A Comparative Study of Wordsworth and Coleridge

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      From 1795 up till 1802, Coleridge and Wordsworth have enjoyed a friendship. During this time they have collaborated in producing the Lyrical Ballads, a volume of verse to which Coleridge has contributed his Ancient Mariner. This volume, produces in 1798, is said to have ushered in the English Romantic Movement.

      Different Approach. But in planning the poems for this volume, the differences between these two poets at once come out. Wordsworth is to write poems on common subjects "such as will be found in every village" and make them appear significant with his "original gift of spreading the atmosphere of the ideal world over (familiar) forms and incidents". Coleridge, on the other hand, is to write on "supernatural" subjects, "made real by the dramatic truth of such emotions, supposing them real." In other words, while Wordsworth makes the "natural" appear as "supernatural", Coleridge makes the "supernatural" appear as "natural." Thus, "Coleridge represented perfectly that side of the romantic imagination which seeks to lose itself in dream and marvel". Coleridge revives the elements of wonder and mystery, whereas, Wordsworth revives interest in nature. Coleridge by writing The Ancient Mariner make the supernatural appear like the natural (credible and convincing); Wordsworth by writing The Solitary Reaper, Immortality Ode and Tintern Abbey make the natural look like the supernatural, sublime and marvellous.

      Attitude to Nature. Wordsworth spiritualises nature. He regards nature as a living presence, a sacred entity which can influence the mind of man:

A motion and a spirit impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought
And rolls through all things.
-      -       -      -      -      -      -
Well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense
.....the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul of all my moral being. (Tintern Abbey)

      Coleridge feel that it is we ourselves who endow nature with a spirit:

O! Lady, we receive but what we give
And in our life alone does nature live.(Dejection: An Ode)

      Coleridge again is attracted by the mysterious aspects of nature, whereas Wordsworth by everyday homely scenes and objects. Thus, in The Ancient Mariner, we have descriptions of such queer natural phenomena as:

All in a hot and copper sky
The bloody sun, at noon....
The water, like a witch's oil
Burnt green and blue and white.
And straight the sun was flecked with bars
As if through a dungeon grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

      On the other hand, Wordsworth delights in "meadow, grove and stream" dr the "tall rock, the mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood". Wordsworth, again, is not only a poet of nature but also a prophet of nature. He reads a deeper meaning into nature and believes that if we surrender ourselves to nature we will gain in holiness, beauty and strength.

      Dream versus Reality. Coleridge's imagination is stirred more by dream than by reality. Coleridge is at his best when he abandons himself to vision and dreams. Wordsworth is at his greatest when he touches facts with imagination. Coleridge provides us an escape from the world of reality by transporting us to a land of mystery and wonder.

      Word Painting. Wordsworth attaches great importance to sensations but in this case they are not important for their own sake. They have an impact on his feelings and thought. In the case of Coleridge sensations come to assume a significance such as we find only in the poetry of Keats and the later nineteenth-century poets like Rossetti, Morris and Swinburne. Coleridge's sensibility is of an aesthete who is delighted by refined sensuousness for its own sake. He takes pleasure in describing things, often criticizes himself for being bad at description (quite unjustifiably of course) and longs for the art of the painter to do justice to his subject.

      Poetic Output. Wordsworth's poetic output is greater than that of Coleridge. Excepting a few masterpieces like The Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, and Christabel, Wordsworth's poetic achievement is much more considerable. He write a large number of lyrics, sonnets, odes and narrative poems that will die only with the English language.

      Lyricism and Mastery of Words. As a lyric poet Wordsworth again surpasses Coleridge who as Grierson says, "was not essentially a lyric poet, because he lacks the passion and intensity of lyrical utterance." Coleridge is a narrator rather than a lyrical poet. He is a gifted story teller. Wordsworth is an inspired singer who write such immortal and imperishable lyrics as Tintern Abbey, Immortality Ode, and The Solitary Reaper. Coleridge's lyricism in Dejection and Ode is reflective rather than inspired. It lacks the quality of rapture.

      Coleridge, however, is a master of words. His poetry is rich in musical quality. In The Ancient Mariner, he gives us rare musical effects with the help of most familiar words:

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew
The furrow followed free

      He can likewise paint a scene with a few bold strokes:

The sun's tins dips, the stars rush out
At one stride comes the dark.

      Wordsworth's command over words is not as astonishing as that of Coleridge. At his best Wordsworth cannot be easily surpassed. For instance:

The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms were then to me
An appetite

      Resemblance Despite Differences. Coleridge's criticism of Wordsworth makes us forget the close resemblance between — even identity of—the views of the two poets. Both have begun their careers as ardent supporters of the French Revolution and the cause of human progress. They give up their open support to the French Revolution but remains — in the period of their best creative activity — confirms believers in human progress and democrats. Both are opposed to the rule of the aristocracy and monarchy and hates the commercial civilization of the upper classes. Both are under the influence of the materialist radical tradition of Locke, Hartley and Godwin. The views of these three philosophers are not identical, but they belong to a common tradition to which the poets are loyal. They have no liking for the clergy and instead of a personal God worships nature (Wordsworth in particular) and treats all living things as sacred (particularly Coleridge). Their political opposition to land-owning aristocracy make them critical of the culture of the ruling class. Their criticism of old poetic diction is a part of their general smuggle against the culture of a class that has ceased to be progressive historically. Perhaps not many people realize that Coleridge have been as much a critic of neo-classical poetic diction as Wordsworth. But it is a fact that the views of the two friends has been identical in one phase of their intellectual development.

      Conclusion. Speaking of Wordsworth and Coleridge, Cazamian observes: "Their development, until the time of their meeting, offers great analogies. Coleridge, like Wordsworth, went through a phase of revolutionary ardour. The daring of a personal inspiration, and that of a fresh-created language, come to him at the same time; and this is the hour when his social zeal, his hopes for mankind, freed from the hope of any immediate realization, are transformed into a spiritual idealism. Wordsworth's influence contributes to this result; but Coleridge is indebted to none but himself for the more philosophic and mystical character with which he invests their common doctrine."

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