Coleridge Handout

English 203

Dr. Fike

Review:  We are tracking three main themes.

  1. Sacred vs. secular
  2. Imagination
  3. Nature

Biographia Literaria, Chapter XIV, pages 645-50

  1. There are two sorts of poems:
  2. Key concept:  "willing suspension of disbelief…constitutes poetic faith."
  3. Three characteristics of a poem:
  4.  The nature of the imagination on 649:
    1. "synthetic and magical power"
    2. "balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities"
    3. primary and secondary imagination

BL, Chapter XIII:

"The imagination, then, I consider either as primary or secondary.  The Primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.  The secondary [imagination] I consider as an echo of the former, coexisting with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree and in the mode of its operation.  It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still, at all events, it struggles to idealize and to unify.  It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead."

Sacred vs. Secular:  The Greater Romantic Lyric ("Frost at Midnight"):

  1. Characteristics:
  2. Examples: 
    1. Stage one (lines 1-23): 
    2. Stage two (lines 24-43):
    3. Ending—Stage Three (lines 44-end): 
  3. What about "The Eolian Harp"?
    1. Preliminary points to consider:
    2. The three stages:

                                                               i.      Lines 1-12:

                                                             ii.      Lines 12-48:

                                                            iii.      Lines 49-end:


Two Types of Imagination Applied to Rime and "Kubla"

MAIN POINT:  Primary imagination:Rime::Secondary imagination:"Kubla." 

Important concepts:

  1. Ballad:  See your handbook, page 50-51.
  2. Romantic Quest Poem:
  3. The Romantic wanderer:

Some questions for discussion:

  1. Why does the Ancient Mariner kill the albatross?  See page 241, line 82.
  2. What does killing the albatross signify? 
  3. How is he redeemed? 
  4. What does the Ancient Mariner's glittering eye suggest?
  5. Why is the church an appropriate setting?  Why speak to a wedding guest?
  6. What is the moral of this poem?  See the second to the last stanza, lines 612-17
  7. In the face of such a hopeful moral, why is the wedding guest "sadder but wiser"?  See Ecclesiastes 1:18.


"Kubla Khan"

Key points:

  1. This is a poem about the secondary imagination and about poetry.  It brings together opposite and discordant qualities. 
  2. Sometimes the imagination is violent.  Cf. Blake's "Tyger" poem.
  3. In the Romantic period, energy comes up from below (as in a volcano).
  4. The poet's act of creation is greater than Kubla because it reconciles opposite and discordant qualities in a superior way.