The Emotion, Imagination and Complexity of Wordsworth and Coleridge

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The Emotion, Imagination and Complexity of Wordsworth and Coleridge The 19th century was heralded by a major shift in the conception and emphasis of literary art and, specifically, poetry. During the 18th century the catchphrase of literature and art was reason. Logic and rationality took precedence in any form of written expression. Ideas of validity and aesthetic beauty were centered around concepts such as the collective "we" and the eradication of passion in human behavior. In 1798 all of those ideas about literature were challenged by the publication of Lyrical Ballads, which featured the poetry of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth and Coleridge both had strong, and sometimes conflicting, opinions about what constituted well-written poetry. Their ideas were centered around the origins of poetry in the poet and the role of poetry in the world, and these theoretical concepts led to the creation of poetry that is sufficiently complex to support a wide variety of critical readings in a modern context. Wordsworth wrote a preface to Lyrical Ballads in which he puts forth his ideas about poetry. His conception of poetry hinges on three major premises. Wordsworth asserts that poetry is the language of the common man: To this knowledge which all men carry about with them, and to these sympathies in which without any other discipline than that of our daily life we are fitted to take delight, the poet principally directs his attention. (149) Poetry should be understandable to anybody living in the world. Wordsworth eschews the use of lofty, poetic diction, which in his mind is not related to the language of real life. He sees poetry as acting like Nature, which touches all living things and inspires and delights them. Wordsworth calls for poetry to be written in the language of the "common man," and the subjects of the poems should also be accessible to all individuals regardless of class or position. Wordsworth also makes the points that "poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility" (151). These two points form the basis for Wordsworth's explanation of the process of writing poetry. First, some experience triggers a transcendent moment, an instance of the sublime. The senses are overwhelmed by this experience; the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" leaves an individual incapable of articulating the true nature and beauty of the event.

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