The Friendship: A Romantic Odyssey (55+)

In 1798 two great friends, the celebrated English poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, collaborated on a small book that changed the face of English poetry forever. The publication of their co-authored Lyrical Ballads marks the beginning of the movement called Romanticism in Western literature.

What is Romanticism? What are its origins, its ambitions, its accomplishments, its influences? We will explore these questions by focusing on the work of Wordsworth and Coleridge as presented in Lyrical Ballads, paying special attention to Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” and Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” We will also frequently refer to European Romantic music and art to more fully develop our understanding of the intentions and scope of the Romantic movement.

Note: This course involves required reading.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1:

“Romanticism”: what does the term mean? What was the historical context of its appearance? We will briefly discuss the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the decline of the organized church.  We’ll also raise the romanticist’s question: “Can art replace religion?”

Week 2: 

The beginnings of Romanticism: It was Robbie Burns who first turned England’s attention to the poetic potential of the romantic ballad. He, and the “sentimental” poets of the late 18th century, showed how human emotions can be seen as valid subject matter for poetry—an idea also being explored in music at the same time in Germany, by Mozart.

Week 3: 

The Great Friendship: how did Wordsworth and Coleridge meet, and why did they decide to collaborate? The “plan” for Lyrical Ballads, which Wordsworth outlines in detail in his famous preface to the book, has come to be seen as a key manifesto for Romantic poetry. This early Romantic project is also recalled in Coleridge’s autobiography.

Week 4: 

An overview of the poems of the Lyrical Ballads: what characterizes them, and how do we read them now? What are their main themes, their style, their weaknesses and strengths? How do they differ from the more didactic and satiric poetry of the earlier 18th-century poets, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, and Jonathan Swift?

Week 5: 

Wordsworth’s accomplishment, within and beyond the Lyrical Ballads: “Tintern Abbey,” the Lucy Poems, and (later), the monumental autobiographical poem “The Prelude”. We’ll complement Wordsworth’s fascination with nature by examining a similar preoccupation with nature in the music of Beethoven and Schubert in Germany, Dvorak in Czechoslovakia, and the painter Constable in England.

Week 6: 

A close examination of Coleridge’s mysterious masterpieces “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan”. The Romantic obsession with the metaphysical will be examined in the work of the German composer Schubert and the French composer Berlioz.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

There is required reading for this course.
Any version of

  • William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads

This book will be available from the SFU Bookstore or at your local or online bookstore.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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