More about Byron-- there are some really interesting biographies about him out there, forget their names though. I have to say that I find Wordsworth a bit dull, but then again I was forced to read his "Prelude" which is pages and pages and pages of stuff with no plot or real characters! Shelley's "Revolt of Islam" is really good in terms of long poems, but hard to find. I had to print it all out of the computer from the Guttenberg project. I'm not so keen on Keats, though I did like "Isabella and the pot of Basil." Sir Walter Scott, Leigh Hunt, Robert Southey and William Blake are some others that are often read as part of the whole Romantic movement. The Bronte sisters also wrote stuff that is grouped in with the Romantics although I think they were a little earlier.
Byron definately has a sense of the absurd. His satirical aspect, he ascribed to Sir Alexander Pope, and was a great admirer of his. I'm also a big fan of Pope (an Enlightenment poetic satirist), his "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot" is completely hilarious and scathing and has some of the best lines in the English language. The problem, I think why it isn't read that much outside of English courses now adays is that it's long, and to fully appreciate it you need lots of footnotes and explanations to explain what incidents and people he is refering to in the poem. All the characters he talks about were actual people in the British parliament and lordly circles at the time.
I think Byron was aware of the paradoxes and ironies of human nature, but at the same time couldn't help himself from succumbing to them and that's where a lot of the humour comes from, this realization of the essential duality and hyprocasy of human nature.
He had a very cynical view of war (see "When a Man has No Freedom to Fight for a Home") and yet he commited himself to a war that he wasn't even obligated to fight (Greece vs. Turkey) and died during the campaign, (not in battle, but of fever).
He was considered to be this great lady killer and yet he was bisexual (or perhaps even gay) and had affairs with young men as well as women.I think he actually mistreated the women he was with. He had this amazing appetite for life and yet in his darker moments he writes of having come close to suicide. He is considered a quintessentially English poet, yet he was actually Scottish and is known to have spoke with a pronounced Scottish accent. Lord Byron wasn't even the name he was born with, (his original name was George Gordon which sounds way less romantic and more like some stuffy boring person). I think he was very aware of his public image and did a lot to cultivate it, yet at the same time he would go and take the mickey out of himself with equal aplomb. He was the only one of the Romantic poets who sat in the house of lords and played a direct roll in British politics of the time. He was as establishment as you can get and then completely exiled, and anti-establishment. He was considered the most handsome man in Britain and yet he was also physically deformed (had a club foot, sohe needed a prosthetic boot which he invented himself and limped considerably), but was also the only one of the poets to break a cross-lake swimming record in his lifetime and liked playing ground hockey. Apparently he used to like to stand around leaning on mantel pieces reading at parties so people would come up to him and admire him. He was very vain, but wrote disparingly of his physical appearance. He was considered a completely immoral person, especially where his sexual congress was concerned and yet he was the one who burned all Shelley's diaries on the funeral pyre when Shelley died, because he didn't want the world to think Shelley was immoral or that scandal would spread to Shelley's surviving wife and children.
It is commonly thought nowadays, (and I believe it is true) that he was a manic depressive. A lot of his relatives were actually insane, (his Dad was actually called "Mad Jack") and his uncle that he inherited the title from was called "Mad Lord Byron" and was considered a very evil man and that the family was cursed. I think the fact that he was such a contradictory person is what continues to attract people to him to this day, not to mention the luridc sex scadals and awesome poetry of course.
In terms of the poets I would roughly rate them as:
Shelley being the most revolutionary thinker and most political as well as very imaginative
Byron the best for sexy and satirical stuff, has the most modern sensibility in my opinion
Coleridge the most imaginative, best poetic imagery and best ear for rhyme and rythmn, most "out there"
Wordsworth the most pastoral, straightforward and the one you need the least amount of background info about ancient Greeks and Romans for, he is the most true to the Romantic manifesto as outlined in Lyrical Ballads
Robert Southey is unjustly neglected these days, he does some really good and accessible narrative stuff.
Leigh Hunt was not the best poet, but the best organizational and publishing force for getting the 2nd stage romantics together and make them put their thoughts on paper
William Blake went through two periods. His earlier stuff is amazingly easy to read and accessible. His later stuff is absolutely impossible to understand because he was having weird biblical visions at the time and it all relates to that.
Erasmus Darwin (grandpa of the better known Charles Darwin) for revolutionary poems about evolution and plant biology (I swear I'm not kidding about this, look it up).
In terms of novelists I always thought it was cool that although the Romantics are famous for getting extreme emotions onto paper for the first time, they were also highly interested in science and the weird and spectacular. So in the fiction from the period you get the first English language vampire novel by Polidori (buddy of Byron) "The Vampyre" and the first science fiction in "Frankenstein" some of Mary Shelley's other work, especially "the Immortal" is also even more in a science fiction vein and reads very modern. And Byron's daughter was the first person to invent binary computer language a hundred and fifty years before the first real computer existed. I think a lot of the poetry could be classified as fantasy or science fiction if read by modern eyes, but back then things weren't so rigorously divided by genre ghettos.
The first two books I attempted to write (in high schol and uni respectively) took a lot from the biogrpahies and poetry of the Romantic period. The first really mature short story I wrote, "From the Crux of the Conflagration" aka "Huervo" in OAC was actually a modern update of Frankenstein and featured some language I took straight from the book. It was set in the Amazon rainforest and "the creature" was a biologically engineered little boy.
The think Frankenstein, despite being mainly about male characters is a very female novel, because it is all about birth and how we relate to our children. Mary Shelley had a lot of trouble with her children dying shortly after birth. She buried many babies and I think the book speaks to the nightmare she went through of having all these children and having to bury them when they were only a few days old. Understandably, like Dr. Frankenstein I think she had trouble attaching to her children after birth because she knew they would likely die, (of which they all did). It makes one very thankful for modern obsterics I think. What used to commonly happen to mothers and newborn babies long ago seems unbelivably horrific to my mind. Not to mention that nobody knew you shouldn't drink while pregnant. Imagine the rates of fetal alcohol syndrome, alone.
Most of the poetry I've written is based on Romantic stanza forms (mostly ballad stanzas) and is highly narrative. Many of my poems are related to stories I write and feature the characters of the stories. Not forms that are well received by the poetry establishment of our modern day, despite being (I consider) more difficult to write than free verse.