Throughout the course, I was bothered by the fact that the poets seemed so vastly unaware of their privilege. Perhaps it is too modern a concept for them to understand, but I was often struck by the lack of awareness that they exhibited.
Wordsworth, seeking to be the people’s poet, the poet of the common language and rustic life, really was far removed from it. He was greatly educated, never had to labor like the people that populate his poems, and his use of common language often exposed his gap in understanding what is working class and what is middle class. He idealizes a life he never had to lead. He relied on his publication, his connected friends, and the labor of women in his life to have time and resources to idly contemplate this life he saw as the most pure. Coleridge and Blake were not the laborers or workers they idealized, and Burns didn’t remain so.
The next generation of poets was hardly better. Byron, well-funded by family and patrons, criticized Wordsworth for having a job (which was not well paid nor terribly governmental). Shelley, being of the noble class, likewise had money to spend and the freedom of education and movement to pursue whatever lines of interest that he desired. Though, in their defense, the later generation spent far less time on the rustic classes than the earlier one did, as they were far more concerned with their own selves, alter-egos, and scandals.
Perhaps the only authentic poet we read, the only one not looking down at or far over the laboring classes, and the only one writing from the lived experience of the poorer classes is John Clare. The lack of privilege practically beams out of his lines – they are misspelled, syntactically divergent, and far less fall into private and contemplative musings. Though, to a degree, Clare idealizes the past as much as Wordsworth, it appears more as an authentic piece of the Romantic genre than it feels like an underhanded expression of privilege like it does with others. Though I’m not particularly fond of Clare and his work, I appreciate his contribution to the genre and his authenticity in expressing it.