What does Coleridge mean when he says he wrote his poetry "to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith"? What...

What does Coleridge mean when he says he wrote his poetry "to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith"? What examples do we see in Coleridge's poems that reflect Coleridge's statement?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Both Coleridge and Wordsworth believed that poetry could do one of two things, either make the reader sympathize with the truths presented in the words by consistently presenting nature in its truth, or make the reader interested in the words by captivating the imagination. Hence, Wordsworth focused on writing about nature and every day life, while Coleridge focused on writing about the supernatural and mankind's interaction with the supernatural. Coleridge believed that such supernatural poetry could be seen as emotionally stimulating because such poems could be seen as real in as much as any human being has ever thought himself/herself to be under the influence of the supernatural. Therefore, Coleridge states of his poetry that he created poems which were both "supernatural" or "romantic" yet able to reflect enough about human nature as "to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith" (Hill, "Imagination in Coleridge"). When he refers to "shadows of the imagination," he is simply speaking of the supernatural elements he included in his poem that reflect on any hidden supernatural beliefs humankind already holds in their imaginations or minds, like the belief in ghosts. When he speaks of "suspension of disbelief for the moment," he is speaking of the fact that while not everyone may believe in the supernatural under every normal circumstance, he wrote his poems in such a way that a reader "suspends" disbelief, meaning refrains from concluding that the content is unbelievable, which in simple terms only means that he wrote his poems in such as a way as they might seem believable. So, all in all, what he's saying here is simply that he wrote his supernatural poems in a way that they would be believable for the reader and able to evoke genuine emotions in the reader. Coleridge lists The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, "The Dark Ladie," and "Christable" as his examples of romantic, supernatural poetry.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a classic example of Coleridge's use of the supernatural. The poem is a tale of a mariner giving an account of a voyage to the Antarctic in which, as the ship sales past the horizon, the ship drops "Below the kirk, below the hill, / Below the lighthouse top," meaning below the church and below all of civilization. Even Coleridge's opening reference to a "Bridegroom" and the mariner as a "Wedding-Guest" conjure up supernatural images for the reader because, while the mariner is literally talking to a bridegroom, a bridegroom is also a symbolic, biblical reference to Jesus Christ, and the wedding guest symbolizes members of Christ's church. The story continues to speak of the mariner shooting an albatross. Albatrosses were believed to bring good luck to sailors, and the result is that the mariner's entire crew dies and haunts the mariner. Since readers, especially readers of Coleridge's time, will recognize the supernatural meaning behind these symbols, such as the supernatural element of faith in the divine and the supernatural element of belief in good luck, the readers will be able to feel the emotions the symbols evoke and find the tale believable in the sense that the reader can relate to experiencing the supernatural.

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