Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1771-1834)
Coleridge, who was called the Lake Poet, was a close friend to Wordsworth: Wordsworth made with him a collaboration, in fact they wrote some poems together because they somehow were based upon similar ideas, as that of imagination – the celebration of imagination as a solemn power –.
They set to themselves different tasks:
- Wordsworth wrote about himself that he would tell about everyday events, but with some shades of imagination – casting upon a certain colouring of imagination –: he wanted to propose a beautiful image of reality without detaching from the ground of reality;
- Coleridge instead was proposing to himself a different task: reality was the starting point for a supernatural world. He was in fact more romantic in literary terms, but he tended much more frequently to the marvellous and mysterious than Wordsworth used to: realistic pictures improved through the eye of imagination were instead for him a starting point.
Another difference between them was based on the fact that Coleridge was very idealist – he believed, for example, in the idea of brotherhood –: he developed utopic attitudes mainly on his idea of Pantisocracy, a social experiment he wanted to found in USA that was simply an utopian project. It was in fact a sort of communism based on the idea of a community where people would live of the produce of the land and everybody have the same access to property.
According to him (his idealism), nature is not simply a pantheistic dimension: it’s not only God’s creation, but there are also evil forces. Because of this what he saw in nature was a neoplatonic idea of nature – a nature that conveys messages such as brotherhood and respect among men –, quite different from the positive nature of Wordsworth.
- In 1797 he produced his best poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, that is the very first composition of the Lyrical Ballads. It is a ballad telling a story and conveying a moral message.
- Another poem written by Coleridge in this period is Christabel.
- Kubla Khan belongs to this period as well.
He became very famous because of these three poems, which are simple but striking at the same time.
After this period he became better-known for his criticism contribution: he became a very famous literary critic, starting producing literary criticism – a very important body of literary critique – from 1800 on.
In 1817 he produced Biographia Literaria, where he explained the reason of his composition and the difference between him and Wordsworth, who was involved in recounting everyday experience in a beautiful way. He instead declared he would concern himself with individual adventures or at least romantic, meaning beyond the limit of reality, and by saying so he meant having had supernatural experiences.
This is the first time that the word romantic appears (in this poem).
He knew that imagination was the ingredient of romantic poetry: in his work Biographia Literaria he analysed his idea of imagination.
First of all he defined imagination as romantics do: it’s a sovereign power of God’s creation. In fact he think there’s a parallel between God’s creation and imagination as the power of human.
By stating this he affirmed that human mind is not passive, but it has the ability of reshaping the real: he deny the passiveness of human mind, which is not shaped by the outside, but the contrary.
He distinguished fundamentally two kinds of imagination:
This is a common faculty to everybody and a condition when the mind is active, that is called a living power and a prime agent of perception: it exploits perceptions and works through senses.
Imagination is born from this dimension.
This primary imagination links the data of reality with the world of thoughts.
It is in the second imagination that a fundamental change takes place: mind is no longer simply active, but creative. This is in fact a higher faculty that not everybody owns: it’s the poetic imagination.
In Biographia Literaria Coleridge said that this kind of imagination dissolves, dissipates and diffuses in order to recreate, to rework reality into better-renewed patterns: this is a faculty that enables poets to rework the world into a higher pattern, or category that we called poem. It shows the poet’s ability to rework reality into this higher category, therefore it’s a divine faculty, a gift by God.
Fancy is another kind of faculty the poet need to compose poems. It is the ability of the poet to use poetical language or ways of expressing into logical patterns: it’s the power of aggregating ideas into the poem – mechanical, logical, poetic aggregation –, therefore a device of creating poetic compositions.
- Wordsworth was always in favour of reality: according to him, imagination is a faculty that works on data of reality in order to improve them. It never departs completely from reality, never abandons it completely.
- Coleridge embodies a bridge to the transcendental: imagination has a different ability. It’s a bridge that starts from data of reality, but it departs from it in order to reach another sphere of experience which is the extraordinary and supernatural. This because we wanted to discover those symbols that propound human messages: he wanted to discover the world of the marvellous, but with a semblance of truth in a credible way (by employing data of reality).
It is through supernatural presented in a credible way the reader would reach a condition of willing suspension of disbelief that constitutes the poetic faith.
He chose the ballad fundamentally because it’s a narrative composition.
The world of the title shows no barrier between real and supernatural: they are in contact.
In this ballad there are elements of tradition:
- Rhyming scheme: it’s ABCD, and the ballad relies upon a typical layout which is of 4 line stanzas, as in traditional ballads;
- Large use of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary: this, together with the archaic language, refers to the medieval past to which the ballad belongs;
- Dramatic structure: in the ballad there is always an exchange between supernatural and reality.
It hosts elements of novelty as well:
- He introduces six line stanzas or even longer: as the work progresses, it shows longer stanzas;
- There is no (need for) refrain;
- Glosses were added to this ballad: they are all through the poem, in order to make the content clear to the reader.
- Moral message: it was not usual in the common ballads of medieval time.
- Symbolic meanings: there are always enormous symbolical meanings.
The fundamental symbolical frame is the voyage: the whole ballad is a symbolical and metaphorical framework, which offers us further symbols as…
- The albatross: it is a very important symbol because it links the first part to the second, in fact it is through it that profound meanings are understandable;
- The landscape.