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Coleridge dispute Wordsworths

Wordsworth and Coleridge came together early in life. It was in 1796, that they were
frequently together, and out of their mutual discussion arose the various theories which
Wordsworth embodied in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, and which he tried to put
into practice in the poems. Coleridge claimed credit for these theories and said they
were, half the child of his brain. But later on, his views underwent a change, he no
longer agreed with Wordsworths theories, and so criticized them in Chapter XVII and
XVIII of the Biographia Literaria.

Wordsworths Views

In his Preface, Wordsworth made three important statements all of which have been objects of
Coleridges censure. These are:

1. Reasons for His Choice of Rustic Life: Wordsworth writes that he chose low rustic life ,
because in that condition the essential passion of the heart find a better soil in which they can
attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language;
because in that condition of life our elementary feelings coexist in a state of greater simplicity
and consequently may be more accurately contemplated and more forcibly communicated;
because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings, and from the
necessary character of rural occupations are more easily comprehended and are more durable;
and lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful
and permanent forms of nature.

2. Choice of Rustic Language : Secondly, that, The language too of these men is adopted
(purified indeed from what appears to be its real defects, from all lasting and rational causes of
dislike or disgust) because such men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the
best of language is originally derived; and because, from their rank in society and the sameness
and narrow circle of their intercourse being less under the action of social vanity, they convey
their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions.

3. Diction of Poetry: Thirdly, he made a number of statements regarding the


language and diction of poetry. Of these, Coleridge controverts the following parts : a
selection of the real language of men; the language of these men (i. e. men in low and
rustic life) I propose to myself to imitate, and as far as possible to adopt the very
language of men; and between the language of prose and that of metrical composition
there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference.

Coleridges Criticism
As regards the second statement of Wordsworth, Coleridge objects to the view that the
best of language is derived from the objects with which the rustics hourly communicate.
First, communication with an object implies reflection on it, and the richness of
vocabulary arises from such reflection. Now the rural conditions of life do not require
any reflection, hence the vocabulary of the rustic is poor. They can express only the
barest facts of nature, and not the ideas and thoughts universal laws which result
from reflection on such facts. Secondly, the best part of a mans language does not result
merely from communication with nature, but from education, from the minds dwelling
on noble thoughts and ideals of the master minds of humanity. Whatever noble and
poetic phrases, words and arrangement of words the rustics use, are derived not from
nature, but from repeated listening to The Bible and to the sermons of noble and
inspired preachers.

Coleridge on Poetic Diction

Coming then to a detailed consideration of Wordsworths theory of poetic diction, he


takes up his statements, one by one, and demonstrates that his views are not justified.
Wordsworth asserts that the language of poetry is a selection of the real language of
man or the very language of man; and that there was no essential difference between the
language of prose and that of poetry. Coleridge reports that every mans language,
varies according to the extent of his knowledge, the activity of his faculties and the depth
or quickness of his feelings. Every mans language has, first, its individual peculiarities;
secondly, the properties common to the class to which he belongs; and thirdly, words
and phrases of universal use. No two men of the same class or of different classes speak
alike, although both use words and phrases common to them all, because in the one case
their natures are different and in the other their classes are different.

This applies much to the language of rustics, as to that of townsmen. In both cases the
language varies from person to person, class to class, and place to place. Which of these
varieties of language, asks Coleridge, is the real language of men. Each, he re plies, has
to be purged of its uncommon or accidental features (such as those picked up from
family, profession, or locality) before it can become the ordinary (i. e. generally spoken)
language of men Omit the particularities of each, and the result ofcourse must be
common to all. And assuredly the commissions and changes to be made in the language
and rustics, before it could be transferred to any species of poem, except the drama or
other professed imitation, are at least as numerous and weighty as would be required in
adapting to the same purpose the ordinary language of tradesmen and manufacturers.
Such a language alone has a universal appeal and is, therefore, the language of poetry.
A language so generalised, so selected, and also so purified of what is gross and vulgar
will differ in no way from the language of any other man of commonsense. Coleridge
objects to Wordsworths use of the words very or real and suggests that ordinary or
generally aught to have been used. Wordsworths addition of the words in a state of
excitement, is meaningless, says Coleridge, for emotional excitement may result in a
more concentrated expression, but it cannot create a noble and richer vocabulary.

To Wordsworths contention that there is no essential difference between the language


of poetry and that of prose, Coleridge replies that there is, and there ought to be, an
essential difference between the language of prose and that of poetry. The language of
poetry differs from that of prose in the same way in which the language of prose differs,
and ought to differ, from language of conversion, and as reading differs from talking.
Coleridge gives a number of reasons in support of his view. First, language is both a
matter of words, and the arrangement of those words. Now words both in prose and
poetry may be the same, but their arrangement is different. This difference arises from
the fact that poetry uses metre, and metre requires a different arrangement of words. As
Coleridge has already shown, metre is not mere superficial decoration, but an essential,
organic part of a poem. Hence there is bound to be an essential difference between the
language, i. e. the arrangement of words, of poetry and of prose. There is the difference
even in those poems of Wordsworth which are considered most Words worthian. In fact,
metre medicates the whole atmosphere and so, even the metaphors and similes used by
a poet are different in quality and frequency from those of prose.

Further, it cannot be demonstrated that the language of prose and poetry are identical,
and so convertible. There may be certain lines or even passages which can be used both
in prose and poetry, but not all the lines or passages can be used thus. There are
passages which will suit the one, and not the other.

Coleridges devotion of Wordsworths theory remains even now one of the finest
examples of literary criticism. His essay on Wordsworth has been regarded by Thomas
M. Raysor as the finest critical essay in English literature.

Wordsworth and Coleridge came together early in life and mutually arose various theories
which Wordsworth embodied in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads and tried to put into
practice in his poems. Coleridge claimed credit for these theories and said they were half the
child of his brain. But later on, his views underwent the change; he no longer agreed with
Wordsworths theories and so criticized them.

In his Preface, Wordsworth made three important statements all of which have been objects of
Coleridge's censure.

1. Reasons for His Choice of Rustic Life:

First of all, Wordsworth writes that he chose low and rustic life, where the essential passions of
the heart find a better soil to attain their maturity. They are less under restraint and speak a
plainer and more emphatic language. In rustic life our basic feelings coexist in greater simplicity
and more accurately contemplated and more forcibly communicated. The manners of rural life
sprang from those elementary feelings and from the necessary character of rural occupations,
are more easily realized and are more durable. Lastly the passions of men are incorporated with
the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.
2. Choice of Rustic Language

Secondly, that the language of these men is adopted because they hourly communicate with
the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived. Being less under
social vanity, they convey their feelings and ideas in simple and outright expressions because of
their rank in society and the equality and narrow circle of their intercourse.

3. Diction of Poetry:

Thirdly, he made a number of statements regarding the language and diction of poetry. Of
these, Coleridge refutes the following parts: a selection or the real language of men; the
language of the men in low and rustic life: and, Between the language of prose and that of
metrical composition there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference.

As regards the first statement, i.e. the choice of rustic characters and life, Coleridge points out,
first, that not all Wordsworth characters are rustic. Characters in poems like Ruth, Michael, The
Brothers, are not low and rustic. Secondly, their language and sentiments do not necessarily
arise from their abode or occupation. They are attributable to causes of their similar sentiments
and language, even if they have different abode or occupation. These causes are mainly two:

Independence which raises a man above bondage, and a frugal and industrious domestic life.

A solid, religious education which makes a man well-versed in the Bible and other holy books
excluding other books.

The admirable qualities in the language and sentiments of Wordsworths characters result from
these two causes. Even if they lived in the city away from Nature they would have similar
sentiments and language. In the opinion of Coleridge, a man will not be benefited from a life in
rural solitudes unless he has natural sensibility and suitable education. In the absence of these
advantages, the mind hardens and a man grows, selfish, sensual, gross and hard hearted.

As regards the second statement of Wordsworth, Coleridge objects to the view that the best
part of language is derived from the objects with which the rustic hourly communicates. First,
communication with an object implies reflection on it and the richness of vocabulary arises
from such reflection. Now the rural conditions of life do not require any reflection, hence the
vocabulary of the rustics is poor. They can express only the barest facts of nature and not the
ideas and thoughts which results from their reflection. Secondly, the best part of a mans
language does not result merely from communication with nature, but from education, from
the mind of noble thoughts and ideals. Whatever rustics use, are derived not from nature, but
from The Bible and from the sermons of noble and inspired preachers.

To Wordsworths argument about having no essential difference between the language of


poetry and prose, Coleridge replies that there is and there ought to be, an essential difference
between both the languages and gives numerous reasons to support his view. First, language is
both a matter and the arrangement of words. Words both in prose and poetry may be the same
but their arrangement is different. This difference arises from the fact that the poetry uses
metre and metre requires a different arrangement of words. Metre is not a mere superficial
decoration, but an essential organic part of a poem. Even the metaphors and similes used by a
poet are different in quality and frequency from prose. Hence there is bound to be an
essential difference between the arrangement of words of poetry and prose. There is this
difference even in those poems of Wordsworths which are considered most Wordsworthian.

Further, it cannot be confirmed that the language of prose and poetry are identical and so
convertible. There may be certain lines or even passages which can be used both in prose and
poetry, but not all. There are passages which will suit the one and not the other.

Thus does Coleridge refute Wordsworths views on the themes and language of poetry.

Coleridge further says that the language praised so much by Wordsworth varies from locality to locality
owing to various influences. He then attacks Wordsworth's conception that words would come out of
these simple rustics in their moments of natural passion spontaneously. Actually the expression depends
on the general truths, conceptions and images and words already stored in mind. Giving illustrations
from Wordsworth's own poems, he disproves Wordsworth's assertion that he was using the language of
the rustics.
He goes to challenge the last important assertion of Wordsworth, "there neither is nor can be any
essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition". He argues that prose
itself differs and ought to differ from the language of conversation just like reading ought to differ from
talking. There exist a still greater difference between the order of words used in a poetic composition
and that used in prose, unless Wordsworth had only meant words, and not the style of using them.
Coleridge's demolition of Wordsworth's theory of poetic diction remains even now as one of the finest
examples of literary polemics.
Of these, Coleridge refutes the following parts: a selection or the real language
of men; the language of the men in low and rustic life: and, Between the
language of prose and that of metrical composition there neither is, nor can be,
any essential difference.

Wordsworth was a complete innovator who saw things in a new way. Those who
approach his poetry for the first time notice two peculiarities its austerity and its
appearance of triviality. It is so in the case of those who fail to see the quality of
really human sympathy. Besides, Wordsworth himself is responsible for inviting
this sort of response, as he had no relish for the present. Shelley said about him that
he was hardly a man, but a wandering spirit with strange adventures and no end to
them. The triviality of manner is the manner through which he could convey the
profoundest truths. While reading Wordsworths poems, it is impossible not to be
struck by two things:

Wordsworth writes the language of these men is adopted because they hourly
communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is
originally derived. Being less under social vanity, they convey their feelings and
ideas in simple and outright expressions because of their rank in society and the
equality and narrow circle of their intercourse. Essentially,

Further more, poetry is the pursuit of truthof man's knowledge of himself and
the world around him. Finally, poetry is a great force for good.

In Chapter XIV,Coleridge says that the power of poetry to be two fold: That is,
it can arouse reader sympathy by faithful adherence to the truth of nature
and by giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colors of
imaginatio.Wordsworth followed the first task by rendering the familiar as
marvelous and beautiful, while Coleridge accept the second task of making
the unfamiliar credible. Coleridges poems should be directed to persons and
characters supernatural or at least romantic but would be presented with
such semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of
imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which
constitutes poetic faith (258).(2) Wordsworth would take an opposing
approach;his subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life, but he would
Give them the charm of novelty so that they would excite a feeling
analogous to the supernatural (258).Tarvin 22. In this most memorable of all
critical phrasesto produce . . . the willing suspension of disbelief [in the
reader] for the moment which constitutes poetic faithColeridge moves into
the AFFECTIVE domain. In essence, he contends that a reader picks up
every literary work knowing it is fiction(that is, disbelieving that it is reality),but
the reader willingly suspends this disbelief while reading in order to gain the
pleasure which the literary work promises. This suspension of disbelief is the
poetic faith which every reader must accord an author, until the author
through the work violates this faith.3. Coleridge then gives his definition of a
poem
:(1) This definition first uses the AFFECTIVE THEORY:
A poem seeks to produce immediate pleasure in the reader, not to teach a
truth (261). This assertion runs counter to all of the critics we have read
since Horace, including Wordsworth.(2) The second part of the definition uses
theOBJECTIVE THEORY: A poem has organic unity, a conception,the
editors states, whichharken[s] back to Aristotle (257). Organic unity
means that all of the parts of a poemmust fit together as the parts of an
organism fit t
ogether, where, if you remove one part,the organism dies.4. A poem is that
species of composition, whichis opposed to works of scienceby proposing for
its immediate
object pleasure, not truth [AFFECTIVE] (261).Such a legitimate poem . . .
must be one, the par
ts of which mutuallysupport and explain each other; all in their propor
tion harmonizing with, andsupporting the purpose and known influences of
metr
ical arrangement [OBJECTIVE](261).5. To Coleridge, the essence of poetry
is not fou
nd in the Objective or Affectiveapproaches. Rather it is found in what goes on
inthe mind of the poettheEXPRESSIVE approach.Thus, Coleridge states,
What is poetry? is so ne
arly the same questionwith, what is a poet? that the answer to the one is
involved in the solution to the other(262).To Coleridge the true poet is
characterized by p
oetic genius (262), whathe later calls poetic IMAGINATION (262). Colerid
ge then describes what goes on inthe poets mind when a poem is being
created.Imagination, he says, sustains and modifies the
images, thoughts, andemotions of the poets own mind (262).The poet,
described in ideal
perfection, brings the whole soul of man intoactivity. . . . He diffuses a tone
and spirit of u
nity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses
,each into each, by that synthetic and magical power
, to which we have exclusivelyappropriated the name of imagination
(262).Imagination . . . reveals itself in the balanceor reconciliation of
oppositeor discordant qualities: of sameness, with differen
ce; of the general, with the concrete;the idea, with the image; the individual,
with therepresentative; the sense of noveltyand of freshness, with old and
familiar objects . .
. and while it blends and harmonizesthe natural and the artificial, still
subordinatesart to nature . . . (262).Tarvin 3Imagination is the SOUL that is
everywhere, andin each; and forms allinto one graceful and intelligent whole
(263)