This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Student Question

In "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison," how does Primary Imagination bring joy to the speaker?

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Coleridge distinguishes between what he calls Primary and Secondary imagination; for him, Primary Imagination was spontaneous poetry that arose from an impulse stemming from the beauty of nature whereas Secondary Imagination was when the poet had to consciously will him or herself to write. This poem is particularly interesting because it starts off by focusing on the Secondary Imagination as the poet forces himself to imagine what his friends were seeing and what natural beauties they were enjoying. It is only subsequently, in the second and third stanza, that he is overwhelmed by the beauties of nature in his environs that he can perceive from his "lime-tree bower prison" that he shifts to Primary Imagination:

Henceforth I shall know

That Nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure;

No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty!
The move from the external to the internal, and what Coleridge himself is able to realise about nature as a result of his isolation shows the shift from Secondary to Primary Imagination. It is this realisation that every aspect of nature, even though Coleridge is unable to share in the same spectacular views that his friends are enjoying, has something to teach him that brings the speaker immense joy. As in the quote above, there is "no waste so vacant" or "no plot so narrow" that nature cannot be observed and, in turn, have something to teach the observer.

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