A Comparison Of Coleridge


A Comparison Of Coleridge’S Rationalism To Wordsworth’S Liberalism Essay, Research Paper

All friendships grow and nurture each other through time. The friendship between Coleridge and Wordsworth allowed for a special relationship of both criticism and admiration to develop. As their friendship matured, they would play important roles in each other’s works, culminating in their joint publication of Lyrical Ballads, which is said to mark the beginning of the Romantic period and be a combination of their best works. Despite their basic differences in poetic styles and philosophical beliefs, they would help each other create numerous works renown for their depth and creativity.

Coleridge was a reserved dreamer, a true poet from the beginning. He was an eccentric young boy who found solace in the intellectual requirements of school. However, he did not have the discipline to continue through school, and eventually dropped out of Jesus College, Cambridge. Coleridge lived in dependence of his friends, clinging to them for support – this explains the almost reverent attitude Coleridge held towards Wordsworth. The relationship they shared grew strongly from 1797 through late 1802, until Coleridge, as a result of an addiction to an opium-based drug and his decaying health, alienated himself from Wordsworth and his friends. Under these conditions, Coleridge would move into the second phase of his life, characterized by prolific writings and philosophical reflection. During this time he reflected upon his life and reconciled with his friends.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is recognized as Coleridge’s most influential poem; appropriately being one he published in Lyrical Ballads. The main theme of the poem concerns the actions a Mariner took and their consequences. However, an analysis of the poem reveals the imagination applied to create the poem and also the logic employed. The poem is broken into seven parts, but these parts can be characterized into the Mariner’s three main stages of realization concerning morality. Reflecting his Christian beliefs and strong philosophical ideals from the study of Kant, Coleridge incorporates the possibility of an afterlife, images of saints and angels and also the importance of moral behavior. Including these themes into his poetry leads us to believe he had a fascination with the more obscure aspects of life. The religious inclinations play an important role in determining the three stages of the Mariner’s rationale. The first stage consists of the first 2 parts of the poem. This is the period where the Mariner is oblivious to the spiritual aspect and importance of the Albatross’ life, which symbolizes hope and good fortune to the travelers. Coleridge, by advice from Wordsworth, would have the Mariner kill the Albatross, brining misfortune to him and the travelers. From this point on the Mariner and his crew suffer as a result of his carelessness. This is also a prime example of Coleridge’s demonic poetry, where he would break through his personal and moral fears through the use of immoral characters. Another example of his rationalism can be seen here. Requiring an outlet for his burdened conscious, he creates characters that are moral failures through which he copes with his moral dilemmas. The third stage takes place after part 5 when the Mariner is absolved by the Spirits, the boat is sent back on course and the Mariner continues to teach the love people should hold for all of God’s creations by his example. Coleridge is criticized for the way he ends the poem though. He changes the direction the poem seems to be taking, making it confusing for the reader to interpret his desired message. In the scene describing the Spirits attack on the ship, Coleridge wrote:

Four times fifty living men,

(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)

With heavy lump, a lifeless lump,

They dropped down one by one. (212-215)

symbolizing the ruthlessness with which the Spirits kill his crew. Here Coleridge portrays God as a merciless god. Yet he contradicts that viewpoint later in the poem:

He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all. (614-617)

where he portrays God as a benevolent and loving god. Coleridge compensates for these contradictions, along with many more, in Notes to the Ancient Mariner, which he wrote for the second edition of Lyrical Ballads. Despite the criticism, the poem remains an imaginative parable explaining the consequences of sinning and immoral behavior. Coleridge wrote this poem with the purpose of depicting everyday occurrences as incredible, particularly in Lyrical Ballads where he wanted to “ achieve wonder by a frank violation of natural laws and the ordinary course of events.”

Wordsworth was a true romantic. He grew up with his three brothers and a foster mother who allowed him to do what he pleased. As a result of this lenient attitude, Wordsworth developed a moody and undisciplined character. He often spent his time off from school roaming the town he lived in, “drinking in” the people and nature around him. He would drift off into dream like states that he would recall in some of his poems. Wordsworth’s liberalism can be seen early in his life when he joined the cause of the French Revolution as an enthusiastic democrat. Periodically moving through Europe, Wordsworth would settle in his native town with his sister and Coleridge. By the age of 35,Wordsworth would write his best works that include Poems in Two Volumes and The Excursion. He would continue to write poetry into his late sixties, ending his career with a dedication to great poets of his time in Extempore Effusion.

Wordsworth used the psychological aspect of memory often as a theme in his poetry.

Very similar to both Freud and Derrida’s philosophies of memory, Wordsworth considered memory to be remnants of perception that are triggered by certain events. In the poem We Are Seven, Wordsworth describes an encounter with a young girl who refuses to admit the death of two siblings. The young girl clings to the past, refusing to accept reality, much like Wordsworth did during his times of denial. Wordsworth’s relationships with his family were the most cherished, and the most painful when separated by death. Therefore, through his poetry, Wordsworth would express his feelings and his conflicting thoughts. The relationship to memory is significant in this poem; Wordsworth attempts to stress the importance of a constant maturity from childhood to adulthood yet at the same time embracing the past. This poem is a concrete example of the liberalism Wordsworth used in his poetry. In this poem, Wordsworth takes advantage of the imagination of the reader and writes the poem so as to allow the reader to interpret it many different ways. He also incorporates the images of the churchyard tree, snow covered ground and sunset, giving profound emphasis to his love for nature. His romantic outlook on life led him to “over celebrate nature”, however, many critics believe he “transformed the language of poetry into a medium to express new ways of perceiving the world, new modes of experience and new relations of the consciousness of the present and past”.

Both poets shared in a constructive friendship that transcended into their poetry. Aside from helping write and finish much of each other’s poetry, they were each other’s sources of inspiration. A subtle example of the influence they had is demonstrated in the sudden changes of tone or the slight differences in lyrical style. Coleridge was influenced by Wordsworth’s liberalism and outlook on philosophy in writing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The perspective of religion and philosophy in the poem reflect this through the reference to an after life and interaction of spiritual beings in the lives of the characters. Wordsworth helped Coleridge understand his views of consciousness and memory so as to better develop his characters. The romanticism that accompanies Wordsworth’s liberal ideals also influenced Coleridge’s poem through the ambition and perseverance the main characters have. Coleridge in turn inspired Wordsworth. In the poem We Are Seven, along with a few other poems, Wordsworth is seen changing his conception of death to that of Coleridge’s; one more final and rigid. Both poets use their talents to give the reader and understanding of how deep his own sense of reality is. At times, Coleridge would help Wordsworth finish his poems, interjecting his more “down to earth” style of writing to make his seem less unbelievable. The pinnacle of their combined poetic effort can be seen in the dual publication of Lyrical Ballads. A combination of both poets’ works, this book brings into focus more of their similarities. As more poems are compared, it can be understood that both poets had a fascination with death and misfortune. It is clearly seen in both the poems mentioned earlier, but also in other poems. Wordsworth’s The Thorn deals with the withering of a thorn and its comparison to a beautiful hill showing the age-old comparison of youth and age. As for Coleridge, he deals with the theme of death in Misfortune. Both poets are also intrigued by the imagination of people. They explicitly use the theme of imagination and its relation to memory in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and Wordsworth’s The Prelude.

Wordsworth and Coleridge are two poets that deserve recognition for their literary talent. Taking into account the few, yet substantial differences between them, it can be said that they are more alike than not. The literary styles used are at opposite ends of a long spectrum yet they seem to compliment each other’s work so well it becomes difficult to establish where the lines are drawn. Both poets had the same goal when writing their poetry, and that is what brings them together more than anything else.

1) Abrams, Donaldson, David, Smith, Lewalski, Adams, Logan, Monk, Lipking, Stillinger, Ford, Christ, Diaches, Stalworthy. The Norton Anthology: English Literature 6th-ed. W.W. Norton & Company  1996. Page 1269

2) Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views: William Wordsworth. Chelsea House Publishers  1985. Pages 88-91, 154-158

3) Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views: Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Chelsea House Publishers  1985. Pages 3-8, 13-17, 201-208,

4) The Oxford Authors. William Wordsworth. Oxford University Press1990 Page 689

5) Virginia L. Radley. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Twayne Publishers  1966 Pages 17-26, 136-143

6) Joseph Gibaldi. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 4th ed. The Modern Language Association of America 1995

7) Electronic test Center, University of Virginia Library. Lyrical Ballads: William Wordsworth http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/lyricalballads.html

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