The Poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11624

Poetry can be more complicated than what you read in a greeting card. Sam Coleridge had his theory of imagination that he incorporated into his work. At least his "Rime" rhymed and was imaginative!

categories

Literary Studies

subject
Reading
learning style
Visual
personality style
Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

How would you define the term "imagination"?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Image, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.

For the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the imagination was the most important characteristic of literature.

Only by using the mind could a writer draw on the images that he or she conjured, then unite that which was crafted in the imagination with words on the page. This was all in an attempt to communicate the imagery of personal thoughts to an audience.

Coleridge spent his life in pursuit of the purest expression of the human imagination in poetry, but his career and personal life often intervened and deterred him from fully achieving his goal. Coleridge was often pressed for money and had to take a series of jobs early in his career to support his family. He also found himself trapped in a loveless marriage for years and, later in life, he was frequently ill and was addicted to opium, which was commonly prescribed in that era for a variety of ailments.

To learn more about Coleridge's life, read Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., and watch Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Heather Barton (below). As you read and view, answer the questions listed below on a separate sheet of paper:

  • What were the literary influences on Coleridge's early life?
  • What type of education did Coleridge receive?
  • With what other poet did Coleridge collaborate for Lyrical Ballads?
  • What was the "universal language" for Coleridge and how did humans express it?
  • How was Coleridge able to learn about developments in German philosophy years before they became well-known in England?
  • Why did Coleridge accept a position as a secretary in Malta?
  • Why did Coleridge terminate his working relationship with William Wordsworth?
  • Why did Coleridge adopt an official stance on Christianity late in life?
  • According to Coleridge, what was the essential element of literature?

 

After you have finished answering the questions, discuss your findings with your parent or teacher. Was there anything about Coleridge's life that surprised or intrigued you? Discuss your thoughts with your parent or teacher.


As you have read, Coleridge was fascinated with the operation of the mind and the imagination. In his 1817 book of literary theory, BiographiaLiteraria, Coleridge defined the terms "imagination" and "fancy." For Coleridge, there were two types of imagination: primary and secondary. Fancy occupied a different category for Coleridge.

Read the article, Critical Analysis of Coleridge's Imagination and Fancy, by kheralatika. As you read, write down Coleridge's definitions for the primary imagination, secondary imagination, and fancy on a separate sheet of paper. When you are finished taking your notes, share your answers with your parent or teacher.

  • Did you discover that the primary imagination is the interpretation of visible objects by the mind, and that all human beings have this power?
  • Did you find that the secondary imagination is a "magical" power to take the impressions from the primary imagination and consciously interpret them and fuse them together in a way that only poets can do?
  • Did you learn that fancy is a weaker power than the imagination and, while creative, doesn't fuse impressions together like the poetic secondary imagination can?
  • If so, then you are a Coleridge scholar!

You will now use this understanding of Coleridge's theories of understanding to interpret several of his poems. Move on to the Got It? section to practice your analytical skills.

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