Biographia Literaria Quotes
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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In this work of literary analysis and philosophy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge combines biography and criticism. While he offers considerable material about his own approach to poetry, he also extensively analyzes the work of William Wordsworth, his friend and the co-editor of their work Lyrical Ballads. Another section considers the contributions of Thomas De Quincey.

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One of Coleridge’s most significant contributions in this work is his exploration of the concept of “imagination.” Coleridge separates the concept into two types, “primary” and “secondary.” He contends that primary imagination is a singular, powerful, driving force behind perception itself as well as creativity. The secondary imagination reflects or echoes that force but is carried out consciously; while the two types are manifested in the same way, or “kind,” they differ in extent, or “degree,” as well as in the actual techniques, or “mode,” employed.

The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a reception in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, coexisting with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation.

Coleridge asserts that readers must set aside or “suspend” all natural skepticism about the likelihood of the events or images that are narrated or described. Coleridge calls this cornerstone of “poetic faith” the “willing suspension of disbelief.” This assertion comes in the context of explaining how the works in Lyrical Ballads were to have been divided between him and Wordsworth. Coleridge’s “endeavors,” which were concerned with “supernatural or . . . romantic” characters and themes, were intended to

transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.

After offering some commentary—some of it quite negative—about both Wordsworth and his critics, Coleridge turns to an important central issue: the definition of poetry and the individual elements that comprise it. He argues that a poem and a...

(The entire section is 566 words.)