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The period between 1790 and 1830 produced an extraordinary concentration of new poetry. The variety and number of these publications poses a challenge to selection, especially since poetry by women, self-taught and working-class poets is still in the process of being recovered. The focus of this chapter is on forms of transition in verse which allow us to examine both formal (rhetorical) concerns and historical issues. The formal shapes of poetry mean that an awareness of poetic tradition is more important for this genre than for drama or the novel. To be able to appreciate the stylistic and linguistic innovations of Romantic poets, we need to have some idea of what is being modified. Readers are encouraged to consult the eighteenth-century volume in the Transitions series which will offer fruitful intersections and overlaps (from a different perspective) with some of the writers covered in this chapter. The traditions of the eighteenth-century literature of sensibility, loco-descriptive poetry and ‘graveyard poems’ are particularly important factors in the emergence of what we recognise as Romantic poetry. As we shall see, eighteenth-century religious, philosophical and scientific debates also shaped the dynamics of poetic form and subject matter.
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