You are on page 1of 6

Unit - IV Coleridge: Biographia Literaria Introduction: Biographical Literaria was the result of six months hard labour on the

part of Coleridge. It was published in July 1817. Wordsworths Preface to Lyrical Ballads, which stated that the language of poetry as the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation and that poetry should deal with the incidents of common life, was half a child of Coleridges own brain. But with the passage of time. Coleridge began to differ from Wordsworths theory of poetic diction. Coleridge wanted to write an essay on the elements of poetry but later changed his mind and decided to write a study of contemporary poetry in two volumes.

But in 1803, fresh idea entered Coleridges mind, lie decided to write his treatise in autobiographical form. The hook was to contain both his

metaphysical and literary theories. But for twelve years he could not carry out his plan, due to ill health. At last in 1 815, the project was undertaken. The first part of the Biographia (Chapters I to 13) contains metaphysical discussions, and the second part (Chapters 14 to 22) contains arc examination of Wordsworths theories of the language and subject matters of poetry. The link between the two pacts is the theory of imagination.

Critical Summary of Chapter XIV: While Wordsworth and Coleridge lived as neighbours, they talked frequently about two cardinal points o poetry-close and careful adherence to nature and giving the interest of novelty to it through the colours of imagination. It occured to them that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In tile one, the incidents and agents were to be, ill par at least. supernatural. For the poems of the other category, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life.

Such was the origin of the Lyrical Ballads, a joint production of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Coleridge was to contribute poems that were romantic and www.onlinecampus.net.in Page 1 of 6 www.msuonline.net.in

supernatural in character and incident. He was to treat his subject in such a way, as to elecit from his readers that willing suspension of disbelief, which constitutes poetic truly. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to give the charm of novelty to things of everyday.

Coleridge. true to his commitment. wrote. Tile Ancient Mariner. The Dark ladie and, Christabel in a supernatural vein. But Wordsworths snare in the collection far exceeded that of Coleridge. In the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, he added a Preface of considerable length, in which he stated that the language of real life was the only suitable language for all in of poetry, He rejected all other forms of style as vicious. Wordsworths position gave rise to a lot of controversy.

Coleridge defends Wordsworth by stating that the poems are not silly and childish because they are written in simple language. They are thoughtful and full of religious fervour and mental energy. This is proved by the increasing popularity of the poems But Caleridge does not agree with many parts of the Preface. He objects to them as erroneous as in principle and contradictory in themselves. The author himself is not true to principle in many of his poems.

Coleridge gives his vies on poetry. A poem, according to him contains the same elements as a prose composition. But the aims are different and words are combined differently in purse and poetry. The poem is superficially distinguished from prose by metre, rhyme or both. But the difference of contents can form an additional around o distinction. The purpose of science and history written in porse. is to communicate truth and tats. Pleasure is not the immediate aim. But in poems, the communication of pleasure alone is the immediate purpose. The ultimate end of truth is not very relevant. However, in a discriminating society, people look for a poem in which, its immediate purpose of pleasure and the ultimate end of moral and intellecutal truty, are found in a harmonious relationship.
www.onlinecampus.net.in Page 2 of 6

www.msuonline.net.in

There are works of prose whose abject may be the giving of pleasure. But they cannot be turned into poems by mere addition of metre. A poem is made up of pails that support and explain each ether, in a good poem, the reader is carried forward, not merely by the mechanical impulse of curiosity, or by a restless drive to arrive at the final solution, but by the pleasurable activity of the mind excited by the attractions of the Journey itself.

According to Plato. Bishop Taylor and Burr.et. the highest bind of poetry eat exist without metre and even without the object of giving pleasure. A good poem iced not be all poetry, but the non-poetical parts must form a harmonious whole with the poetic parts and must be in keeping with the general spirit of poetry. These non poetical parts are carefully chosen to fit into the harmony of the whole poem.

In order to know what poetry is, it is essential to examine the qualities and functions of a poet. The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity. Discordant and opposing qualities are reconciled and balanced. The general and the particular flow into each other. The idea and the image become one. The collective and the specific, the new and the familiar and reconciled. There is a blending of the natural and the artificial, the sense of novelty with old and familiar objects. Finally, good sense is the body of poetic genius, fancy its clothing, motion its life, and imagination the soul, forming all into one graceful and intelligent whole.

Critical Summary: During Wordsworths time poetic diction stood in need of reformation because it was full of artificalities and ornamentation. Wordsworth was full justified in formulating a new theory of poetry. According to this theory, the proper diction for poetry is the language of men used in real life under the influence of real human feelings. Wordsworth saw in the rural setting the very conditions necessary for great poetry, because the essential passions of the
www.onlinecampus.net.in Page 3 of 6

www.msuonline.net.in

h-tart ate revealed uncontimated. He chose low and rustic life for poetic themes, because the essential passions of the heart find good soil there and attain maturity under such conditions. In rustic life man is under less compulsion, and his elementary feelings can be expressed with greater simplicity and more accuracy.

According to Coleridge, many of the character in Wordsworths poems as in Brothers, MichaelS Ruth and Made Mother, are not taken from low or rustic life. The language put into their mouths is not necessarily rural. The poetic qualities of the rural idiom come from two principal causes. The peasant is not a slave to his condition but somewhat independent with leisure and grace added to life. The second cause is the peculiar religious state of rural England. The Authorised Version of King James of the Bible had a tremendous influence in shaping the thoughts and language of the people. That is why the characters of Wordsorth speak in poetic idiom. Coleridge is convinced that country life and labour will not by themselves lead to poetic sensibility. Education and certain original gifts are necessary for rural life to stimulate poetry. If these conditions are absent, rural life can become selfish, sensual and hard-hearted. The Swiss mountainers, whose manners have often been eulogised, are generally better educated than men of rank else where. But among the peasantry of Wales the absence of such conditions, has rendered the peasants blind to the beauty of the mountains and deaf to the music or rural life.

Coleridge adopts the principle of Aristotle that poetry is essentiality ideal, not concerned with accidents of place, time and person. it deals with a class of persons or phenoema, and not with individual parts of it. It is generic and not specific. The common facts of rural life cannot be directly transformed into poetry without idealisation.

The characters in Wordsworths poems Brothers and Michael have the generic and representative quality required by poetry. But in poems like Harry Gill and Idiot Boy, the feelings are those of human nature in general. The mother in the Idiot Boy is not an exemplification of
www.onlinecampus.net.in Page 4 of 6

www.msuonline.net.in

Wordsworths idea of the beneficent influence of nature. According to Wordsworth, in rural surroundings, the human heart finds a better soil for achieving maturity and learns to speak a plainer and more effective language. But in fact, the mother in the poem is just an embodiment of crude instincts, not governed by proper judgement.

The poem, Thorn deals with a retired sailor, who is superstitious, credulous and talkative. In a poem it is not possible to imitate truly a dull and garrulous discourser, without repeating the effects of dullness and garrulity. There are portions in the poem which give universal delight and make good poetry, but these portions arise from the poets imagination. On the other hand, the narrations of the sailor sink to low standards of poetry. According to Coleridge, the genesis of a good poem lies in the creative imagination playing upon characters and situations so as to universalize them. The contention of Coleridge is that rural life, if presented unvarnished without the aid of imagination, becomes dull and uninteresting.

Wordsworths theory was that rustics were always in communication with the best objects in nature and hence spoke the best language. But the poet uses this language only after purifying its grossness. According to Coleridge, the very process of purification make the language universal and removes the

specific rural character. Moreover, the people in rural areas learn much of their vocabulary only by their contact with the cultivated classes of the Church and the University. Without these influences the mere language of simple rural tribes is not philosophic and poetic.

Wordsworth stated that he was going to adopt the real language of men, but according to Coleridge, the word real is ambiguous. Every mans language varies according to the extent of his knowledge, the activity of his facilities. and the depth and quickness of his feelings. Every mans language has, first, its individual characteristic secondly, the common properties of the class to which he belongs; and thirdly, words and phrases of universal use. For real
www.onlinecampus.net.in Page 5 of 6

www.msuonline.net.in

therefore, Coleridge substitutes ordinary or lingue communis. This is not to be found in the phraseology of two and rustic life or in that of any other class. Numerous omissions and changes are needed before it can be turned into the language of poetry. The language which is so highly extolled by Wordsworth varies in every village, according to the varied influence of clergymen, schools, politicians or weekly newspapers.

According to Wordsworth. rustics, in a state of excitement, use language that is potical Coleridge objects to this on the ground that, in any excitement, words used by rustics can only be words with which they are acquainted. No excitement can make them speak poetry or invent new thoughts and images. Mere unusual stimulation will not produce poetic idiom. There should be a simultaneous co-existence of tradition. When particular details from rustic life and the whole ethos of the prevailing civilization are harmonised, poetry rooted in particular localities is possible, because it is also influenced by the prevailing cultural university. Dante achieved this synthesis. He edified the art rooted in a particular locality with the universal outlook of the European culture of that time.

www.onlinecampus.net.in

Page 6 of 6

www.msuonline.net.in