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Literary Movement

In literature, the term “movement” refers to a division of written works. They are separated out into their similarities and aesthetic features and topics. That is, in contrast to divisions of time or location.

Within the movement, authors from various walks of life will find themselves writing about the same subjects, in the same way, with the same intentions. These writers share ideas about a number of things in a way that unites them. Some movements, such as Romanticism, have been incredibly influential in the development of world literature. But others have slipped through the cracks of time.

Literary Movement definition and examples

Literary Movement Definition

A literary movement is a group of literary works that were created around the same time by authors with similar intentions and styles. The works created within a movement can range from essays to poems. It is common to find the same writer working in multiple different forms as well. Some of the best-known movements in world literature include: 

Examples of Literary Movements


Realism is a literary movement that portrays everyday life exactly how it is. There are several different types of realism. Each tries to accomplish something different. They include socialist realism, naturalism, psychological realism, kitchen sink realism, and more. Some of the most important themes and elements in realist poems include natural speech, detailed portrayal of the world, complex ethical decisions, and emphasis on truth. 

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

In The Call of the Wild, Jack London describes Yukon, Canada, in the 1890s during the Klondike Gold Rush. During this period, sled dogs were in high demand. London’s depiction of places and events is extremely realistic, influenced by the time he spent there observing life. Here is a passage from the novel:

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.

Read poetry from Jack London.

Other Poets of the Realism Movement 


Romanticism was an important literary movement that originated in Western Europe at the end of the 18th century. It is commonly cited as one of the turning points in English literature. The poets who are part of this movement emphasized aesthetic experience and imagination in their work. 

Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth 

This is a well-loved poem that describes a speaker’s return to a specific spot along the banks of the River Wye and his understanding of nature. Here are a few lines that exemplify the Romanticism movement: 

Five years have past; five summers, with the length 

Of five long winters! and again I hear 

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs 

With a soft inland murmur.—Once again 

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs, 

Read more William Wordsworth poems

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is a lyrical ballad that’s commonly cited as one of the most important poems of the movement. It describes the plight of a mariner who was lost at sea, killed an albatross, and fell victim to a variety of terrible events. Here are a few lines: 

At length did cross an Albatross,

Thorough the fog it came;

As if it had been a Christian soul,

We hailed it in God’s name.

Discover more Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems.

Other Poets of the Romanticism Movement

Harlem Renaissance 

The Harlem Renaissance is one of the most important literary movements in the history of American poetry, novel writing, and more. It was a cultural and intellectual movement in African American art, literature, dance, must, and more.

The movement was centered around Harlem in Manhattan, New York City. It began in the 1920s and lasted through the 1930s. 

Harlem Shadows by Claude McKay

Harlem Shadows’ memorably addresses the lives of Black sex workers in Harlem. The poet describes their experience while also acknowledging their strength. It was published in 1922 in Harlem Shadows. The collection was incredibly influential during the Harlem Renaissance and helped to solidify McKay’s place as one of the most important writers of the period. Here are a few lines from this important poem:

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass

In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall

Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass

To bend and barter at desire’s call.

Throughout this piece, McKay engages with themes of racism and poverty. He depicts women who work to survive in the only way they can. They freeze on the streets of Harlem and are in constant danger.

Read more of Claude McKay’s poetry.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

The Negro Speaks of Rivers’ is commonly cited as Langston Hughes’ most famous poem. He wrote it when he was only seventeen years old. The poem is told from the perspective of a man who has seen the great ages of the world alongside the banks of the most important rivers. Here are a few lines: 

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

Read more Langston Hughes poems.

Other Poets of the Harlem Renaissance 


Imagism was a literary movement of the early 20th century. The proponents were interested in the use of precise imagery and clear language. They did not use rhyme schemes or traditional forms of poetry. The basic principles of the movement were developed by T.E. Hulme, an English philosopher, and poet.

In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound

This piece is considered by some to be the most famous Imagist poem ever written. The poem is only two lines and fourteen words long, but every word is quite powerful. He gets right to the point. But, at the same time, it leaves a great deal for the reader to uncover. Here is the first line: 

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Discover more Ezra Pound poems

Other poets of the Imagist movement 


What are some movements in poetry? 

Some of the most important movements in poetry include imagism, modernism, symbolism, naturalism, Romanticism, and the work of the cavalier and metaphysical poets.

What was the best literary movement?

While most literary movements are in some way influential, some of the few most commonly cited (in the English language) include Romanticism, Transcendentalism, Modernism, Harlem Renaissance, New York School, and Postmodernism

What literary movement are we currently in?

Today scholars and critics consider the literary movement to be “post-modern.” This is a broad sweeping term, like modernism, that will, as historians look back on this period, include numerous smaller movements that are influential on their own.

Related Literary Terms 

Other Resources

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