Contrasting literary movements as a pedagogical approach to teaching literature is a debatable method, but I have found that juxtaposing literary movements enables students to observe the evolution of language, form, philosophy, and style. Each literary movement essentially rebels those that came before it, and there are various combinations of literary movements to compare and contrast: modernism vs. Victorianism, transcendentalism vs. naturalism, realism vs. impressionism, etc. I particularly enjoy juxtaposing poetry from the Romantic period with poetry from the Imagist Movement that gave way to Modernism. These two literary movements stand in stark contrast in style and form, and students enjoy writing poetry modeled after the Romantics and Imagists.
Romantic poetry can be defined using Wordsworth’s definition of high quality poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” The Romantic Movement took place in the 19th-century and rebelled against the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, which championed reasoning as the means to knowledge. The Scientific Method was born out of the Enlightenment, along with the first set of Encyclopedias, but this focus on science and reasoning left little room to explore the emotions of the life experience. Romantic writers set out to create emotional experiences, whether through the extreme fear and horror of the Gothic genre, or through the excessive joy and despair of poetry. Romantic writing is trademarked for its form and meter, invocation of imagination, focus on nature, sadness, nostalgia for the past (particularly the Middle Ages and classical Greece), supernatural forces, and subjectivity. In essence, the Romantics were attracted to anything that defied reason, logic, and science. Notable Romantic poets included Keats, Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge, and Shelley.
Imagism was a movement in the early 20th-century in which poets rebelled against the artistic style of the Romantics and Victorians. Specifically, the Imagists replaced superfluous, abstract, emotional terms and excessive style with precise, concrete details from real life. They also championed word economy and directness and experimented with form versus the Romantics who championed superfluous imagery and more traditional poetic forms. The movement lasted from approximately 1909-1917 in Great Britain, Ireland, and the United States and influenced what became Modernism. Notable Imagist poets included Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell.
Here are some poems from both movements that I like to compare and contrast. These poems do not necessarily connect thematically, but their stylings are distinct enough so that students can see how Modernism turned away from the excess of Romantic emotionalism. It’s an interesting practice to compare/contrast poems that are not thematically linked so that students can focus on style, form, and function.
Consider having students experiment with these forms by writing an original poem in both styles. The creative writing process will help them understand the distinct traits of each literary movement so that they can then write explications of the poems, comparing and contrasting their styles. Juxtaposing works from literary movements shows how art is born out of rebellion—each movement rebels against the ones that came before it—pushing and progressing art in new directions to explore what it means to be human.
If you are interested in a more detailed lesson plan, please check out the Imagists vs. Romantics Lesson Bundle by Bespoke ELA by clicking on the image below.
We’d love to hear from you! Are there any literary movements that you find interesting or that you compare/contrast in your classes? Are there any particular pieces that really resonate with your students? Please leave us a comment below!