Imagery In Any Two Romantic Poets English Literature Essay

Romanticism is a literary movement that emerged in the late 18th century as a reaction against the dominance of French neoclassical culture. Romanticism was above all a movement of the arts in that it is known to be an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that was partly a revolt against social and political norms of the enlightenment period. It stressed strong emotions as a source of aesthetic experience, placing emphasis on emotions such as horror and awe in confronting the sublimity of unnamed nature. Recurring themes found in romantic literature are the criticism of the past, emphasis on women and children and respect for nature. It is common for Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth to be discussed in relation to one another. Despite the notion that they are often paired together, there are many notable differences in regards to poetic style and philosophical views between the two. Coleridge’s poetry differs from that of Wordsworth’s, and ultimately it could be suggested that his relationship with Wordsworth outshines his individual success as a Romantic poet. Further, their use of poetic diction both varies considerably between each other in that Coleridge relies heavily on the imagination and incorporates religion into his poetry in a different manner to Wordsworth. The contrasting views that each poet held ultimately led to a break in their friendship that had initially begun in 1797.

At the start of the 18th century, Lyrical Ballads, with a few other poems was published with no author’s name. This collection of poetry was later recognised as the start of the romantic revolution. This was the work of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Tintern Abbey is acknowledged as one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems, along with Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, both published in the work. The second edition of Lyrical Ballads published in 1800, had only Wordsworth listed as author, and included a preface to the poems, which was significantly improved in the 1802 edition. This preface to Lyrical Ballads is considered to be a central work of romantic literary theory. In it, Wordsworth discusses what he feels is the important elements of a considerably new type of poetry, one arguably based on what is deemed to be "real language of men" and which ultimately avoids the poetic language of much eighteenth century poetry that was already in existence. Here, Wordsworth also provides us with his famous definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquillity". In Jonathan Bate’s English Literature: A Very Short Introduction it is suggested that "Romanticism’s emphasis on the writer’s own feelings, as exemplified by William Wordsworth’s decision to create an epic poem not about British history or the war in heaven, but about the growth of his own mind, was in effect a privatizing of poetry" (p.96).

Themes that the romantics were interested in consisted not only of everyday subjects, but also various forms of the exotic were popular. Often, the subjects of the everyday and the exotic appeared together in a somewhat paradoxical combination. An example of this is in the Lyrical Ballads as it is known that the work was agreed by Wordsworth and Coleridge to be separated into two subject areas; the natural and the supernatural. It is suggested that Wordsworth would aim to portray the natural elements of the world whereas Coleridge however would try to portray elements of the supernatural. Further, it is worth considering another paradoxical combination that was in favour during the time of the romantics: the idea of a beautiful soul trapped within an ugly body. This concept is best represented in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and also in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

In looking at the way both Wordsworth and Coleridge compose their poetry, there are some notable differences. Tintern Abbey is composed in the form of a blank verse, and therefore comes across as very natural, reading as if it were a piece of prose. Wordsworth makes a slight variation on the stresses of iambic rhythm, lines such as "Here, under this dark sycamore, and view" do not quite conform to the conventional stress patterns, but instead fit loosely as this allows Wordsworth to estimate the sounds of natural speech without breaking away from the pattern of his meter. Occasionally, Wordsworth divides his lines in order to create a form of paragraph break, which tends to occur when there is a change of subject within the poem. This differs somewhat from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as Coleridge writes this in short ballad stanzas usually four to six lines long, but on occasions up to nine lines long. The rhymes themselves tend to have the general pattern of ABAB, though there are some exceptions; the nine line stanza in part three for example, has the rhyming scheme of AABBCCBDDB. Many of Coleridge’s stanzas are presented in this way, often containing an internal rhyme within the first line.

It can be suggested that The Rime of the Ancient Mariner uses somewhat deliberate phrases in order to describe Coleridge’s use of imagery. The descriptions provided portray a rather dull atmosphere, and alongside the imagery of the "rotting deck" where "dead men lay" the ultimate image is that of despair, as the language used is so accurate, there is little room for the imagination. The poem is arguably summed up in the lines, "The many men so beautiful / And they all dead did lie! / And a thousand slimy things / Lived on – and so did I". The descriptions provided throughout the poem are considerably precise, and this is just as effective as the rather simplistic approach of other Romantic writers. The brief descriptions allow for very few interpretations of the poem, but nonetheless it can be suggested that sad and lonely feelings are expressed through the poem’s intensity, and Coleridge’s style is what, essentially, makes it possible for this to be conveyed. On the contrary, we have the poem Written in Early Spring that best portrays Wordsworth’s poetic style, which had a tendency to use ordinary language in order to create a rather simple poetic expression. When Wordsworth describes components of nature, he uses personification and as a result avoids imagery that may be considered too much. Instead of describing the images in lengthy detail, as Coleridge had done in Ancient Mariner, Wordsworth uses a common literary device to portray the images. He refers to birds that "hopped and played" and twigs that "catch the breezy air," in order to depict nature. This ultimately relies on the imagination of the reader to create the rest of the picture, whereas Coleridge in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner provides much of the detail by raising his own imagination.

It can be argued that it was essentially Coleridge’s and Wordsworth’s differences and similarities that was the foundation of their friendship in that their contrasting views made for a good partnership. Both stretched their imagination when creating their works. Coleridge comes across as rather complex and his imagery is considerably weird. On the contrary, Wordsworth’s poetry is less complex and easier to understand and his imagery is of nature which ultimately suggests a conception of peace and tranquillity. In addition to this, Wordsworth believes that everyday language should not be separated from that of poetic language. Wordsworth uses the concept of nature to provide much symbolic meaning within his poems, yet Coleridge distinguishes poetry from nature. The differences between the two poets are clear, but this essentially makes the poets compatible through their works. It can be questioned as to where their differences came from, whether it be from religion, inspirational concepts or simply through their poetic diction, it is clear that these two poets were unique from one another. Despite the notion that these two poets are often paired together, upon close examination they are undoubtedly different. Their individual success tends to be overshadowed by their success as a pair, and considering it was Coleridge that sought out Wordsworth as a partner, he is usually seen as the lesser of the two poets. This is reinforced by the idea that before they collaborated on Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge was viewed as Wordsworth’s mere assistant. Further, Coleridge was known to have an opium addiction which essentially affected his work, and further reinforcing the idea that he was not as successful as Wordsworth. Putting popular opinion aside, Coleridge had his own unique poetic diction and sought out methods of poetic diction that went against traditional ideas, he also conveyed many relatively new theories on the concept of the imagination, and further he also incorporated his philosophical enquiries into his poetry. It is for these reasons that it can be argued that Coleridge was ultimately a pillar for the Romantic period of poetry.