The Victorian period, 1837-1901, which began in the period after the Mapoleonis Wars and extended until before World War I, was an era of a grat cultural outpouring with an expanding audience for literary production.
1. Aural and musical: linked to sound, with an emphasis on rhythm and sound effects, reinforcing an emotive quality. Victorian poetry derives from oral and pre-literate culture—songs, hymns, ballads, recitations, public readings, private family readings, and music as popularly experienced in parlor performances and church singing. Many poems were also printed as "songs."
Lines and stanzas are arranged in a series of repeats and variations / alternations of stressed and unstressed syllables and passages /onomatopoeia.
2. Pictorial and visual—word painting, imagery, influenced by Romantics such as Keats, and Pre-Raphaelite painters such as J. E. Millais and D. G. Rossetti
3. Colorful and detailed descriptions—age of realism, photography, early sound recordings, period of geological discoveries and Darwin, tendency to see beauty in exactitude and detail (age of scientific advances on may fronts)
4. Receptive to features also found in other genres—novels, serial fiction, fairy tales, drama and theatrical effects, newspapers and periodicals, argumentative or meditative essays and sermons
4. Embedded in the issues of the time--women’s sexuality, double gender standards, scientific ideas, technology, poverty, war, class inequities, and issues of meaning and spirituality. The Victorian period was an age of great religious debates--Darwin vs. Bishop Ussher.
5. Circulated in many forms, more available as the century progressed—broadsides, cheap reprints, periodicals, books; the latter were often illustrated and given as gift books on special occasions; great age of book illustration. Earlier in the century, books were often read as part of a circulating library subscription, but as the cost of manufacture lessened books became less expensive, cheaper formats proliferated, and a fine press movement grew up to model more artistic book designs.
6. Intended to amuse, please, entertain, and prompt reflection.
Mid-Victorian poetry exhibited a romantic, reformist tone, a sense of discovery, and a concern with ethical themes--e. g., the nature of beauty, goodness, or human achievement, modes of coping with death.
By the late-Victorian period, fin de siecle poetry exhibited more detachment and disillusionment. The artist was often portrayed as an observer or even outcast, as in Oscar Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol." Rejecting grand systems and metaphysical certainty, poetry emphasized themes of isolation, repression, suffering, and pain. Poets were concerned with the desecration of nature, the anomie of urbanization, the alienation of distant imperial wars, and the depersonalization of modernity.
The late Victorians are essentially "moderns," spiritually eclectic, and less orthodox than their predecessors under the influence of increasing knowledge of many traditions.
As you read, look for common themes and patterns, and think of how their expression changes over the course of more than 60 years--from 1837 to 1901.