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Coleridge and the Imagination Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Jarra McGrath, Australia May 1, 2003
Culture   Opinions
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HIGH SCHOOL ESSAY. (1999 - 2000)


“The power of the human imagination is a central theme in Coleridge’s work."


Coleridge was a poet during the Romantic movement. A period when poetry was personal and fanciful, displaying a love of nature and an appreciation of natural beauty. Central to Romantic poetry was the theme of unity between God, Man and nature. Nature was believed to be the source of order, reason and stability. The beginning of the Industrial Revolution saw the destruction of the cottage industries. Coleridge’s Pantheist movement sought to escape these changes, the City became a symbol of evil, greed and death. Greed was to be eliminated through the abolition of private ownership. Coleridge shunned religious beliefs of the time, believing God, Man and nature to be interrelated, he saw a unity in all things.

For Coleridge and other Romantic poets, the human imagination became a tool with which the poets could explore these issues and ideas and then communicate them effectively. Imagination promised an escape from the poison of the Industrial Revolution. It promised Coleridge Pantheist dreams that would never be realised, and as those dreams crumbled before him, Imagination offered solace.

In his conversational poetry we travel with Coleridge, back and fourth through space and time, on a journey guided by his imagination. The structure, techniques of language, imagery and symbolism are all defined by imagination along the journey. Whether Coleridge is exploring feelings of loneliness and isolation in “This Lime Tree Bower, My Prison”, life and death in “Frost at Midnight” or the love he has for his wife in “The Eolian Harp”, the human imagination is a central theme in Coleridge’s work.

Coleridge wrote “This Lime Tree Bower, My Prison” when after meeting with an accident, he was left sitting in his garden while his good friends took an evening stroll. Coleridge takes us on a cyclical journey composed of several stages. We are guided through imaginary scenes as Coleridge follows his friends on their walk, in his mind.

Coleridge’s imagination defines the structure of the poem. The three stanzas of the poem illustrate Coleridge’s emotional journey. From being disgruntled and frustrated with his predicament, Coleridge follows his friend’s journey in his mind and is awe struck by the beauty of the countryside. Coleridge imagines his friends moving through the dark, dank and mysterious dell. He imagines their ascent from the dell to the hills where they view the “wide heavens” and the ocean. Here there wandering is suggestive of a train of thought, thinking about nature, life and God. He returns to the Bower, now soothed by his imaginary journey he discovers the beauty in his “prison” and realises that beauty exists everywhere. His imagination soars and his thoughts return to Charles, whom with he shares this revelation.

The imagination lends a sixth sense to Coleridge’s description as he moves through this imaginary environment based only on memory. His word usage is very illustrative, there is a sense of life imbued within each phrase and a definite mood is set. As he moves out of the dell to view the “wide heavens” there is a feeling of awe, this passage carries religious overtones.
Using his imagination, Coleridge brings his scenes alive, the three stanzas are unified by a pervading sense of light. The first stanza is rich with sound, feelings and tactile images. He uses repetition to emphasise the continuity and sound of the waterfall, “the roaring dell” and imbues the ash with personality, “Flings arching like a bridge.”

Images of darkness are followed by images of light, mirroring Coleridge’s mood as he travels on his imaginary journey. Lines early in the second stanza are suggestive of imagination, Coleridge imagines sailing ships far
out on the sea.

“With some fair bank, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow!”

The imagery of the “blue clay-stone” in the first stanza is seen here with the “purple shadow” and later in the second stanza with the “purple heath flowers!” The alliteration towards the end of the second stanza emphasises the power of the awe inspiring scene before him, the intoxication of all Coleridge can see.

“Silent with swimming sense; yea, gaze round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily;”
The second stanza, like the first, makes use of the imagination to communicate the themes of the poem and the ideas behind Pantheism.
Coleridge imagines his good friend Charles who having escaped the city, rejoices in the scene before him. The Romantic’s dislike for city life is apparent as parallels are drawn to Coleridge’s position in the Bower. Again the relationship between Man and God is illustrated.

“As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence.”

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