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Greater Romantic Lyric

Greater Romantic Lyric refers to a particular type of Romantic poem in which the author spends an extended period of time contemplating a particular subject.

The term greater Romantic lyric as devised by the scholar M.H. Abrams and used in his essay  ‘Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric.’ These poems, as described in more detail below, were often deeply emotional and complex. They were usually long and fairly serious as well. 

Greater Romantic Lyric pronunciation: greh-tur row-man-tick leer-ick

Greater Romantic Lyric definition and poetic examples

Definition of a Greater Romantic Lyric 

A greater Romantic lyric is a poem written during the Romantic period that subscribes to the tenants of Romanticism but is longer and more serious than other poems of its type.

These poems were often deeply meditative and contemplative. They focused on the natural world, as seen in a couple of examples below. Some of the best examples include Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s conversation poems. These are a group of eight poems composed between 1795 and 1807. Each poem describes a life experience and deals with virtues. Man’s relationship with and obligation to God is one of the central themes of these works. 

Examples of Greater Romantic Lyrics 

Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Written in Spenserian stanzas, Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples’ is a well-known example of Shelley’s poetry. It describes the feelings of alienation a speaker suffers from and how he attempts to soothe his pain with nature. The poem begins with the speaker describing a beautiful day he’s observing. This includes the sea and mountains and his wonder at being able to take in both. He observes everything around him, and listening to the silence is like listening to Solitude’s voice. He imagines looking into the sea, finding his way to the bottom where the environment is untouched by human beings. Here are a few lines from this section: 

 I see the Deep’s untrampled floor 

With green and purple seaweeds strown; 

I see the waves upon the shore, 

Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown: 

I sit upon the sands alone,— 

The lightning of the noontide ocean 

Is flashing round me, and a tone 

Arises from its measured motion, 

How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion. 

These lines are filled with wonderful examples of imagery. He describes the way the waves touch the shore and a confluence of elements that create light “dissolved in star-showers.” Suddenly, as the poem progresses, the speaker’s emotions become so overwhelming that even the natural world can’t cheer him. 

Explore more Percy Bysshe Shelley poems

Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth 

Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’ is one of the poet’s best-loved poems. It’s also a wonderful example of a greater Romantic lyric. The poem describes how the speaker returned to a specific spot along the River Wye and contemplated nature and his life. The poem is part dramatic monologue and part lyrical ballad. The place he returned to is very dear to him and is just as beautiful and mystical as it was when he left. The “beauteous forms” of the landscape have not been lost from his mind, though. They have stayed with him through his absence and supported him. Here are some of the best-known lines: 

These beauteous forms, 

Through a long absence, have not been to me 

As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye: 

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din 

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them, 

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet, 

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart; 

And passing even into my purer mind 

With tranquil restoration:—feelings too 

Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps, 

As have no slight or trivial influence 

On that best portion of a good man’s life, 

When he considers his memories of this place, they bring him pleasures and small joys from his youth. These feelings influence him to live a “good man’s life.” It’s with these thoughts that he’s able to continue on a path of goodness and help other people in big ways and small. 

Read more William Wordsworth poems

Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is a lyrical ballad that tells a long and dark narrative. It contains many of the elements of a folk ballad, including a dramatic beginning and the fact that it’s written as a dialogue between the speaker and one listener. In this case, the Mariner and the wedding guest. In the first part of the poem, the Mariner confronts the wedding guest, determined to tell his story. He describes how he, while on a ship at sea, killed an albatross and the many distressing events that followed. Here are a few lines from Part II (of VII): 

And I had done a hellish thing,

And it would work ’em woe:

For all averred, I had killed the bird

That made the breeze to blow.

Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,

That made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head,

The glorious Sun uprist:

Then all averred, I had killed the bird

That brought the fog and mist.

‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,

That bring the fog and mist.

Here, the Mariner mourns the “hellish thing” that he did. He killed the bird “That made the breeze blow.” The rest of the poem plays out like a nightmare, with the speaker confronted by all sorts of otherworldly phenomena. 

Explore more of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry.


What are the characteristics of a greater Romantic lyric? 

Some of the characteristics include a serious tone, contemplation of or meditation on a particular subject of interest, and other attributes of Romanticism. These include a focus on nature, figurative language, lyricism, and more. 

Who wrote greater Romantic lyrics? 

Some of the authors who penned poems in this sub-genre of Romanticism include Tennyson, Wordsworth, Auden, and Coleridge. 

Why are greater Romantic lyrics important?

These poems are some of the best examples of Romanticism. By dividing them into a new category, readers can focus on their extended attributes and the higher degree of intention they place on particular emotional experiences. 

What was the subject matter of greater Romantic lyrics? 

The subject matter these poems focused on was usually concerned, at least in some way, with nature. These poems might also consider humankind’s relationship with God, a single person’s relationship to the rest of humanity, and virtues. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Romanticism: a movement that originated in Europe at the end of the 18th century and emphasized aesthetic experience and imagination.
  • Sensory Language: the words used to create images that trigger the reader’s senses. These include sight, sound, smell, and taste.
  • Speaker in Poetry: the poet, an imagined character, a creature or even an object.
  • Style: the way a writer writes. An individual writer’s style is original and unlike any other.
  • Symbolism: the use of symbols to represent ideas or meanings. They are imbued with certain qualities often only interpretable through context

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