How might one summarize the main ideas of Chapter 17 of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Biographia Literaria?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Chapter 17 of his work titled Biographia Literaria, Samuel Taylor Coleridge makes a number of major points, including the following:

  • He agrees with William Wordsworth that poetic language needed to be reformed because the kind of poetic diction used by many poets in the eighteenth century had come to seem stale, artificial, and affected:

. . . mere artifices of connection or ornament, constitute the characteristic falsity in the poetic style of the moderns [that is, fairly recent poets] . . .

  • Coleridge nevertheless objects to Wordsworth’s claim that poetry should be written in the language actually spoken by real persons, especially real persons of the rustic or lower classes.
  • Wordsworth’s own best poems are not written in a truly “rustic” or “low” style.
  • The language of poetry should imitate the language spoken by persons who possess both independence of mind and a certain level of education.
  • Only those who possess education or an “original sensibility” (or sensitivity and intelligence) are likely to truly appreciate the real attractions of rural life. Ironically, many actual rural persons are unlikely to be capable of this kind of appreciation.
  • Many rural people are only interested in conveying very simple ideas; educated persons seek to convey more complex connections between isolated things and ideas.
  • The proper language of poetry is more reflective than is usually found in the language of must rural people:

The best part of human language, properly so called, is derived from reflection on the acts of the mind itself.

In short, Coleridge cautions against any interpretation of Wordsworth’s views that might seem to endorse the idea that poetry should be written in “low,” common, entirely colloquial and commonplace language.

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