Neoclassical poetry is characterized as such because it reflects the ideas of the neoclassical period in history, which occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some of the major themes during this period included the importance of reason, morality, and order. In both content and form, these themes were emphasized in neoclassical poetry.
Another belief during the neoclassical period was that human nature is unchanging. This is one of the reasons that the works of the classical Greek and Roman writers became popular once again as well as how the time period got its name. Rather than focusing on individual expression, the content of much neoclassical poetry was an imitation or revision of classical works. In other words, writing about new ideas was not encouraged but finding new ways to express classical ideas was.
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Another common feature of neoclassical poetry is the importance of subject matter. It was also important for neoclassical authors to focus on generalities as opposed to specifics. This type of poetry was written with the intention that it would be public, not a private expression of ideas or emotion. The purpose of literature, and poetry specifically, during this time was to provide moral instruction to readers.
The form of neoclassical poetry is also important. The types of poems that one could write were somewhat limited to the same types written during the classical period, and it was important that the poets adhered strictly to the meter and rhyme of the specific type of verse. Some pieces written during this time included tragedies, comedies, odes, and pastorals, to name a few. The dominant type of writing during this time period, however, was satire.
Satire is a type of writing in which something is ridiculed. This can be done in a number of ways. One example of satire would be the mock epic, which is when a long epic poem is written about a subject that is not really worthy of an epic. Satire is often a form of social commentary. Despite the strict adherence to the rules in most forms of neoclassical poetry, satire offered a relatively large amount of freedom for the writers.
While restraint and order were emphasized, wit was also an important element during this time. There are several well-known writers of neoclassical poetry. John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift were all popular writers of the time period. John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, was also a writer during this time.