Samuel Taylor Coleridge Questions and Answers

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What is romantic about Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poetry?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Romantic poets pushed back against the measured, even prose of the Neoclassical poets and against themes borrowed from the Classical period that focused on great men. They wanted to show the dignity and worth of the common person and to express emotion. They also thought God showed himself through nature and that nature was therefore a sacred place of solace and redemption. They reacted against Enlightenment rationalism, trying to incorporate fairy-tale, whimsy, the exotic, and the supernatural in their work. They also tried to use the simple language of the ordinary person. They perceived the artist as a lone genius with a special imagination that set him apart from the rest of humanity.

Coleridge exemplified these Romantic characteristics in his poetry. In a poem such as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the mariner is an ordinary man who learns that nature is God's sacred creation and so must be treated with special reverence. The poem also incorporates supernatural themes. In "Frost at Midnight" Coleridge celebrates the birth of his son, his own childhood, and the common person, writing:

I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day . . .
Coleridge, in "Frost at Midnight," thrills with emotion as he watches his infant son, and he expresses the beauty of nature:
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw . . .
In "Kubla Khan," Coleridge uses an exotic setting in the far East to contrast the ordinary person's pretty and gentle imagination, described in the first stanza, with the extraordinary, frightening, crashing potency of the true artistic genius.
With Wordsworth, Coleridge hoped to change the face of poetry and the two arguably succeeded.

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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First, it is useful to distinguish between the popular 21st century use of "romantic", meaning pertaining to a certain idealized view of sexual relationships, and the literary term "romanticism" which refers to a specific movement in British and European literature in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A description of Coleridge as a "Romantic" poet refers to his belonging to this literary movement rather than the suitability of his poetry for Valentine's Day cards.

He is typically Romantic in his use of Gothic, exotic, or legendary themes in his work, such as the Orientalism of "Kubla Khan" or the ballad quality of the "Ancient Mariner". As both poet and literary theorist, he shared the typically Romantic concern with the individual creative intellect, and artistic form as expressive rather than conventional. He was interested in art as a striving towards the sublime.

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