Role of the Imagination for Romantic Poets

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Discuss the role of the imagination in the work of one or more Romantic poets.

The 19th century witnessed a shift in the perception of literary art, particularly poetry. The 18th century conception of art and literature was founded upon reason, logic and rationality. Tradition had valued art and literature for its ability to imitate human life. This however arguably took a step back and paved the way for the 19th century view that art and literature was to established on the grounds of pure emotion, imagination, external and internal experience. Or as William Wordsworth would say that ‘[...] poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.’ The poet therefore assumed the role of the mediator between man and nature. The role of the poet was arguably in place to showcase beauty, truth and the endless possibilities that tradition had previously encased. Within this new enlightened form of expression in literature, the imagination had been elevated to a primary position in regards to poetic composition. The imagination allowed poets to see beyond surface value, to create an external world of existence. It permitted them to see the truth beyond powers of reason and rationality. Samuel Taylor Coleridge in particular was a poet fascinated with the potential and limitless possibilities of the imagination. Coleridge placed considerable emphasis upon the imagination as a focal element within his poetry. He categorised the imagination into two key sectors; the primary imagination and secondary imagination. As explained in Coleridge’s
Biographia Literaria: ‘The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and a repetition in the finite of the external act of creation of the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, coexisting with the conscious will, yet still identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode its operation.’
Coleridge



Bibliography: Wu, Duncan, Romanticism An Anthology Third Edition, Blackwell Publishing, (2006). SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Immanuel Kant (1724–1804).” SparkNotes LLC. 2005. http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/kant/ (accessed December 1, 2010). [ 1 ]. Wu, Duncan, Romanticism An Anthology Third Edition: William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Blackwell Publishing, (2006), p498. [ 2 ]. Wu, Duncan, An Anthology Third Edition: S.T. Coleridge, From Biographia Literaria 1817, Blackwell Publishing (2006), p691. [ 5 ]. Wu, Duncan, An Anthology Third Edition: S.T. Coleridge, Kubla Khan, Blackwell Publishing (2006), p621. [ 6 ]. Wu, Duncan, An Anthology Third Edition: S.T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Blackwell Publishing (2006), p 694. [ 7 ]. 1 SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Immanuel Kant (1724–1804).” SparkNotes LLC. 2005. http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/kant/ (accessed December 1, 2010).

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