentic personal feelings (1)

Poets in this period include such familiar names as Lord Byron, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats.

One of the poetic manifestations of this yearning for authentic feelings was the tendency of some of the romantic poets, such as Lord Byron (1788-1824) a leading figure in the movement, to write nostalgically about the keen emotions,  heightened insights, and optimism characteristic of the years of childhood and early youth.

In Byron’s short poem, Youth and Age, these emotions are expressed:

When the glow of early thought declines in feeling’s dull decay..

And though the eye may sparkle still, ’tis where the ice appears…

Through midnight hours that yield no more their former hope of rest…

O could I feel as I have felt, or be what I have been…

Or weep as I could once have wept o’er many a banished scene…

This poetic theme was also evident in the poetry of Wordsworth, most notably in his poem Ode: Intimations of Immortality, in which he lamented, “…It is not now as it hath been of yore…The things which I have seen I now can see no more.”

One of the powerful qualities of good poetry, such as these excerpts from Byron and Wordsworth is poetry’s ability to portray in a few lines of compressed thought what many of us vaguely feel, but cannot quite articulate.

(1) Paraphrased from the website British Library. Here is link to a British Library article on The Romantics:

https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-romantics

Dennis Mellersh

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