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Poetry Defined By Romantics

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Poetry Defined by Romantics

Though Lord Byron described William Wordsworth as "crazed beyond all hope" and Samuel Taylor Coleridge as "a drunk," the two are exemplary and very important authors of the Romantic period in English literature (648). Together these authors composed a beautiful work of poems entitled Lyrical Ballads. Included in the 1802 work is a very important preface written by William Wordsworth. The preface explains the intention of authors Wordsworth and Coleridge, and more importantly, it includes Wordsworth's personal opinion of the definition and criteria of poetry and of what a poet should be. Although there was some disagreement about the proper diction of a good poem, Coleridge, the lesser represented author of the two in the work, agrees with most of Wordsworth's criteria. He voices his own personal opinions, however, in his Biographia Literia. In both Lyrical Ballads and Biographia Literia, the authors' opinions coincide in that the definition and criteria of a poem is to be a structured and carefully planned composition that stirs passionate natural emotions in the reader and that the poet is the force directly responsible for this. To accomplish this, a great poet must possess an intimate knowledge of nature and have close interaction with all aspects of it.

Coleridge states in his Biographia Literia that "the definition sought for be that of a legitimate poem, must be one the parts of which mutually support and explain each other; all in their proportion harmonizing with and supporting the purpose and known influences of metrical arrangement" (481). This statement illustrates Coleridge's opinion that in order to be a poem, the composition must be properly structured and composed so that all of the sentences create an identifying rhythm while still representing a single purpose. Wordsworth also speaks of the importance of purpose-focused poetry in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, stating that in order to be a good poem, it must have behind it a "worthy purpose" (242). The two authors believe that a poem must have a definite direction and that the reader should be very clear as to what the poem is actually about. The authors believe that in order for a short metrical composition to be a poem, it must be organized clearly and, according to Wordsworth "also thought long and lovingly about" (Preface 242).

Passion and emotion were two subjects that typically characterizes the Romantic period. Exemplifying this, Wordsworth and Coleridge thought that the direct purpose of any poem should be to stir passion in the reader. They thought that a poem should also be a work that stirred the same feeling in the reader every time it is read as if it were being read for the first time; "but that to which we return with the greatest pleasure, possesses the genuine power and claims the name of essential poetry" (Coleridge 473). By this meaning, after a good poem is read once, the reader should have the desire to read it many times. The passion in the reader should also be a pleasurable one, explained by Coleridge as "immediate object pleasure" (481). The pleasure is nicely illustrated by Coleridge in Biographia Literia in the way he speaks of the pleasure in repeating rhymes. He goes on to identify a passionate pleasure as permanent, "that nothing can permanently please which does not contain in itself the reason why it is so" (480-81). Wordsworth expands on this by explaining that the passion that is felt by the reader should be of natural descent because they are "the general passions and thoughts and feelings of men" and that "we not only wish to be pleased, but to be pleased in that particular way in which we have been accustomed to be pleased" (Preface 249-51). The pleasures that Wordsworth was referring to man being "accustomed to" are those experiences that are derived from nature. Nature in this sense may be the emotion of an experience with living nature, such as a majestic observance of a mountain, or it may be in the sense of human nature, such as the natural presence of a mother's love. Coleridge explains that "the reader should be carried forward, by the pleasurable activity of the mind excited by the attractions of the journey itself" (481).

Since the purpose of a poem is to stir passion kindred to nature, it is the duty of the poet to convey that feeling and make it immediately apparent in his composition. The poet would therefore have to be capable of being passionate and understanding nature enough to describe it in a sensible literary form. This criterion for a poet is another aspect of which Wordsworth and Coleridge are in agreement. Coleridge says "the poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of a man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other," and "diffuses a tone and spirit of unity that blends" (482). This description is of the magnitude of passion that a poet must have in order to reach "the soul," and that passion is intertwined with the soul as an emotion of it. Wordsworth writes of the poet's duty of producing pleasure with a serious overtone, "The poet writes under one restriction only, that of necessity, of giving immediate pleasure to a human being being possessed of that information which may be expected of him not as a lawyer, physician, mariner, but as a man" (247). By this statement, Wordsworth is grouping all people together as of mankind, and more specifically as beings of nature. The serious overtone of this statement is elaborated on by Wordsworth in the following paragraph by replacing the description of the poet's obligation to nature as a "restriction" to an "acknowledgement of beauty" (247). This is a point that Coleridge opposes, however, believing that language differs with occupation (Taybi 94). To Wordsworth, the poet is a translator that communicates the passion felt by nature to the conscious mind of the reader.

Passion as described by Wordsworth and Coleridge is derived most naturally from "situations from common life" (Preface 241). This subject of "common life" in poetry is of particular importance to Wordsworth. Although of much lesser importance to Coleridge, both authors considered this as a one of the criteria of a good poem. Wordsworth chose the subject of common life because it is what he finds to be in closest association with nature. He says "poetry is the image of man and nature" and a "homage paid to the native and naked dignity of man" (247). To Wordsworth, the most important type of common life was the "low and rustic life because the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in that condition,"

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