Differentiate between fancy and imagination as proposed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In formulating his famed distinction between fancy and imagination, Coleridge was challenging the prevailing notion that the mind was a tabula rasa, a kind of blank sheet onto which our everyday experiences wrote themselves and upon which sense impressions were stored. On the contrary, Coleridge argued, our minds possess two very important and distinct faculties, both of which help us to understand the process of artistic creation. For a highly imaginative artist and thinker like Coleridge, this was of great significance.

Fancy is an inferior faculty to imagination. For one thing, there is nothing remotely mysterious about it. It acts mechanically in bringing together various, often dissimilar, components to produce appropriate images. We see this, for example, when a poet uses metaphor or simile. The different images are arranged and combined but not fused. It is a logical faculty, and, for Coleridge, logic is regulative, rather than creative. Logic organizes material, but it does not create.

Imagination, on the other hand, has everything to do with the act of artistic creation. It is spontaneous and wholly original. It takes existing objects of our experience and transforms them into something completely different. It imposes itself upon a world of ceaseless flux, creating order and stability. The faculty of imagination is itself divided into two by Coleridge.

Primary imagination is what we all share. It is the basic faculty that allows us to make sense of our world and give it meaning. The world as we perceive it is not just "out there" waiting to be discovered. It is given to us already prepackaged, as it were, by the operation of the primary imagination. The only reason why the world appears to have any recognizable structure is because it is already been shaped by the imagination by the time it appears to our senses.

The secondary imagination is the faculty of the poet. It is derived from the primary imagination, but it is conscious. The primary imagination supplies the poet with the requisite raw materials, and he then uses his poetic imagination to shape not just the world as given to him, but also to create new ones. 

shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was certainly an authority on imagination. As the poet who created Rime of the Ancient Mariner and "Kubla Khan," he demonstrated an active, imaginative power not often seen.

Coleridge was one of the major Romantic poets. The Romantics emphasized, among other things, the power of the imagination, so it isn't surprising that he theorized about it.

Coleridge considered the human imaginative act to be similar to God's creative act. Man, like God, was capable of harnessing his imagination to create something new. It isn't easy, but it is possible.

Fancy, on the other hand, refers to the basic daily perceptions that we all have to make to get through the day. It doesn't create anything, it doesn't reveal deep philosophical truths; it just accepts sensory information. We need it to function. But we need imagination to truly express ourselves and make our lives beautiful. 

Further Reading:
avitheeditor | Student

S.T.Coleridge brilliantly depicts the word-picture of imagination and fancy in order to draw a demarcating line between these two aspects in the chapter-13 of his Biographia Literaria. He talks about two types of imagination-primary and secondary. Primary imagination is something that is there in every human being because it is the living power of human perception. secondary imagination is concurrent with primary imagination but it functions in a different mode and degree and has the power to re-create, which is a characteristic of the poets.

Fancy is a form of memory and it functions only at the stage when it is blended with the sense that we call 'will'.