Updated January 12, 2023
Verses typical of Queen Victoria reign make up the Victorian Poetry. Accordingly, the characteristics of Victorian Poetry borrow socio-economic changes under the reign of Queen Victoria and also the preceding Romantic Age poetry. The literature of this age voices the strong opinions of Mathew Arnold, Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson and likes of notable poets. Victorian Poetry era (1830-1901) succeeded the Romantic era.
The Victorian Poetry showcases the new awareness among the intellectuals and expresses the need of its age. Some characteristics of Victorian Poetry are an extension of Romantic Poetry. However, the contemporary intellectual developments, economic changes and religious revolts made up for a large part of Victorian poetry.
The Main Characteristics of Victorian Poetry
From ‘Idealism to Realism’ is the prominent differentiator of Victorian Poetry while, other characteristics include: mass concerns, morality, challenging authority, questioning God etc. In all, these features had bearing of industrialization and advancement of science & Tech.
The Victorian Poets were quite realistic and had less idealized view of nature in contrast to Romanic Poets who were idealists and believed in Art for the Art Sake. The ‘nature’ in Victorian poetry lost its idealize position accorded in the Romantic Age. Factually, in the Tennyson age, Nature dwindled to a source of leisure and inspiration for the poets. And, that nature was not paramount as subject for poets. Tennyson himself was less a romantic poet and more a Victorian- a bridge to Romanticism & Victorian.
Conflict Between Religion & Science
The most remarkable characteristics of Victorian poetry is its conflict between religion and science. It was a byproduct of the intellectual developments of this age. The leading poets of this age reacted to this religious skepticism through their works. Robert Browning attempted to criticize religion in his poems like ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’. He also questioned the demands of the church that go against human nature.
Similarly, When Tennyson wrote ‘In Memoriam’ (1850), he raised many questions on life and death. The scientific approach to nature and human became a central theme in Victorian Poetry. Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach’ (1867), also addresses the eroding religious faith of the time.
Showing the Responsibility
You would see Victorian poetry as the object of displaying the rural and rustic life. Poets raised voice for indiscrimination against the commoner masses that was done due to industrialization. Victorian poets took a stand of social reform.
Use of Sensory Elements
In the preceding era poets, they used the imagery vividly. However, Victorian poets also used imagery and senses to convey the chaos or struggle between Religion and Science, and ideas about Nature and Romance.
Lord Alfred Tennyson prominently used the sensory and Imagery elements in his poems. One notable example in Tennyson’s poem “Mariana”, he writes- The doors upon their hinges creaked; / The blue fly sung in the Pane; the mouse / Behind the moldering wainscot shrieked.
These images of the creaking door, the blue fly singing in the window, and the mouse with the moldy wood paneling, all work together show a very definite image of an active, yet lonely farmhouse.
Pessimism- Integral to Victorian Poetry
Victorian poets understood the misery that industrial Revolution had brought about in the society. Thus, Victorian poetry became object and real; in terms of displaying the urban life. The poets wrote on isolation, despair, doubt and general pessimism that surrounded the era.
On the surface, Victorians seemed to enjoy the wealth and prosperity but the feelings of uncertainty, Cynicism and self-doubt very much reflects in the poems of this age. The issue of psychological isolation is common in almost all the great poems of the Victorian Era.
Tennyson’s poem, ‘Locksley Hall’ (1842) is about the restless “young England”. Mathew Arnold explored the “strange disease of modern life” and the loneliness of modern-age men in his poem ‘The Scholar-Gipsy’ (1853). In ‘The City of Dreadful Night’, Arthur Hugh Clough deals with the note of Insomnia and Pessimism.
Interest in Medieval Fables and Legends
You can mark Victorian Poetry with medieval legends and fables. Just as the Pre-Raphaelites attempted to restore the essence of medieval art in their poems, poets like Tennyson, William Morris and Swinburne wrote poetry on Arthurian legends of the Medieval Age.
Tennyson’s ‘Idylls of King Arthur’ (1859-1889) was a series of four books that were centered on King Arthur and the Round Table. In his other works such as ‘Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere’, ‘Sir Galahad’, and ‘Morte d’ Arthur’, Tennyson explored the vision of Medieval quests and tales.
Swinburne idealized Medievalism in his works as the golden Age of tragic love and Tragic Heroism. It is noteworthy that Victorian poets went back to Medievalism not as escapists but in order to redirect it to the contemporary developments in politics, literature and art.
Another one of the most important characteristics of Victorian poetry is sentimentality. The Victorians wrote about artistic creations thus giving way to deeper imaginations. Poets like Alfred Tennyson, Emily Bronte prominently used the element of sentimentality in their poems.
Development of Dramatic Monologue
Though the Victorians used medieval settings, forms and themes, many other forms of poetry also held prominence during the Victorian Era. The dramatic monologue became one of the most popular gifts of Victorian Poetry to English Literature.
Through works such as Alfred Tennyson’s “Ulysses’ (1842), ‘St Simeon Stylites’ (1842) and Mathew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ & ‘Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse’ the monologue seems having gained.
Robert Browning popularized dramatic monologue in most of his works such as ‘My Last Duchess’, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, ‘Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister’, ‘Men and Women’ and such others. These poems were published in Browning’s ‘Dramatic Lyrics’ in 1842.
Apart from the famous dramatic monologue, the Victorian poets also explored Sonnets, Epics, Elegies and Ballads. In this way, the Victorian poetry is the direct outcome of the Prevailing socio-economic, political and literary activities of the time.
Victorian Poetry in Conclusion
Victorian Poetry is marked by its own distinct features. This poetry evolved during the reign of Queen Victoria and although it assimilated some of the attributes of Romantic Poetry and era but has clear distinctions.. Instead, being idealistic, the Victorian Poets were highly realistic in their poetic approach.
While, the Romantic poets revered the nature in an idealistic and romantic light in their works, the Victorians had influence of scientific and technological discoveries. Essentially, Romantic era (1800- 1837) ) was movement of being intellectual and artistic and hence their literature had emotional and aesthetic value in high proportions.
Era of Victorian poetry is believed to span over 1830- 1901 during which Industrial revolution took place. Hence, the authors & poets of this era took to realistic portrayal of life. Nature was also one of the pillars of Victorian poetry but portrayal of it was realistic and social issues abounded their works.
A Radical Stream Within Victorian Poetry
When we talk about Victorian Poetry, it is about the broader stream of poetry in Victorian era. However, you somewhere ignore mentioning a group of poets in the very same era who were radical in their poetic approach. They advocated art and mysticism of pre-Raphael era (1428- 1848) or pre-renaissance era. And, narrowed their subject down to beauty, nature and art.
The radical Victorian poetry aimed unifying medieval art and poetry and sought promoting pre-Raphael era glory. Verses of this special stream is called as the pre-Raphaelite Poetry. Experts also label this stream of Poetry as Version 2 of the Romantic Poetry as they immensely harped on nature, beauty, emotions albeit with objectivity.
The Victorian Poets wrote on multiple themes and subjects which is why drawing the line between general Victorian Poets from the Pre-Raphaelites Victorians is a must. Precisely, the pre-Raphaelites poets are a subgroup within broader Victorian Age Poets. And, they focused on beauty, art, loveliness and mysticism alone.
Tennyson, Browning and Arnold led the Victorian Poetry whereas, Rossetti (s), Morris and Swinburne led the Pre-Raphaelite poetry as pioneers. Accordingly, the prominent characteristics of the Victorian Poetry are as below.
FAQs on Victorian Poetry Characteristics
Ans- Victorian poetry is self-defining. The poetry written during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) is known as Victorian poetry.
Ans- (a) Conflict between Religion and Science, (b) Use of Sensory Elements and (c) Pessimism- are the three characteristics of Victorian Poetry.
Ans- Alfred Tennyson was the most famous Victorian poet.
Ans- (a) Realism (b) Focus on Masses (c) Pessimism (d) Science and Technology (e) Questioning to God (f) Sense of Responsibility (g) Morality (h) Interest in Medieval Myths & Folklore are themes of Victorian poetry.
Ans- Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his sister Christina Georgina Rossetti, A.C. Swinburne etc. are the famous Victorian poets.