Samuel Taylor Coleridge Questions and Answers

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Comparative analysis of Wordsworth & Coleridge in poetry?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think that the basic premise of work from both Wordsworth and Coleridge has to start out on their beliefs of Romanticism.  They both felt that the artist had to carve out a new identity through their work.  This is part of the reason why their work is so distinctive, not seeking to follow any sort of established and accepted conventions, but rather seeking to create something new and different.  Their style of writing seeks to forge links with the audience, bringing them into a story telling reference point about experiences and one's own subjectivity.  For example, Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" is meant to create intrigue and sense of wonderment within the reader.  Wordsworth's poems accomplish much the same as they highlight a reverence for internal subjectivity emotions, and natural beauty.  In both writers, the belief of Romanticism's fundamental primacy on individual experience is of vital important to their work and how it is created.

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Comparing Wordsworth and Coleridge is a huge task, and I suggest you start a Discussion Group question with this to get as much information and as many ideas as possible.

That said, I'll give you some basics. 

Wordsworth is famous for changing the diction thought acceptable in poetry, or at least strengthening the movement toward a "common" or simplified poetic diction.  He took some of the formal language out of poetry and replaced it with simple, concrete words.  "Common" may be too strong of a word when you compare Wordsworth with, say, contemporary poetry.

Wordsworth's poetry also emphasizes nature in a personal, lyrical way.  Personal reactions to nature and insights gained from nature are paramount. 

Coleridge, in contrast, emphasized the imagination.  His poetry dwells in the land of fantasy.  Whereas nature may receive the most emphasis in Wordsworth's poetry, the imagination is central to Coleridge's.  His speech, in contrast to Wordswoth's, is exotic and imaginative.  His language is the language of fantasy.

Those are some basics to get you started, but there is much, much more to this comparison.

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maria1546 | Student

On one hand, Coleridge was a romantic poet who believed that inner nature can shape what the beauty of nature. He  thought that  nature is a mirror that reflects what our within is what create our happiness or sadness in each side of our real life. On the other hand, Wordsworth believed that nature is beautiful and its beauty has an impact on us; inspiration and creativity were the result of natural contact.

epollock | Student

Wordsworth and Coleridge were also part of a larger group called the Lake Poets. Nature and redefinitions of nature are at the heart of the Romantic revival, and nature itself is, perhaps, nowhere more beautiful than in the region of England known as the lake country. According to his autobiographical poem The Prelude, William was allowed to run wild in nature, which became for him a kind of mother. Throughout his poetry, we see a pantheistic refrain: God inheres in the natural world around us. God is in nature. He tells us in The Prelude that there was much loneliness in his childhood. Wordsworth’s early circumstances rendered him extraordinarily introverted, and solitude was a vital element in his psychological makeup. Another of his most famous poems, “Daffodils,” opens with the line “I wandered lonely as a Cloud.” Loneliness and creativity are at the heart of Wordsworth’s poetry, and loneliness, for him, is a creative state. 

In 1795, he had met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose muse was both more philosophical and wilder than Wordsworth’s: opium and Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher fed that imagination. First published in 1798. Lyrical Ballads may be the most influential book of poetry in English literature. 

Coleridge was also living in the Lake District at this time, close by Wordsworth. Wordsworth’s famous one-line definition of poetry is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility.” Coleridge supplied the “spontaneous” power, while Wordsworth offered the “tranquility,” the reflection. A perfect example of Coleridge’s spontaneity is found in “Kubla Khan,” the short poem he began (but never finished) under the influence of a narcotic dream. Among Coleridge’s utopian projects was his failed “pantisocratic” community, based on free love and philosophical ideas. Coleridge, in contrast, left in his chaotic wake a collection of fragments, short works, and prolegomena. Like Wordsworth, he compiled an autobiography—prose, in his case—Biographia Literaria, the biography of a literary sensibility. The work fuses Coleridge’s towering intellect, extraordinary powers of criticism, and feeling for poetry. His greatest complete poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, was composed during his collaborative years with Wordsworth.

At its best, Wordsworth’s poetry is of stunning purity and power. One example comes from the “Lucy” poems, included in later reprints of Lyrical Ballads. Breathtakingly simple and with only eight lines, the poem nonetheless conveys compelling emotion. Coleridge’s agenda was different. In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the first work in Lyrical Ballads, he compacts into short-lined, four-line stanzas an amazingly pregnant and mystical narrative of the condition of man in an incomprehensible natural universe. A religious order exists in this universe, but it is an order that is enigmatic, although, mysteriously, meanings may be sensed. In writing this poem, Coleridge drew on gothic fiction and an extraordinary range of reading in theology, philosophy, and travel. His descriptions of the arctic regions are almost photographic.. The narrative of The Rime is simple. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner indicates the new directions that poetry would take over the next two centuries. A revolution had taken place and, arguably, is still taking place in English literature as a result of Lyrical Ballads.