Compare Dejection An Ode and Immortality Ode

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How does Coleridge's attitude to nature and poetic inspiration differ from Wordsworth's? Compare Dejection and Immortality Ode in this regard.

      The problem which concerns both Coleridge and Wordsworth is that of poetical inspiration. Each feels that his hold on it was precarious and asks why this is so. Wordsworth faces the problem in the first three stanzas of the Ode to Immortality and then abandons it for at least two years Coleridge, slower perhaps to start but quicker once he has started, told of his crisis in the poem which he afterwards calls Dejection.

      Dejection is a cry from Coleridge's heart to his most intimate friends, and though he abridged and altered it, keeps its essential substance. Long before Wordsworth completed his Ode, Coleridge has given full and powerful voice to his own crisis and Wordsworth could not but take heed of it Wordsworth's Ode, at least in its eight last stanzas, is a kind of answer to Coleridge's Dejection. From one angle it may be regarded as a poem of comfort and encouragement, but it is much more than that. It is a declaration of belief, intended to counteract the searching doubts and melancholy fears which Wordsworth saw in Coleridge and has felt to a lesser degree in himself. The two poems are concerns with Central problems in the Romantic outlook and show to what different conclusions two men could come who shares their innermost thoughts, and followed, as they believed, very similar aims.

      At the outset we notice a great contrast of temperament between the poets. Both find themselves in somewhat similar situations, and it is no accident that in the first text which he sent to Sarah Hutchinson Coleridge more than once has a conscious echo of Wordsworth. When Wordsworth says:

The things which I have seen I now can see no more,

      and Coleridge says

But oft I seem to feel and evermore I fear
They are not to me now the things which once they were,

      We see that both poets share a common crisis. But each interprets it characteristically in his own way. When Coleridge examines himself and speaks with fearful candour of his inner being, he sees nothing but an empty, lifeless depression:

A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear...

      Perhaps at some moment which the Ode has left behind Wordsworth felt something like this, but he has conquered and suppressed it. In the Ode, almost as if in answer to Coleridge; he stresses his own confidence and the delight which he still takes in nature, despite his loss of something most valuable. There is in Wordsworth something tough and bellicose which Coleridge lacks. Coleridge's sensitiveness is part of a gentle, in some ways passive, nature. When things goes wrong with him, he did not know what to do and is prone to lament defeat. Wordsworth is made of sterner stuff and sought for a new scheme of life to replace the old.

      The difference between the two men is well illustrated by the different scenes which they describe. While Wordsworth speaks of a fine morning in spring, Coleridge speaks of a stormy night with the moon shining between clouds. If there is one thing which more than another touches Coleridge to poetry, it is the moon. He, whose metaphysics Carlyle rudely describes as "bottled moonshine", knew all the enchantment of the moon and see in it almost a symbol of the poet's power to transform the material world into a world of the imagination. It is appropriate that he shall use it to illustrate his dejected slate. It is no less appropriate that Wordsworth shall speak of a spring morning. His poetry is inspired not by vague forms and indefinite contours, but by the stirring of light and life, the budding of flowers, and the sunshine on the meadows. While Coleridge is at his best among the dimly described shapes. Wordsworth moves happily and confidently among solid. forms. The contrast shows the more delicate nature of Coleridge's genius and illustrates why, when his crisis came, it is more fearful and more final than Wordsworth's.

      The differences of personality which are illustrated by the Ode and by Dejection are enhanced by differences of outlook on the task of poetry and the place of the imagination in life. In the first place, the double crisis shows how differently Coleridge and Wordsworth reacted to the external world. Whatever relics of Locke's universe Coleridge may have kept in his philosophical opinions, as a poet he is an idealist who believes that the mind fashions the universe for all purposes that really matter. His present grief has come because he feels that he has lost his power to create through the imagination, that he can no longer shape experience into beauty and impose his will on nature:

O Lady we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does nature live:
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud!

      Because he has lost his inner joy, he has lost his gift of imaginative creation, and he cannot but lament the circumstances which are responsible for this:

But now afflictions bow me down to earth:
Nor care I that they rob me of my mirth:
But Oh! each visitation
Suspends that nature gave me at my birth,
My shaping spirit of Imagination.

      For Coleridge, who believes that the imagination is the primary instrument of all spiritual and creative activities, this is indeed a bitter confession. He has lost not only his poetical gift but what makes life worth living.

      With Wordsworth, it is quite different. For him, nature exists independently and needs only to be used and interpreted. Even in the first three stanzas of the Ode, when the memory of his crisis is still fresh, Wordsworth sees nature as not merely living its own life but full of beauty and joy:

The Rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the Rose,
The Moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters in a starry night
Are beautiful and fair.

      As he develops his poem, Wordsworth stresses this independence and this essential joyfulness of nature. Whereas Coleridge puts all his trust in his own imagination and is in despair when it fails him, Wordsworth continues to believe that nature stands outside him and has still much to give him, if he will only be ready to receive it.

      A second point of contrast reveals by the two poems is between the different ways in which Coleridge and Wordsworth are inspired to write poetry. On his own experience Coleridge is emphatic. For creation he needs joy. It may not be all that he needs, but, so far as it goes, it is indispensable:

Joy, Lady! is the spirit and the power....

      This pure joy is the "strong music in the soul" which enables Coleridge to create, and this is what he has lost. Without it he feels helpless and miserable. When stirred, Wordsworth's creative energy is not joy, as Coleridge describes it, but something more complex. Nature might delight him, but it also did something else. It woke hidden powers in him by a process which was not always enjoyable. Though such experiences may at the time be frightening, in retrospect they became a matter for gratitude. For Wordsworth, beauty and awe were closely mingled in any keen appreciation of natural things, and each contributs to his conception of this task. In comparison with the change workings of Wordsworth's creative faculty, those of Coleridge are indeed frail, since they are founded in a joy which be lost early and never regained.

      A third point of comparison between Coleridge and Wordsworth turns on their conception of the world which the imagination finds beyond the senses. On this point Coleridge does not say much in Dejection, but what he says is to the point. He insists that from the soul must issue

A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud
Enveloping the Earth.

      Through the exercise of the imagination the "inanimate cold world" transformed into something real and living. The imagination creates reality by absorbing the given into the world of spirit. This is the only reality for Coleridge, but it is not what Wordsworth sought or found. There are moments when by some mysterious and magnificent process he passed beyond the visible world into some other order of being, vaster and more wonderful. In The Prelude he speaks of times when

The light of sense
Goes out in flashes that have shewn to us
The invisible world.

      To this experience, Wordsworth's poems bear eloquent witness. Instead of examining nature with a close, observant eye and extracting all that he could from it, he found himself unaccountably transported into another sphere of being, shapeless and frightening and beyond the reach of exact words. While Coleridge seeks to transform the given world through the imagination, Wordsworth knows moments when he passes beyond it to something else, and he believes that this task is essentially one of the imagination.

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