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18th-century literature – a bridge from classical to enlightenment to romanticism. The period gave us such works as Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal, and Pride and Prejudice.

Obviously, writers had moved far away from the focus on religion and toward looking at a man and his place in the real world – in nature and in society.

This era also gave us a myriad of poets, many of whose works have become classics, with a newer view of man’s place in his world and universal themes.

Here are eight of these classics that we still read and recite today.

“The Tyger” by William Blake

The most famous line of this poem, of course, is “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright, in the forests of the night. What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?” And the poem is probably Blake’s most famous. It should be read in conjunction with “The Lamb” to show the contrast of these two creatures, both created by the same God. And the question in the Tyger is why did God create such a fearful, violent animal. Some critics believe that the tyger is a manifestation of the Old Testament, judgmental, vengeful God while the lamb represents the loving, forgiving God of the New Testament.

 

On Being Brought from Africa to America,” by Phillis Wheatley

Here is a poet who was certainly ahead of her time. Having been taken from Africa as a young girl, she was converted to Christianity and was the first African-American female to publish a book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. While this poem is quite short, it encapsulates her belief that God removed her from her “pagan land” and brought her to redemption in America, even though as a slave (she was freed shortly after the publication of her book). The final point she makes to white America is that black people, too, can become refined Christians.

Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,

May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.

 

 

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

Many of us still remember pouring over The Iliad and The Odyssey. In that same vein, although in a much shorter way, Coleridge used a neo-classical style in this narrative poem, and incorporated a mix of medieval aspects of supernaturalism and spiritualism. And the poem itself is a tale of remorse, suffering, relief, forgiveness, and joy. “Water water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink” is obviously the most famous line from this work.

 

“The Rape of the Lock,” by Alexander Pope

Satire was a new phenomenon of 18th-century literature, although some will find it in far earlier pieces, such as Canterbury Tales. But with pieces such as Gulliver’s Travels and Rape of the Lock, sarcasm in literature took a front-row seat. This poem revolves around the event of a lock of hair being cut from Belinda, a member of the upper class – an event that began a “war” involving a large cast of supernatural characters. The obvious theme was to point to the ridiculousness of upper-class vanity and superficiality. If it can be read with this theme in mind, the reader will find a great deal of humor in the satiric exaggerations.

 

“The Red Red Rose” by Robert Burns

What’s literature without a little mystery? It’s really not clear that Robert Burns originally composed this poem, as it is similar to a folk song that was already in existence. Yet, this short poem has had fame through the ages, although now perhaps a bit trite. Comparing one’s love to a rose has become over-used today and is not so inspiring as it might have been in the 18th century. Other lines of the poem have popped up in modern songs too, including the line “til the seas run dry” to speak to how long someone’s love will last.

 

“The Dying Child” by John Clare

Clare lived in England, the child of a peasant, so it is natural that much of his poetry had a nature theme. His first collection was published in 1820, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. Unfortunately, Clare had an alcohol problem and spent a lot of his later adult years in mental institutions.

“The Dying Child” speaks to an ill boy who will not die in the springtime when the earth is alive and he can feast upon all of the plant and animal life. When winter comes, however, he has no reason to go on and, so, quietly dies. The poem is written in the “sing-song” style of the way a child would speak. Here are the first and last stanzas:

He could not die when trees were green,

          For he loved the time too well.

His little hands, when flowers were seen,

          Were held for the bluebell,

          As he was carried o’er the green…

When winter came and blasts did sigh,

          And bare were plain and tree,

As he for ease in bed did lie

          His soul seemed with the free,

          He died so quietly.

“By the Sea” by William Wordsworth

Wordsworth was most famous for his sonnets, not a form of poetry that was unique to the 18th century. Shakespeare wrote them too. These are 14-line poems with specific rhyme schemes. “By the Sea” speaks to Wordsworth’s experience walking on the beach at sunset, with his daughter, as he feels the presence of God – “the gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea…” and “the mighty Being is awake.” And then he tells the young child that while her thoughts may not be the same as his, “God is with thee when we know it not.”

Most of Wordsworth’s poems have become classics of the era – another favorite is “The World is Too Much With Us,” in which he decries the materialism of man and insists that the salvation for society is to get in touch with nature to return to spirituality.

 

“Hymn to the Moon,” by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Here was a brilliant and wise woman who was famous for her “letters” written while in the Ottoman Empire with her British Ambassador husband. But she was a versatile writer, and her poetry was no exception. In fact, Gil Redmann, a writer for Studicus, states this: “Lady Montagu is often the topic for essays and research papers that my female student customers want assistance with. They see her as an early feminist.”

In this poem, Montagu romanticizes about the moon as her confessor, “my friend, my goddess, and my guide.”

So Many More…

The 18th century saw an explosion of literary geniuses, and literature itself evolved from neo-classicism to romanticism and much more focus on society, nature, and man’s place in the universe.

About the Author: Kristin Savage nourishes, sparks, and empowers using the magic of a word. Along with pursuing her degree in Creative Writing, Kristin was gaining experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors. Now she works as a contributing writer at TrustMyPaper and GrabMyEssay. You can find her on Facebook.