Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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What's the difference between Coleridge's vision of nature and Wordsworth's? 

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This is a great question to think about, as both of these poems are famous for their Romantic poetry and their treatment of nature through their art. This of course most famously resulted in their joint book of poetry entitled Lyrical Ballads, which is still studied on Literature courses today. The key ways in which their views on nature differed are expressed in their respective poems in this volume. Coleridge sought to show the supernatural in nature as being something that was wholly natural, and Wordsworth sought to show the natural as something that was strangely supernatural. This is an important distinction to keep hold of.

If we look at two poems from these poets we can see how this operates. In "We Are Seven," by Wordsworth, the speaker accosts a young girl in the countryside who insists that even though all of her brothers and sisters have died, "we" are still seven in number. She does not see death as something that separates her from her dead siblings. Note the frustrated voice of the speaker:

"But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!"
'Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, "Nay, we are seven!"

There is something supernatural in what at first glance seems to be a very natural sight. In the same way, consider a poem such as "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and note how Coleridge explores nature in a distinctly supernatural way through references to the Polar spirit and the fate of the vessel. This makes us view nature differently and to see it as something that is at its core supernatural. The two poets therefore differ distinctly in how they try to present nature in their poetry.

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What is the difference between Coleridge and Wordsworth?

Wordsworth and Coleridge were born within three years of each other and had similar middle-class backgrounds and educations. As two of the founding fathers of Romanticism, they often had similar ideas about religion, politics, and poetry.

There were, however, significant differences between them as poets and personalities. Perhaps the most consequential of these was the principal source from which they derived their inspiration. Coleridge was a voracious and omnivorous reader throughout his life. He was interested in practically every subject, and his work often contains obscure references to ideas he had picked up from his reading in philosophy, theology, history, natural science, literary criticism and a dozen other disciplines. When Wordsworth wrote:

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect ...
Coleridge could well have been the bookish friend to whom he addressed these words. Wordsworth prided himself on drawing his inspiration directly from nature and his contemplation of nature. Coleridge, in sharp contrast, buried himself deep in the works of the sages in search of wisdom. This is reflected in the fact that, while both were prolific, Coleridge had a far more varied literary output, including a great deal of literary criticism, philosophy, and theology.

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