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Posted on April 1st, 2012, by

The idea of imagination on the art changed in different periods.  In the Romantic period imagination became one of the necessary components of creativity. Lake Poets in England founded the poetry of Romanticism and defined the imagination on their comprehension. Two of them, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, were the main figures in early English romanticism.  This works covers the idea of imagination in some of their poems.

Imagination on the Romantic period

The role of imagination in the art of Romantic period could hardly be overestimated. Romanticism was offered as a polarized opposite to Realism with its primacy of deductive reasons. Individuality was the object of worship for Romantics, The historical and natural inevitability forced Romantics to legitimize the individual imagination as a critical authority, along with feeling, and intuition.

The imagination was elevated to a position as the supreme faculty of the mind. This contrasted distinctly with the traditional arguments for the supremacy of reason. The Romantics tended to define and to present the imagination as our ultimate “shaping” or creative power, the approximate human equivalent of the creative powers of nature or even deity. It is dynamic, an active, rather than passive power, with many functions.

Imagination is the primary faculty for creating all art. (Introduction to Romanticism, 2000)

Wordsworth suggested, that people not only perceive the world, but also create it. Coleridge thought that the unit of reason and feeling (“intellectual intuition”) enables humans to struggle with differences and opposites the cruel world of appearance.

This is the central idea of Romanticism, the reconciliation of opposites.   It is important that both poets considered the imagination as the tool that enables us to “read” nature as a system of symbols. (Introduction to Romanticism, 2000)

The place of poems of Coleridge and Wordsworth in English literature

So far as I have mentioned Coleridge and Wordsworth, it is necessary to say a few words about their place in the English literature of Romantic period. They met each other in 1795, when Wordsworth was 25 and Coleridge was 22. They became friends and soon the founders of English Romantic literature. In 1798 they produced the book Lyrical Ballads that became a corner stone of English Romantic poetry. Together with Robert Southey they became the main figures of Lake Poets. This group of poets and writers lived in the rural area in North-west England also known as Lakeland and was considered as the part of Romantic Movement. Some biographers believe that the imagination of Lake Poets was specifically inspired with the beautiful nature of Lakeland. For Lake Poets poetry was just an imitation of nature that could glorify the divine beauty of raw nature.

I tried to research three poems of these two authors to find the idea of imagination on romantic Period, Kubla Khan by Coleridge and The Thorn and Excursion by Wordsworth.

S.T. Coleridge “Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment”

The poem by Coleridge “Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment” was published in 1816.  The history of this poem is interesting for my research. Coleridge himself claimed that he saw this poem in the opium-induced dream. After his awakening he started to write down the poem, but suddenly the accidental visitor had interrupted writing. Coleridge tried to finish the poem for many times but he has no success.

Kubla Khan was the Mongol and Chinese emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. The opening lines of the poem are the most often cited fragment:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea. (Coleridge, 1797)

The author describes the mystery palace next to the sacred river that could be the summer residence of Kubla-Khan or just the imaginary place. The poem evokes the image of waking dream. Kubla-Khan created the mandala, the map of inner world, for centering and meditation on his garden. During his meditation he sees images of beauty and danger, man and woman, movement and rest,

And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever / It flung up momently the sacred river.

and tried to find the balance.

a waning moon was haunted\ By woman wailing for her demon-lover

This birth-giving chasm charges the visionary with almost frenzied inspiration. Like the chasm, both holy and enchanted, the inspired poet becomes an ambivalent figure beyond good and evil, for he on honey-dew hath fed, / And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Many critics think that milk of Paradise is laudanum, a solution of opium in alcohol.  Coleridge suffered from physical and emotional pain and became opium-addict.

Their opponents believe that Coleridge meant the sacred horse milk that was allowed to King only.  Critics analyzed the poem line by line searching the direct and indirect meaning.  In spite of the senses that they found in the poem, all of them agreed that romantic imagination together with opium intoxication created the wonderful line of beautiful images that ends with disappointment.

In this sense Xanadu is not Paradise, not quite. Xanadu is a place, perhaps imaginary, perhaps not, but Paradise is an experience, a history of having been someplace but no longer being there and not being able to return, except in imagination. (Benzon, 2003)

However Kubla-Khan is the brilliant realization of imagination in Coleridge comprehension, as he defined it:

that reconciling and mediatory power, which incorporating the Reason in Images of the Sense, and organizing (as it were) the flux of the Senses by the permanence and self-circling energies of the Reason, gives birth to a system of symbols . . . of which they are the conductors. (Coleridge, 1798)

William Wordsworth and his idea of imagination

Speaking about Wordsworth and his idea of imagination it is necessary to mention the description that can be found in Prelude.  In this poems Wordsworth writes that a nursing infant who drinks in the feelings of his Mother’s eye finds in her love a virtue which irradiates and exalts / Objects through widest intercourse of sense.

His imagination doth, like an agent of the one great Mind / Create, creator and receiver both, / Working but in alliance with the works / Which it beholds. (Wordsworth, 1888)

In more simple words, Wordsworth’s imagination  combines physical, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual awareness. With the help of this combination people can  invents the world . When healthy enough to see nature without delusion, it is guided to moral truth not by scientific observation and reason alone but also by the individual’s experience of love, beauty, and delight. (Klavan, 2009)

The Excursion is another big poem by Wordsworth that continues The Prelude. The main character of the poem is the old man, poor and wise. Who travels from hamlet to hamlet.

Though The Excursion is the philosophical pastoral poem, it does not describe the country, but the love to the country.  The poet writes about his feeling more that about real objects.

“And visions, as prophetic eyes avow,
Hang on each leaf, and cling to every bough.” Wordsworth, 1888)

With the help of main characters Wordsworth rejects society, rejects system, to stay alone with his thoughts and feelings/

“Our system is not fashioned to preclude
That sympathy which you for others ask:
And I could tell, not travelling for my theme
Beyond the limits of these humble graves,
Of strange disasters; but I pass them by,

Loth to disturb what Heaven hath hushed to peace.” Wordsworth, 1888)

This poem is very important as for Wordsworth imagination, because many researches think that the imagination of poet transformed from Romantic to Victorian and Excursion is the poem that redefines his imagination.   He turns to writing against the internal power. He takes common events and objects and creates an interest to them in his own mind.

Wordsworth has another poem, The Thorn, which is considered to be the most experimental his poem.  The thorn is compared to a child, and with the help of this symbol the poet reflects the tragic story of mad woman Martha Ray and her poor child.   He uses the  emotions and nature to depict fairy and real sides of this story.

Up from the earth these mosses creep,

And this poor Thorn they clasp it round

So close, you’d say that they are bent

With plain and manifest intent

To drag it to the ground;

And all have joined in one endeavour

To bury this poor Thorn for ever. (Wordsworth, 1809).

It is interesting, that the poem The Thorn included to collection of poetical works, that was started with the Wordsworth’s foreword. In this foreword he gave his own definition of imagination:

The principal object, then, proposed in these poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of the language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain coloring of imagination, whereby things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting in tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement. (Wordsworth, 1888).

Conclusion

During the period of Romanticism feeling, intuition and imagination played the great role on the art. Though the idea of imagination changed even in the mind of some poets, like Wordsworth, generally it stayed the same.  Poets of Romantic period, especially the Lake Poets, used imagination as the barrier that helps to oppose the real world.

At the same time they created ideal world by the power of their imagination to escape from everyday reality.  It was typical for the art of Romanticism, so there is no wonder that Coleridge and Wordsworth became the main figures of early English

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