What are the major objections of Coleridge to Wordsworth’s poetry?

Introduction: Biographia Literaria” by S. T. Coleridge (1772-1834) is a book of “biographical sketches of his literary life and opinions”. This is a very tough and scholarly book since it is a hard nut to crack. In chapter seventeenth of the essay, Coleridge gives a detailed analysis of the defects and excellences of the poetry of Wordsworth but the defects are thicker.

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Objection to poetic diction: Coleridge asserts that Wordsworth has argued in favor of a reform in English poetic diction in his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads. This a very praiseworthy task and effort but he is different from Wordsworth in certain respects on this subject of poetic diction. He points out that the proper diction for poetry must be conversational or common in accordance with Wordsworth.

The proper diction for poetry in general consists in altogether in a language taken, with due exceptions, from the mouths of men in real life.

Coleridge objects to this view because he believes that this rule is applicable to certain classes of poetry, not even applicable to these classes and such poetic diction or language is also a useless rule.

The failure of Wordsworths Expertment: The failure of Wordsworth’s Expertment is another objection of Coleridge against Wordsworth. Coleridge regards Wordsworth’s theory of poetry or especially theory of poetic style as false and groundless or baseless. The faults of Wordsworth’s poetic theory are as follows:

Violation of poetic theory by Wordsworth himself: Coleridge points out that Wordsworth has experimented deliberately in a small number of his poems to implement his theory but this experiment gets failed according to Coleridge. Coleridge illustrates this point from the poem called “Fidelity”. The language of this poem is extremely simple and absolutely without any ornamentation. This poem shows that Wordsworth’s mind has a natural force and grandeur but whenever he intentionally tries to suppress that force and grandeur, his poetry suffers damage. Therefore, spontaneity is shut down often by Wordsworth.

The inconstancy of style: Coleridge goes on to point out or enumerate the defects in Wordsworth’s poetry. He thinks Wordsworth’s poetry does not possess constancy at all. The inconstancy of style means sudden and unprepared transitions of lines. In other words, it means disharmony. To make the idea clearer, Coleridge divides the style of literary writing into the following three kinds.

  • The style which is peculiar to poetry.
  • The style that is only appropriate to prose.
  • The style which is neutral or common to both poetry and prose.

In Coleridge’s opinion, Wordsworth sinks to the second category of these three kinds of style too often and too abruptly. Coleridge gives us concrete examples from the poetry of Wordsworth to illustrate what he means. He quotes from the poems called “The Blind Highland Boy” and “The Emigrant Mother”. Two excellent prosaic lines from the poem “The Emigrant Mother” are:

with a soul as strong as a mountain river,

Pouring out a praise to the almighty river.

The matter of factness: According to Coleridge, in certain poems of Wordsworth, the matter of factness is the most significant defect. It means laborious minuteness and fidelity in the representation of objects and their positions. Or it refers to the introduction of accidental circumstances into a poem in order give a fuller explanation of the characters and temperaments and actions of the characters. Thus, Wordsworth has violated his poetic theory of “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”.

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Preference for the dramatic form: Coleridge thinks that irrelevant or undue preference for the dramatic form for poetry is highly objectionable since it produced two criticizes or evils. These are differences between thought and diction and similarity between thought and diction which arise incongruity of style.

Mental bombast: Lastly, Coleridge points a defect which he describes as thoughts and images too great for the subject. Coleridge illustrates this fault by mentioning two or three poems such as “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud; Gipsies and Immortality Ode.” In case of the “Immortality Ode”, Coleridge quotes those lines in which Wordsworth addresses a six-year child as-

“thou best philosopher”, “thou eye among the blind”,“mighty prophet”, “seer blest”.

Now the question in accordance with Coleridge is how such expressions could have been used for a child. So, this is nothing but mental bombast of Wordsworth.

Conclusion: In termination, it is needed to be commented that Coleridge’s analysis of the defects of Wordsworth’s poetry is unexceptional or common since others have pointed out similar faults in Wordsworth’s poetry too.

Mottaleb Hossain
Mottaleb Hossain

This is Motaleb Hossain, working on studying, a researcher on English literature and Theology.

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