Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Start Free Trial

How do Wordsworth's and Coleridge's poetry styles compare?

Quick answer:

Wordsworth and Coleridge are both groundbreaking poets whose poetry rejects Neoclassic subjects and form. However, Wordsworth's most famous poetry emphasizes simple and everyday interactions with nature, while Coleridge's is most famous for its emphasis on the dreamlike and supernatural.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In addition to the examples they provide in their poetry, Wordsworth and Coleridge both set out extensive manifestoes for the principles on which their work was based, Wordsworth in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads and Coleridge in the Biographia Literaria. The chapters that deal with Wordsworth in the Biographia Literaria are in part a challenge to Wordsworth's theory of poetry, as well as an argument that Wordsworth does not put that theory into practice.

Coleridge regards imagination as the most important source and attribute of great poetry. He often gives compressed and stylized descriptions of nature, as he does when he writes of the sea in "The Rime of The Ancient Mariner." Wordsworth, in many of the ballads in Lyrical Ballads, writes in the most commonplace of language about "the heroism of everyday life" and the moral and spiritual effects of the natural world. He regards Coleridge as overcomplicating poetry with mysticism and metaphysics. Coleridge, meanwhile, thinks that Wordsworth's simplicity is sometimes forced and is the result of careful craftsmanship rather than imagination and inspiration.

It is important to bear in mind that, for all their disputes, Wordsworth and Coleridge may be as alike as any two English poets. It is easy to point to Wordsworth as a champion of the natural and Coleridge of the supernatural, or to say that Coleridge reacted against the Augustan school with archaic diction, whereas Wordsworth responded by making his diction prosaic and straightforward. These differences of approach are already evident in the Lyrical Ballads and became more marked in the nineteenth century. However, the fact that they were able to launch the Romantic movement in English poetry based on the ideas upon which they agreed shows that their area of agreement was comparatively wide. Wordsworth can be mystical when writing about nature in The Prelude or "Tintern Abbey" and often uses diction as high as any Coleridge employs. Coleridge, even in parts of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," can rival Wordsworth for forceful directness and simplicity.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Wordsworth and Coleridge collaborated on a groundbreaking book of poetry called Lyrical Ballads. A lyrical poem is one that expresses emotion, while a ballad is a folk song, usually relating an especially heroic or supernatural tale. While Wordsworth wrote some ballads and Coleridge expressed emotion in his poems, the division of labor was roughly that Coleridge would concentrate on the "ballad" side of the lyrical ballads and Wordsworth on the "lyrical."

Coleridge's poetry is most famous for its supernatural and dreamlike elements, while Wordsworth is most famous for poems about experiences in nature that have a deep emotional impact on the speaker. Both types of poems challenged Neoclassical ideas that poetry should be about great men and great events and written in heroic couplets or according to rigid rhyme schemes.

Two of the men's most famous poems highlight the differences between the their poetry. Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" is about the speaker's experience of joy when he comes across a field of daffodils in front of a lake while taking a walk. Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is about the supernatural events that befall a mariner after he kills an albatross for no reason. The content of the poems could not be more different; one is about an ordinary event, and the other is about an extraordinary series of events. However, they are alike in both expressing a deep love and reverence for nature.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think that the basic premise of work from both Wordsworth and Coleridge has to start out on their beliefs of Romanticism.  They both felt that the artist had to carve out a new identity through their work.  This is part of the reason why their work is so distinctive, not seeking to follow any sort of established and accepted conventions, but rather seeking to create something new and different.  Their style of writing seeks to forge links with the audience, bringing them into a story telling reference point about experiences and one's own subjectivity.  For example, Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" is meant to create intrigue and sense of wonderment within the reader.  Wordsworth's poems accomplish much the same as they highlight a reverence for internal subjectivity emotions, and natural beauty.  In both writers, the belief of Romanticism's fundamental primacy on individual experience is of vital important to their work and how it is created.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Comparing Wordsworth and Coleridge is a huge task, and I suggest you start a Discussion Group question with this to get as much information and as many ideas as possible.

That said, I'll give you some basics. 

Wordsworth is famous for changing the diction thought acceptable in poetry, or at least strengthening the movement toward a "common" or simplified poetic diction.  He took some of the formal language out of poetry and replaced it with simple, concrete words.  "Common" may be too strong of a word when you compare Wordsworth with, say, contemporary poetry.

Wordsworth's poetry also emphasizes nature in a personal, lyrical way.  Personal reactions to nature and insights gained from nature are paramount. 

Coleridge, in contrast, emphasized the imagination.  His poetry dwells in the land of fantasy.  Whereas nature may receive the most emphasis in Wordsworth's poetry, the imagination is central to Coleridge's.  His speech, in contrast to Wordswoth's, is exotic and imaginative.  His language is the language of fantasy.

Those are some basics to get you started, but there is much, much more to this comparison.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial