Compare Wordsworth and Coleridge as theorists of poetry


The Preface contains a few statements which look like attempts to qualify Wordsworth’s main view concerning the “very language of men,” the language of “low and rustic” persons. He speaks also about “a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation,” about “a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way. It is not possible for a poet, urged Coleridge, especially not for a lyric poet, “to imitate truly a dull and garrulous discourser, without repeating the effects of dullness and garrulity.”

An early and somewhat haphazard attempt on the part of Wordsworth to discriminate between imagination “Impressive effects out of simple elements” and fancy appears in a note to “The Thorn” in the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads.

It was this concession to fancy; though it was only incidental to Wordsworth’s aim of elevating the imagination that became a point of grievance with Coleridge. In Chapter XII of his Biographic, he comes down on Wordsworth’s venture with a heavy hand.


Nevertheless, the debate between Wordsworth and Coleridge was a significant event in English literary history. In his appreciation of Wordsworth’s own poetic performance, Coleridge noted that Wordsworth suffered the difficulties of a ventriloquist in his undue liking for the dramatic form.If the Words worthier formula “emotion recollected in tranquility” be taken in an approximately hylo-morphic way one may suppose that “emotion” refers to a kind of poetic content, and tranquil “recollection” to the control or shaping of this content-the formal poetic principle. In the Coleridgean formulas however, the emphasis is reversed. Emotion appears, as the organizing principle.

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