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Romantic Poets: Big gift to faith, Truth, and Love.

Romantic Poets: Big gift to faith, Truth, and Love.
How Romantic Poets help us draw closer to Jesus. Wm. Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Wm. Cowper among them. Elizabeth Barrett Browning too.

And then my heart with pleasure fills And dances with the daffodils. – Wm. Wordsworth, 1802

Romantic poets

“Dancing with the daffodils,” springs into my brain when I hear “romantic poets.” Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge launched the romantic movement in English literature with their “Lyrical Ballads” of 1798. It is characterized by a love of nature, simple language, and a love of liberty. But the Gospel? Not to me.

That’s why I was intrigued by Andrew Klavan’s claim that by reading the life and works of some English romantics he “encountered Jesus in a deeper and more profound way than ever before.” I love Jesus and the English romantics but I find nothing of Jesus in them, and believe me, I have looked.

Were the romantic poets Christians?

The romantics Klavan looked at were Wordsworth, Coleridge, John Keats, and Mary Shelley. The first two were Christians, and the last two were not.

Keats died young (25) and showed no interest in Jesus or religion, and Mary Shelley, the wife of atheist poet Percy Bysshe Shelly and creator of Frankenstein, lived a troubled life with people like Shelley and Byron who hated Christianity.

What then was Klavan talking about? Not the content of their poetry, but the dynamics and experiences of their lives and the age they lived in. Klavan is a highly educated and well-read intellectual Christian who learned Greek to understand the Bible better, but even though he truly believed, the Gospel was still “blurry to me.”

His son turned him on to the problem: “You are trying to understand a philosophy instead of trying to get to know a man.” Acting on this, Andrew plunged into the lives and work of these romantic poets and found in and with them an excitement and energy that made his faith come alive.

Romantics found religion in nature

He opines that what they saw in nature, liberty, and pleasure was a reflection of Jesus. The whole cycle of the seasons was built into nature to be a reflection of the Gospel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Himself.

As he entered into the spirit of the romantics he became open to the Spirit of Jesus and so found the connection he was looking for, the one he missed via his intellectual approach, mastery of Greek, and study of theology.

But this understanding of Jesus as the foundation of all creation and source of all things is itself theology, one advanced by Wordsworth but more fully developed by Coleridge. Klavan understands that these two romantics were acting in rebellion against the age of classicism and the ideas of the Enlightenment.

Edward Gibbon demythologized Christianity in much the same way Darwin undermined the Bible, but the romantic poets opened to us the gifts of faith, truth, and love in overthrowing the lifeless, secular literature and spirit of 18th-century classicism.

But some of the romantic poets were enemies of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Bible. They missed the faith and theology of Coleridge and Wordsworth, caught up in the spirit of the age, and they were blind to the faith, truth, and love in which William Blake steeped his life.

The most fervent Christian poet of the 18th century was evangelical William Cowper, whom Coleridge called “the best modern poet,” and a precursor of the romantic movement in England.

The earliest romantic poet

was William Blake who wrote, The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee Gave thee life & bid thee feed. By the stream & o’er the mead; Gave thee clothing of delight, Softest clothing wooly bright; Gave thee such a tender voice, Making all the vales rejoice! Little Lamb who made thee ? Dost thou know who made thee ? Little Lamb I’ll tell thee, Little Lamb I’ll tell thee! He is called by thy name, For he calls himself a Lamb: He is meek & he is mild, He became a little child: I a child & thou a lamb, We are called by his name. Little Lamb God bless thee! Little Lamb God bless thee!

Here we see romanticism’s simple language, love of nature, rejoicing spirit, and reverent appreciation of creation set in a holy recognition of Jesus, the Lamb of God!

What makes this come alive is the Spirit of Jesus which abode in Blake’s spirit and which he recognized as the basis of art and found in the Bible:

The Old and New Testaments are the Great Code of Art. – Wm. Blake

The last romantic poet

We see these elements again, beautifully rendered in this poem by the last romantic poet, Elizabeth Barret Browning:

They say that God lives very high! But if you look above the pines, You cannot see our God. And why? And if you dig down in the mines, You never see Him in the gold, Though from Him all that’s glory shines. God is so good, He wears a fold Of heaven and earth across His face— Like secrets kept, for love, untold. But still I feel that His embrace Slides down, by thrills, through all things made, Through sight and sound of every place: As if my tender mother laid On my shut lids, her kisses’ pressure, Half-waking me at night; and said, “Who kissed you through the dark, dear guesser?”

Here we see the gift of faith, Truth, and Love in the romantic poets. Here too we begin to understand the connection Klavan sought, living fellowship with Jesus.

Sadly, some of the most famous of the Romantics missed it and Him. I weep for the short and tragic lives of Shelley, Byron, and Keats and contrast them with the blessed lives of William Blake and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who have made their final connection with the Lord Jesus and are now in His presence.

A witness at Blake’s final hours records this:

He died … in a most glorious manner. He said He was going to that Country he had all His life wished to see & expressed Himself Happy, hoping for Salvation through Jesus Christ – Just before he died His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brighten’d and he burst out Singing of the things he saw in Heaven.

Jesus used romantic poets to display Himself to those who seek Him.

Andrew Klavan shows us how, and I am grateful to him for sharing the journey that helped him connect with Jesus personally. Klavan found Him in the Romantic poets, but others found Him in the classicism the Romantics rebelled against. T.S. Eliot found Him in the metaphysical poems, and the truth is He can be found everywhere, For in him we live, and move, and have our being; Acts 17:28

You will find Him in 25 Wonderful Christian Poems on Faith, Truth & Love. He wants you to find Him inviting Come to Me! and promising Seek, and you will find.

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