WILLIAM WORDSWORTH and SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
William Wordsworth (1770-1850): a turning point in literary history; 1798: the publication of the Lyrical Ballads (a joint project of Wordsworth of Coleridge): revolution in English poetic style; the mimetic and pragmatic element of poetry replaced by the expressive
Coleridge described Wordsworth as "a very great man - the only man, to whom at all times & in all modes of excellence I feel myself inferior...for the London Literari appear to me to be very much like little Potatoes - i.e. no great Things! - a compost of Nullity and Dullity." (The Collected Letters I, ed. Griggs, 260)
Blake on Wordsworth: "I see in Wordsworth the Natural Man rising up against the Spiritual Man continually, & then he is No Poet but a Heathen Philosopher at Enmity against all true Poetry and Inspiration." (Marginalia on Wordsworth's Poems, 1815)
Blake and Wordsworth diametrically opposed? Despite their evidently opposing views on poetry (Blake=obscurity in meaning;; Wordsworth=clarity, simplicity;), and about the key to apprehend the unseen spiritual order (Blake: belief in the spirituality and divinity of Imagination; "Natural Objects always did & now do weaken, deaden & obliterate Imagination in Me"; Wordsworth: nature is the source of inspiration, pantheism: divine presence in nature, imagination is subservient to the external world) they both shared a belief in the significance of childhood experience (in Blake: children enjoy exceptional visionary power, which - when not cultivated - may get lost; in Wordsworth: childhood experiences must necessarily fade and one must learn to live with this fact and find alternative ways to recompense for this loss)
Born in Yorkshire, childhood in the Lake District (pastoral, idyllic landscape; hardly any experience of urban life), early becomes an orphan (nature often portrayed as mother-substitute); systematic schooling at St John's College, Cambridge; walking tour in the Alps (a typical romantic quest for the sublime in nature as represented by the wild mountains), 1790: overwhelmed with optimism regarding the political scene, 1791-92 he crossed the Channel to witness the Revolution for himself and became a Republican (Blake: "Empire is no more! and now the lion & the wolf shall cease." (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1792); 1793: England enters into war with France - Wordsworth remains loyal to his country; 1798: Napoleon attacks Switzerland - Wordsworth could no longer retain his political optimism and idealism; rescued from despair by the illuminating friendship of Coleridge; 1798-1805: most fruitful years (later on he became more and more orthodox, believed that conservativism and the Anglican Church represented tradition without which there is chaos)
1797-98 Daily conversations between Wordsworth and Coleridge on "two cardinal points of poetry: the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination. ... The thought suggested itself ... that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were to be (in part at least) supernatural. ... For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life. The characters and incidents were to be such as will be found in every village and its vicinity. ... In this idea originated the plan of the Lyrical Ballads." (Coleridge: Biographia Literaria, Chapter 14)
1798: a new literary departure: publication of the Lyrical Ballads anonymously (as Coleridge told the publisher: "Wordsworth's name is nothing--to a large number of persons mine stinks.")
4 editions: 1798, 1800, 1802 and 1805
1798 edition: 19 poems by Wordsworth and 4 by Coleridge
Coleridge on the plan of the Lyrical Ballads: "It was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic -- yet so as 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 that constitutes poetic faith. Mr Wordworth, on the other hand, was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind's attention to the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the ovelyness and the wonders of the world before us" (Biographia, Ch. 14)
Opening poem: Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, closing one: Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey, poems in between: (despite many clear resemblances) display varieties of tone, subject, form and diction
Coleridge thought the poems functioned best when considered collectively: "Lyrical Ballads" is one work", he said, "as an Ode is one work" and the "different poems are as stanzas, good relatively rather than absolutely"
thematic and topical groupings: poems of the supernatural (e.g. The Ancient Mariner, Goody Blake and Harry Gill); poems on human suffering (e.g. The Thorn, The Dungeon, The Female Vagrant, Simon Lee); poems on children's psychology (e.g. We are Seven, Anecdote for Fathers); poems suspicious of books and intellectualism (The Nightingale, The Tables Turned); and poems that exalt nature (e.g. Tintern Abbey, Lines Written at a Samll Distance from my House)
Preceding the 1798 edition: Advertisement to the readers "The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They are written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure."
1800: second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, preceded by a massive new critical 'Preface',
38 new poems (included The Lucy Poems, e.g. "She dwelt among the untrodden ways", "Strange fits of passion have I known", "A slumber did my spirit steel") virtually all by Wordsworth (his name appeared, singly, on the titlepage)
shift in style: less attention to rustic speech per se; in its stead: experiments with blank verse as a means of expressing the dignity and pathos of rustic life: "The principal object, then, which I proposed myself in these poems, was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or to describe them throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men, and at the same time to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way. And further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them ... the primary laws of our nature [the workings of the mind], chiefly as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement [when we feel intensely]." "... poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotions recollected in tranquillity."
major theme: human suffering; characters often deranged, not interested in the socially active man; exquisite delight in nature, which is the source of inspiration; pantheism, nature externalized=preserves an independent existence; sensory experiences are vital (Locke, Hume); memory plays an important role
I wandered lonely as a cloud The waves beside them danced; but they
That floats on high o'er vales and hills, Outdid the sparkling waves in glee;
When all at once I saw a crowd, A poet could not be but gay,
A host, of golden daffodils; In such a jocund company;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees, I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. What wealth the show to me had brought:
Continuous as the stars that shine For oft, when on my couch I lie
And twinkle on the milky way, I vacant or in pensive mood
They stretched in never-ending line They flash upon that inward eye
Along the margin of a bay: Which is the bliss of solitude;
Ten thousand saw I at a glance, And then my heart with pleasure fills,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. And dances with the daffodils.
mysterious unity of man and nature (man part of nature, nature depicted in terms of a human); everyday experience, realistic (English!) landscape yet endowed with some mystic, active spiritual life; joy, delight, rapture, company in unlimited nature versus vacant and pensive mood in an urban isolation; memory of the experience=source of inspiration, consolation, regeneration
Tintern Abbey : the first statement of Wordsworth's "myth of nature"; blank-verse reflection on his growth through nature; loco-descriptive poem (Denham, Pope)
18th cent. description: abstract, general, idealized, 1st person plural
Wordsworth's: fragment of an autobiography, particularized landscape, 1st person singular
"Five years have passed; five summers, with the length / Of five long winters! and again I hear / These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs"; 5-year time gap: depicts the changes=double-exposure technique; change in individual history, permanence in nature; circular, tripartite structure: nature description--meditation--description
meeting with nature in the moment of crisis (when isolated from nature)
knowledge, inspiration, consolation comes from nature "We see into the life of things"
development of his emotional and moral life, as an interaction between his mind and the outer world
his own individul development: from the innocence of youth (part of nature, instinctual unity, complete freedom) to the experience of maturity (still a lover of nature but conscious of the surrounding society) growth of his mind: a painful process (cf. Blake) yet abundant recompense for the loss:
... For I have learned And the round ocean and the living air,
To look on nature, not as in the hour And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes A motion and a spirit, that impels
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt All thinking things, all object of all thought
A presence that disturbs me with the joy And rolls through all things.
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns
"Unitarian pantheism"; Coleridge felt Wordsworth to be a "Semi-atheist"
Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (1802-1804): a most formative influence on his contemporaries and successors
epigraph: Paulo majora canamus "Let us sing of somewhat more exalted things" (Virgil, Eclogue IV I)
Pindarick ode on the immortality of the soul and the mortality of the body
unusual element: Plato's concept of recollection and pre-natal existence of the soul
composed in two phases: first 4 stanzas in 1802, stanzas V-XI in 1804
Stanzas I-IV: describe a spiritual crisis, glory passing from earth, end by asking why this has happened: "Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"
Stanzas V-VIII: examines the nature of this glory in the light of pre-natal existence "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting / The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star / Hath had elsewhere its setting"
Stanzas VIII-XI: though the vision has perished, life has still a meaning and a value
crisis--explanation--consolation; process of alienation from nature, but "recompense": "philosophic mind"
children: symbols of innocence and wisdom; the child is always present in s and in a moment of grace we can recollect our memories of a past glory
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel tither
And see the children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
The Prelude "The Growth of a Poet's Mind; an Autobiographical Poem"
a journey in time and space; tries to recapture some of the joys of his early years (Proust, Joyce, Thomas Mann), self-reflective structure
Coleridge's response to The Prelude:
Oh friend! Oh teacher! God's great gift to me! And when, oh my friend, my comforter, my guide,
Into my heart have I received that lay Strong in thyself and powerful to give strength,
More than historic, that prophetic lay Thy long-sustained lay finally closed,
Wherein (high theme by thee first sung aright) ...
Of the foundations and the building-up I sat, my being blended in one thought
Of thy own spirit... ...
... And when I rose, I found myself in prayer!
(To William Wordsworth. Lines composed, for the great part, on the night on which he finished the recitation of his poem in Thirteen Books, concerning the growth and history of his own mind, January 1807)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Coleridge's writing in verse, although small in quantity, are the achievements of a remarkably innovative poet
Formative influences: Plato, Neoplatonism, Kant, Schelling
Wordsworth: "poetry is a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings"
Coleridge: the act of composing poetry involves the psychological contraries 'of passion and of will, of spontaneous impulse and of voluntary purpose."
Wordsworth: a poet of visual perception; Coleridge: superior auditory powers
1797-98: annus mirabilis, the composition of his "Divine Comedy" of three "supernatural poems": The Ancient Mariner (Purgatory), Christabel (Hell), Kubla Khan (Heaven)
"Conversation Poems": The Nightingale; The Eolian Harp; Frost at Midnight, Dejection: an Ode
(conversation poem: informal, colloquial poem whose tone echoes relaxed conversation. It anticipates the dramatic monologue. C.p. situates itself between speech and writing, between artifice and spontaneity, and between the subjectivity of the lyric voice and the objectivity of dramatic exchange.)
Dramas: Fall of Robesperre; Zapolya
Translation: Schiller: Wallenstein and some of the first translations of Goethe
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: ballad or epyllion (little epic, like The Waste Land, Four Quartets)
framework: marriage (=new life); journey by sea: intellectual journey; nature internalized, a psychological projection; landscape is a way to explore one's consciousness (Baudelaire, T.S.Eliot, Joyce)
killing of the Albatross: sin against the "One Life" ("Nature has her proper interest, and will know what it is who believes and feels that everything has a life of its own, and that we are all One Life. /Letter to William Sotheby, September 10, 1802); Unitarian pantheism=belief in a unifying, all-embracing divinity; blessing of the watersnakes: turning point, illumination, gaining of experience=painful process; the mariner compelled to tell his story; two levels of "reality": the wedding (familiar)and the journey (supernatural);
criticised by Wordsworth "the events, having no necessary connection, do not produce each other"
criticized by Hazlitt: "...he seems to conceive of poetry but as a drunken dream"
Coleridge: "Poetry gives most pleasure when only generally not perfectly understood." (Anima Poetae)
Coleridge on dreams: "In ordinary dreams we do not judge the objects to be real; - we simply do not determine that they are unreal"
Kubla Khan fragment; unpublished for almost 20 years; exploration of the mind when it is not shackled by reason
3 sections: Garden of Paradise/conscious/beautiful--satanic landscape/subconscious/sublime--at the end: return to Paradise
2 dreams: of Kubla Khan and his superhuman power; Abessynian maid
first attempt to find a symbol to represent ultimate, inexpressible synthesis of opposites
"It was a miracle of rare device, / A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!"
(images of The Ancient Mariner: ice=primordial, natural; sun=intellectual)
the poet has a superhuman creative energy (Poets "are the Bridlers by Delight, the Purifiers, they that combine them with reason and order ... Gods of Love who tame the Chaos" /Notebooks, II:2.355/)
experience, knowledge, wisdom: dangerous for the ordinary people ("Weave a circle round hi m thrice, / And close your eyes with holy dread, / For he on honey dew hath fed / And drunk the milk of Paradise."; similarly in the Rime
Hazlitt: "Kubla Khan, we think, only shows that Mr. Coleridge can write better nonsense verses than any man in England. It is not a poem but a musical composition."
Christabel (Christ+Abel) fragment
Frost at Midnight written to his infant son, Hartley; the poem confers the Wordsworthian childhood Coleridge did not have on his son; belief in the morally-improving power of love of nature; served as an example for Tintern Abbey
Dejection: an Ode addressed to Wordsworth, dirge over the departing poetic powers (c.f. Immortality Ode)
hardly any poetry after 1807
Coleridge: one of the most important and influential of literary theorists Biographia Literaria (1817); lectures on Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Spenser, Ariosto and Cervantes (1819); lectures on philisophy (1818-19)
Wordsworth on Coleridge's death: "The most wonderful man that I have ever known"
Charles Lamb: "His great and dear spirit haunts me. ... Never saw I his likeness, nor probably the world can see again."
report of a contemporary: "Blake and Coleridge, when in company, seemed like congenial beings of another sphere, breathing for a while on our earth."