In Biographia Literaria, to what extent can Coleridge's view about what distinguishes a poem from poetry be supported?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Critics generally agree that this section of his critical work is one of Coleridge's more abstruse sections that is rather unclear on the difference between poetry and poem, although this is something he spends significant time trying to establish. Previously in his work, Coleridge gave the following definition of a poem:

A poem is that species of composition which is opposed to works of science, by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth.

Having established this definition, and the need for unity in a poem, he goes on to develop his argument about the difference between poem and poetry. For Coleridge, poetry is a wider term, in that it can be engaged in not by those who are simply writing poems. In Coleridge's opinion, the act of poetry can be carried out by artists and painters, for example. Poetry, Coleridge argues, is any activity which engages the "whole soul of man." He links this with the secondary imagination, arguing that poetry occurs when the secondary imagination is engaged. Poem is different from poetry therefore because it uses words, and he also makes a rather recondite argument about pleasure. Coleridge's views about the difference between poem and poetry are interesting in terms of recognising the similarities between what he defines as poetry and art, and the relationship of the imagination to poetry, but at the same time it seems to add little to his overall criticism. Critics generally agree that this is one of the weaker areas of his work, and it does not offer any vital distinction in how the reader is meant to regard and study poetry.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial