Imagination and Nature in the Works of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Essay, 2017

8 Pages, Grade: A


Wordsworth and Coleridge

Imagination and Nature

E. Agathokleous 2018

The end of the Enlightenment period led to the emergence of Romanticism which was an era when reason and rationality gave way to new ideas that managed to transform how expression was manifested. Poetry was also a field which was transformed and redefined by this new climate and the way it was perceived changed as well. Spirituality came to the forefront whereas during the Enlightenment focus was more on science and logic. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were two of the great poets of the period of Romanticism. With a firm grasp of what writing good poetry meant they also had a vision on how it should be communicated in order to affect the world in becoming a more ethical and ideal place. Their work was most imaginative and so condensed that required extensive analysis and had the ability to constantly generate new meanings. Both poets shared a great admiration for nature and its enormous complexity and beauty and drew inspiration from it, transcending boundaries of plain logical perception by filtering their stimulations through the filter of their imagination. Their ambition was to create poetry that would open the eyes of the world to the marvel of life and creation thus elevating the spirit to a higher moral level and thus making the world better through their poetry. (Wu, 333-338)

Coleridge and Wordsworth met in 1795 and formed a relationship that proved to be the catalyst for the production of magnificent poetry. The two, even if they didn’t agree on everything, had their love for nature in common and significant ability in using their imagination into poetry in a way that only great poets were able to. By the time they met Coleridge was already established as a poet and acknowledged as a genius and used his influence in promoting Wordsworth who he in turn thought to be extremely talented. (Wu, 705). Deeply involved with religious matters Coleridge often lectured about his philosophical and idealistic ideas, certain that he could affect humanity into realizing and implementing good. Considering how Coleridge, trusted Wordsworth with “The Recluse”, a poem he claimed that only Wordsworth could manage to write, his admiration and love for Wordsworth become clear. (Wu, 615- 616)

The two men however also argued on other matters like that of diction or what the most appropriate writing process was. Wordsworth claimed that language should be simple and offer access to everyone while Coleridge argued that sacrificing language only restricted the poet’s freedom for expression and limited his choice of words something that could greatly affect the results in poems were every single word is specifically and carefully chosen. They also had a rather contradictory sense of how artful poetry was produced. Wordsworth drew inspiration from experience and then contemplating on that experience in a tranquil state, managing to express it through language in the most imaginative and descriptive way while for Coleridge, moments of the sublime often communicated in his work, came from that same process of creation. In Wordsworth’s poem “I wondered lonely as a cloud” the poet mentions the couch on which he laid, in order to relive the intense experience he had and produce poetry through that repetition which would illuminate the source and exact nature of those feelings. He felt that experience should precede analysis and that at the time of those feelings the stimulant is not yet clear. A later on contemplation on that experience allowed clearness and inspiration to convert that experience into art. (Wu, 611-617)

Like many of the prominent poets of Romanticism, Wordsworth and Coleridge drew most of their inspiration from nature, a love they both shared even if they experienced it in different ways. Coleridge, being deeply religious reflected on nature through this religiousness while for Wordsworth it was more of a fascination about the grandness in the complexity of nature and how that aroused the mind of the poet and led him to attain the sublime. Coleridge’s poem “To Nature” clearly depicts how he revered the beauty around him and how he could absorb it and elevate it into a higher spiritual level thus relating it to the divine. The poem reveals the “Deep, heartfelt, inward joy” (Coleridge,3) coming from the surrounding nature and the love and devotion that existed in it “Lessons of love and earnest piety” (5) which nature can teach. His conviction is so great in the poem that he could go against the whole world, build his “altar in the fields” (Coleridge,9) and remain there as a servant of god. Nature was enough to hold existence and life and elevate it to its higher level. Surrounded by nature he felt everything emitting love and devotion to a higher power, the source of all life. While he admits that not everyone would be able to view things as he did, the conviction of the poet was that the spirituality found in nature and its elements was something that could elevate the psyche closer to God. In his letter to George Dyer in 1975 his concept of this transforming power of nature becomes obvious. “The pleasures which we receive from rural beauties are of little consequence compared with the moral effect of this pleasures, beholding constantly the best possible, we at last become ourselves the best possible”. (Wu, 619)

William Wordsworth also shared the same love and admiration for nature as Coleridge. Born in nature the poet seemed to appreciate both its complexity but also its calmness and stillness. “A knowledge, a dim earnest, of the calm / Which Nature breathes among the hills and groves.” (Wordsworth,280-1). This also becomes clear in his poem 'Sonnet: Composed upon Westminster Bridge', a poem about the city of London and how it appears, quiet and calm in early morning hours giving the city a stillness and a serenity resembling that of nature and contrasting this way urban environments to rural ones. Wordsworth’s nurturing by nature from a young age made nature a solid part of him and through his visionary sight he could transcend the boundaries of the material world and reach a spiritual plane of existence from where he created his poetry. His poem “Tintern Abbey” written in 1798, reveals his hopes for a societal change in England, “While here I stand, not only with the sense/ Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts/ That in this moment there is life and food/For future years. And so I dare to hope” (Wordsworth, 63-66), and the excitement and faith he had in the beauty of nature and actual nature was enough to provoke joy and thrill the poet’s mind into creation. “A presence that disturbs me with the joy / Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime / Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,/ And the round ocean, and the living air, /And the blue sky, and in the mind of man, /A motion and a spirit, that impels / All thinking things, all objects of all thought,/ And rolls through all things./ Therefore am I still / A lover of the meadows and the woods, /And mountains; and of all that we behold”. (Wordsworth, 95-105)

In Coleridge’s own words however it is clear that imagination held the vital role of the ability to perceive, be stimulated and create through poetry. He defined primary imagination in his “Biographia Literaria”, as “the living power and prime agent of all human perception and as a repetition in the finite of the eternal act of creation of the infinite I AM”. (Wu,711) The term “primary imagination” comes from the poet’s classification of imagination in three levels with primary as the highest one, the one that could lead to the sublime through the creation of novel ideas and ideals. Secondary imagination was defined by Coleridge as a conscious imagination that does not however have the power to lead to perfection in creation. He also uses the term “Fancy” as the lowest of all forms of imagination that only has the power to transform already existing ideas and not the creation of new ideas through expression. (Wu, 711). For Coleridge the use of primary imagination is essential in order to transform nature into great poetry. “Kubla khan”, which is considered to be one of the poet’s greatest poems, shows how imagination is implemented in order to transform natural images in one’s mind and also to create a series of contradictory images enhancing this way the result of his writing. “In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn/ A stately pleasure dome decree: /Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/Through caverns measureless to Man/Down to a sunless sea.” (Coleridge, 1-5). While he considers the mind of the poet a filter in which the most striking qualities of nature become obvious and are able to be expressed into words, Coleridge also values the ability of poets who are able to create through their imagination without much external stimulants other than those of the natural world. Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour” is one of the poems that clarifies that although imagination is a powerful tool for strong poetry, the aesthetic beauty of nature is sometimes enough on its own for a powerful result. (Wu, 534) While Wordsworth never defined imagination and was more focused on the poetry writing process, he strongly believed that imagination was the power of the mind to create and generate new things. Combined with every day, ordinary scenes from the physical word, imagination had the power to transform images into ideas and to transcend reality turning usual things to unusual as both poets do in their work. There is no creator without imagination and also no great poetry can come without it.


Excerpt out of 8 pages


Imagination and Nature in the Works of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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ISBN (eBook)
imagination, nature, works, william, wordsworth, samuel, taylor, coleridge
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Elena Agathokleous (Author), 2017, Imagination and Nature in the Works of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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