Updated June 24, 2022
The Pre-Raphaelite Poetry is a radical poetry stream of Victorian age led by Rossetti (s), Morris and Swinburne. The beauty, art, loveliness and mysticism alone were the poetic lines of Pre-Raphaelite Poetry, contrary to the multifarious real-life dimensions of the Victorian poetry.
The Victorian Poetry laid special emphasis on questioning the authority and moral uplifting of the people of the time. Essentially, the Poetry had became the medium to discuss social, political and spiritual problems of the people. Meaning, to attack the social evils and concerns for the social reforms were the primary aims of the poets.
On the other hand, a group of poets reacted against these tendencies of Victorian poetry. These poets attempted to out-do the romantic poets by excess of every kind. These poets belonged to the Spasmodic school of poetry(1830-1854). This school of poetry was followed by the Pre- Raphaelite school of poetry (1848- 1900)
Chronicles of Pre-Raphaelite Poetry
The actual history of Pre-Raphaelite poetry starts with formation of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of 1848. William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner were founding Pre-Raphaelites, a combination of English painters, poets, and art critics.
The elite group was founded in John Millais’s parents’ house on Gower Street in 1848. John Everett Millais (painters), Dante Gabriell Rossetti and William Holman Hunt were the first who put their steps and started the movement. Later William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner joined this school of poetry.
As a Movement
The Pre- Raphaelite movement, in fact, was the movement for the regeneration of painting on the models of the early Italian painters preceding Raphael. These painters were dissatisfied with the loftiness of conception and perfection of technique of Raphael. Instead, they believed in simplicity, natural grace, originality of conception and freshness.
Pre- Raphaelite painters broke away from the stale traditions in painting set up by Raphael and returned to the earlier freshness and freedom. They identified themselves with the painters before Raphael, the early Florentine e.g. Giotto and Bellini. They called themselves “Pre Raphaelite” simply because they associated themselves with the individualities of the Italian painters before Raphael.
Formalization of Movement
The Pre-Raphaelite movement soon extended its bounds to include the revival of poetry. In the year 1848, a group of high-souled artists formed a group which was known as “The Pre-Raphaelite Group” or “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood” (P.R.B.). The original members of this group were D.G. Rossetti and his sister Christina Georgina Rossetti , Holman Hunt and J.E. Millias. Others such as William Morris and A.C. Swinburne joined the group later.
The Inner Approach of Movement
Poets of the Pre- Raphaelite school of poetry disliked the bitterness, ugliness and materialism of the Victorians. They wanted to leave the world of vulgar realities of the Victorian Poetry and to join the World of beauty, art and loveliness. Essentially, they were under immense influence of the mysticism of the Middle Age.
Yearning of Pre- Raphaelites for the past and avoiding the present was also remarkable. These poets were interested in excluding the conventional and self-parading ideas. They wanted to express genuine ideas and sympathize with what is direct, serious and heart-felt in art. Obviously, the Pre-Raphaelite poets were also great pictorial artists.
External Support & Criticism
Pre- Raphaelite movement was also supported by Oxford men. Hence, literary experts call it the child and heir of the Oxford movement. Some also call it as the “Freshly School of Poetry” because of sensuousness and intense feelings in expressions. Calling Fleshly school of poetry has though, a derogatory connotations and Scottish poet and critic Robert Buchanan used first for pre-Raphaelites.
Popular Poets of Pre-Raphaelite Poetry
Some Pre-Raphaelite poets had done pioneering work and more popular than others. Few of them were founding members of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and others stepped into their footprints.
Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti (D.G. Rossetti) [1828- 1882]
D.G. Rossetti was the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite poetry. He was highly influenced by the Romantic poets and spellbound by the supernaturalism of the medieval age. He depicted in his poems a mysterious world ruled by beauty, mystery, wonder, and love. His works are full of feminine beauty. Notable works of D.G. Rossetti include “The White Ship”, “The King’s Tragedy”, “The Blessed Damozel”, etc.
Christina Georgina Rossetti (C. Rossetti) [1830-1894]
D.G. Rossetti’s sister Christina Rossetti was entirely different from him on poetic themes. She talks of religion in her poems. She sings of renunciation. Christina also writes about love between husband and wife and the world of beauty and joy. Her Style is simple, spontaneous and lucid. Her famous works are “A Pageant”, “A Prince’s Progress, etc.
William Morris (1834-1896)
was a versatile genius. He also attracted towards the Middle Ages. His volume “The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems” is an ample proof of this. He was a great pictorial artist. His style is easy, simple and impressive. Some of his famous poems are “The earthly Paradise” and “The Pilgrims of Hope”.
Algernon Charles Swinburne (A.C. Swinburne) [1837-1907]
Swinburn was primarily a pictorial artist. He is often compared with Shelley for his melody and images. His skill in the use of figures of speech particularly alliteration and onomatopoeia is remarkable. Most famous works of A.C. Swinburn include: “Atlanta in Calydon” and “Songs Before Sunrise”.
Pre- Raphaelite Poetry in Conclusion
Unifying the art with poetry was one of the key aims of Pre- Raphaelites. Glorifying the art of pre- renaissance era through sensual, mystical expression is very much evident in their verses. The sincerity, simplicity, and purity of art is was integral to their poetry and paintings equally. On these poetic lines, characteristics of Victorian Poetry vastly differ from that of pre- Raphaelites.
The pre- Raphaelite were in sheer opposition to the Royal Academy’s promotion of the Renaissance master Raphael. The artists and poets of pre- Raphaelite movement believed that ‘the Classical poses’ and ‘elegant compositions’ of Raphael had a corrupting influence on the academic teaching of art, hence they went with name “Pre- Raphaelite”.
Accordingly, in contrast to other artists they did not idealize even religious figures. Instead, they painted them with utter realism and put in raw expressions. In fact, they aimed allowing people to get everything from the expressions of the painting itself. Many of their painting comes with verses as well in attempt to integrating art with poetry. Challenging the art seen as good at their time was their biggest motivation.
The Pre- Raphaelite poetry, as part of Pre- Raphaelite movement made a remarkable contributions to the sphere of poetry during the Victorian Era. Strangely however, movement did not survive for a long period. It started becoming unreal, stilted and artificial. Hence, this school of poetry lost its appeal and was soon for faded from the memory of the successive generations.
Beyond Pre- Raphaelite Poetry Under Literature Reads
- Victorian Poetry Characteristics [Tennyson Age Poetry Features
- Features of Romantic Poetry Making it Different from Neo-Classical
- Characteristics of The Romantic Prose [Prose of Early 19th Century]
- My Last Duchess Summary on Browning’s Dramatic Monologue
- The Road Not Taken Summary Stanza by Stanza, Analysis etc.