Thematic Guide to British Poetry

By Ruth Glancy | Go to book overview

Innocence and
Experience

The contrasting ideas of innocence and experience are most commonly associated with the Romantic movement—William Blake and William Wordsworth in particular. The Romantic poets believed that children were more spiritually aware and more simply moral than adults because their imaginations had not been curbed by institutional thinking. The Romantics were responding to two views of children that were widely held in the eighteenth century, both antithetical to them. Rationalists like John Locke held that we come into the world with no innate perceptions (what the Romantics would call imagination), and thus education was all important. Until the child is educated and experienced, he has no contribution to make. Equally critical of children but from a different perspective were Puritanical Christians, whose belief in Original Sin led to the conviction that children come into the world in a state of sin and have to be educated (and disciplined) into righteousness. Romanticism, in response, held that experience (living in the everyday world, beset by human rules and narrow-minded conformity) deprives us of our imaginative, creative impulses and hardens us, if not into realists and cynics, at least into disappointed, materialistic adults too busy with “life” to appreciate the natural world and experience wonder and joy. The Romantics brought innocence as a virtue back into the real world. Christian belief had placed innocence in the Garden of Eden; Adam and Eve lost their innocence and were driven out of the Garden into the real world (of experience) because they desired (and received—by eating from the forbidden tree) knowledge of good and evil. The ancients also saw innocence as an early stage in mankind's development, a “Golden Age” long ago when men lived in harmony with nature and there was no evil. Such an innocent, Utopian world is no longer attainable in these systems,

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Thematic Guide to British Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Anthologies of British Poetry and Abbreviations Used xi
  • Active and Contemplative Lives 1
  • Art, Imagination, and Inspiration 15
  • Beauty 31
  • Carpe Diem 43
  • Christmas Poems 47
  • Death 53
  • Death of the Young 65
  • Duty 77
  • Fame and Ambition 81
  • Family Relations 85
  • Freedom and Captivity 89
  • The Golden Mean 93
  • Immortality 97
  • Industrialism and the City 105
  • Innocence and Experience 111
  • Love 119
  • Marriage 141
  • Music 153
  • Nature and Country Life 159
  • Old Age 187
  • Patriotism 193
  • Politics and Human Rights 197
  • Pride and Vanity 205
  • Rebellion and Conformity 215
  • Regret, Consolation, and Melancholy 221
  • Religion 229
  • Sleep 243
  • Time and Change 251
  • War 257
  • Biographical Sketches 269
  • Further Reading 293
  • Index 295
  • About the Author 305
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