The Neoclassical period (1660-1798) is a revisiting of the classical periods, hence the name, neoclassical, i.e. new classical. This was a period that is known for the satire of the times. Many people think of Alexander Pope when they think of the Neoclassical period. In this essay, Daniel DeFoe’s, “The True Born Englishman,” will be studied for outstanding themes from the neoclassical period. In comparison, the Romantic period (1785-1832) involved a serious quest for literature, much in part thanks to the invention of the printing press and the ability to have a widespread audience (“The Romantic Period”). This essay will analyze Robert Burns’, “A Red, Red Rose,” in order to see if there are elements which are unique to Romantic period poetry. Both poets are good examples of their relative time periods because they both represent what the time periods stood for.

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Neoclassical and Romantic Poetry: Defoe and Burns

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Daniel DeFoe lived from 1660-1731. He is most well-known for Robinson Crusoe (“The Restoration and the 18th Century”). In his poem, “The True Born Englishman,” there are elements of satire which take off from the second line when the Englisham is referred to as a “That het’rogeneous thing, an Englishman” (DeFoe). The heterogenous thing is a reference to the political mixing of Scottish and Great Britain. The Englishman supposedly claims superiority because he is English, however, Defoe’s satire is that the Englishman is really just a combination of many other types of English- “The conqu’ring part gave title to the whole./ The Scot, Pict, Britain, Roman, Dane, submit…” (DeFoe). The reference to the other races are what is ironic about the Englishman’s sense of nobility-it is undeserved because he is not different from any other. DeFoe ends the poem with the punchline that the true born Englishman is only derived from being born of foreign blood. These political references and satire are typical of the neoclassical time period.

During the Romantic period, there was a greater sense of literary form because of the fact that there was mass readership due to the printing press (“The Romantic Period”). The lower and middle classes were able to read, and many poets upheld a type of poetry that elevated the poet above the daily readers (“The romantic Period”). “A Red, Red Rose,” was published in 1794 by the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. He was a poet who wrote during the Romantic period. This poem is a good example of Romantic poetry because it is adhering to more complex literary models than did DeFoe’s example of Neoclassical poetry. In Burns’ poem, there is structured rhyme and meter which are more complex than the end-rhyme scheme in DeFoe’s poetry. Consider that Burns’ poem makes reference to the natural world, and not just the political world. Burns writes: “Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear, / And the rocks melt wi’ the sun; / I will love thee still, my dear, / While the sands o’ life shall run” (Burns). These words are representative of the romantic period because they tie nature and man together which was a primary concern for Romantic poets (“The Romantic Period”).

In conclusion, both poets offer excellent examples of work which illustrates the ideals of their relative time periods. Burns offers a thoughtful and sensitive proem, one that adheres to strict rhyme and meter. DeFoe embodies the spirit of neoclassicism by writing a satirical poem about the political nature of being an Englishman. The respective time periods are characterized very well by both of these poets. The satire of neoclassicism comes out in DeFoe’s writing, and the interpersonal relationships and nature of the romantic period are found in Burns’ poem.

  • Burns, Robert. “A Red, Red Rose.” Poetry Foundation, 2017, Accessed 19 Aug. 2017.
  • DeFoe, Daniel. “The True Born Englishman.” Poetry Foundation, 2017, Accessed 19 Aug. 2017.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen, et al. “The Restoration and the 18th Century.” W.W. Norton Anthology of English Literature, 2011, Accessed 19 Aug. 2017.
  • ”The Romantic Period.” W.W. Norton Anthology of English Literature, 2011, Accessed 19 Aug. 2017.