SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE QUESTIONS FOR E212

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Assigned: Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Biographia Literaria (474-85); Lectures on Shakespeare (485-88); The Statesman's Manual (488-91); "The Eolian Harp" (426-28); "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (430-48); "Kubla Khan" (446-48); "Frost at Midnight" (464-66); "Dejection: an Ode" (466-69).

Of Interest: Author Image | Literary History | Romantic Circles | The Samuel Taylor Coleridge Archive | Don Croner's Travel Notes on Shangdu or Xanadu | Purchas Pilgrimage Excerpt on Xanadu | Map of the Ancient Mariner's Voyage | Wikipedia's Laudanum Entry

Biographia Literaria, from Chapter 4 ("Mr. Wordsworth's Earlier Poems," 474-76 and "On Fancy and Imagination," 476-77)

1. What aspects of Wordsworth's early poetry does Coleridge fault, and what qualities of "genius" does he find in more mature works by that poet? In particular, what effect on the ordinary reader does Wordsworth have a special capacity to generate? On 476-77, how does Coleridge begin to define this special capacity or cast of mind?

Biographia Literaria, from Chapter 13 ("Of the Imagination," 477-78)

2. What is the "primary imagination," according to Coleridge? What affinity between divine creation and human perception does this definition advance, at least indirectly?

3. The "secondary imagination" is the creative imagination of the artist. How does Coleridge describe the relationship of this power to the world of objects? How does this kind of imagination differ from "fancy"?

Biographia Literaria, from Chapter 14 ("Occasion of the Lyrical Ballads, 478-83)

4. On 478-79, what respective tasks did Wordsworth and Coleridge set themselves in agreeing to collaborate on the poems that became Lyrical Ballads? In what sense might those tasks be said to work towards a common goal?

5. On 480-81, what definition of poetry (as opposed to a scientific treatise or ordinary prose) does Coleridge develop partly by way of distinguishing his own poetic theory from that of Wordsworth? On 481 top, what is Coleridge's final definition poetry?

6. On 481 below the first paragraph, how does Coleridge elaborate on his definition -- what is the relationship of parts to parts in a "legitimate poem"? How does a genuinely satisfactory poem engage the reader's attention with respect to its parts, and with respect to the whole? Why is the mind's progression in reading a poem best described as resembling "the motion of a serpent"?

7. On 482 middle to end, what specific effects does Coleridge suggest flow from the poet's imaginative efforts? Since he believes Wordsworth wields poetic imagination in the highest degree, how does that author's poetry achieve "the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities"? Alternately, how might it be said that his poetry "blends and harmonizes the natural and the artificial" without exalting art over nature?

8. On 482-83, how does the quotation from John Davies' poem Nosce Teipsum reinforce the claims Coleridge has been making in favor of imagination?

Biographia Literaria, from Chapter 17 ("Examination of the Tenets Peculiar to Mr. Wordsworth," 483, "Rustic Life," 483-84, and "The Language of Milton," 484-85)

9. According to Coleridge, why is Wordsworth's much-promoted "low and rustic life" inadequate as a source of the language most proper to poetry? What is wrong with Wordsworth's emphatic use of the word "real" to describe that language? And how is Wordsworth's faith in the effect of strong emotion upon language somewhat misplaced?

10. On the whole, since he rejects the diction of simple country folk, what kind of language does Coleridge suggest ought to inform the best poetry? Why should the words of Richard Hooker, Francis Bacon, or Edmund Burke (or Milton, as in the subsection title) serve the purpose better?

From Lectures on Shakespeare ("Fancy and Imagination in Shakespeare's Poetry," 485-87)

11. What special qualities does Coleridge attribute to Shakespeare's genius, and how do the passages he cites reinforce his earlier definition of "fancy" and "imagination" in Ch. 13? But in addition, what is special about Shakespeare even beyond what this discussion of genius can convey -- what ability does he have "which belongs only to a great poet" (487)?

From Lectures on Shakespeare ("Mechanic vs. Organic Form," 487-88)

12. On 487-88, what relationship does Coleridge posit between the "spirit of poetry" and "rules"? Where do "rules," properly understood, come from? Finally, in what sense is Coleridge rejecting neoclassical standards of value (like those of Voltaire) in judging Shakespeare's work?

13. On 488, how does Coleridge describe "mechanical form" and "organic form," respectively? As with rules, what is the true source of "form" in a work of art?

From The Statesman's Manual ("On Symbol and Allegory," 488-90)

14. What is an "allegory"? Give an example to fill in Coleridge's description on 489, paragraph 2.

15. What is a symbol, according to Coleridge -- in what sense is the symbol a fundamental mode of language rather than a mere literary device or figure of speech? Since Coleridge's best example is Jesus' "The eye is the light of the body" (Matthew 6:22), how does that utterance drive home the point?

From The Statesman's Manual ("The Satanic Hero," 490-91)

16. Coleridge doesn't share the younger romantics' admiration for Milton's rebel Satan; perhaps he would agree with Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence that Byron and Shelley engaged in a kind of "strong misreading" of their great predecessor poet in order to clear a space for their own originality, their own stance as rebels. In Coleridge's view, what is the true "character" of Milton's Satan?

"The Eolian Harp"

17. What is the poem's setting -- where are Samuel and Sara as he speaks? What is the relationship between the poem's setting and the speaker's initial state of mind?

18. In the second verse paragraph (beginning "And that simplest Lute," lines 13ff), what comparisons does Coleridge make between the action and sound of the lute and other things? What affinity between such action and the movements of his own imagination does he assert from lines 39-43?

19. At the height of his musings, Coleridge praises "the one life within us and abroad" (26), and later muses, "And what if all of animated nature / Be but organic Harps diversly fram'd, / That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps / Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze, / At once the Soul of each, and God of all?" (44-48) What do such claims posit about the relationship between human beings and the natural world? How do they redefine and challenge Christian orthodoxy concerning God, the spirit, and nature?

20. What influence does the now-silent Sara exercise over Coleridge's thoughts as the poem concludes? How does her influence differ from that of the Eolian Harp? In what sense have his musings not been "guiltless" (58), and what is the antidote, so to speak, for such thoughts?

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Part 1

21. The editor's note says that the Mariner uses hypnosis ("mesmerism") to stop the Wedding Guest in his tracks. That clearly the case, but why might we suppose the Mariner has chosen this particular person to hear his tale -- a man on his way to the wedding of his own "kin" (6)? What will he be missing when he misses the wedding?

22. The Albatross appeared suddenly "Thorough the fog" (64), says the Mariner, and was treated as a friendly spirit, a good omen. What unusual behavior does it exhibit, and what relationship does it begin to establish with the ship's crew? How does the tale affect the Mariner himself as he retells it? Why aren't we given an exact reason for the Mariner's deplorable act against the bird?

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Part 2

23. How do the Mariner's fellow crewmen judge what has done in shooting the Albatross? What aspects does the seascape take on now that the Mariner has killed the bird -- what has happened to the natural world, and what agent seems to be bringing about the changes?

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Part 3

24. The Mariner sees a ghost-ship and becomes the object of "Life-in-Death's" grim attentions. Why does Death get to strike down the other sailors, and why should "Life-in-Death" take particular interest in the Mariner who killed the Albatross?

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Part 4

25. What are the effects of the curse that the crew, in dying, laid upon the Mariner? (Or we might say it's the curse that came upon the Mariner when he killed the Albatross.) This is the high point in the poem -- what descriptive techniques make this part so effective in making us see and feel what the Mariner tells us of?

26. Why is the Mariner at first unable to pray? What leads him to bless the sea-snakes "unaware" (285) and find them beautiful, even though he had been resentful of every living thing around him not long before? Why is it vital that he be able to bless the sea-snakes?

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Part 5

27. The Mariner tells how a troop of angelic spirits took possession of the dead crew and drove the ship onwards without the aid of a breeze. What is the Polar Spirit's involvement in this new turn of events -- how has this Spirit been intimately involved in what has happened up to now? In what sense does the nature of the Mariner's sin become still clearer in this section of the poem? Why must he still do penance after suffering so much?

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Part 6

28. What important stage in the Mariner's return to awareness and human contact does this section recount? What does it signify that the dead men's curse finally lifts? Why is it appropriate that Mariner should see the seraphs (angelic spirits) visibly take their leave of the crew members' corpses?

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Part 7

29. The Mariner has arrived home, but only as a wanderer who must retell his tale again and again to repulse the "woful agony" (579) that comes upon him for his depraved killing of the Albatross. How might his sufferings be said to illustrate something about the way fallen humanity attains insight?

30. Is the Mariner to some extent a poet-figure? If so, what might Coleridge be suggesting about the source and value of his own spellbinding, supernaturally charged poetry?

"Kubla Khan"

31. How seriously do you take the story Coleridge affixes to this poem -- i.e. his claim that he was about to write down his complete vision when "a person on business from Porlock" (447) interrupted him? Why do you suppose he thought it advantageous to include such an explanation (almost an apology) for the poem itself?

32. Again with regard to the prose explanation or preface, what extraordinary relationship between things, images, and words does this preface assert? How might this assertion shed light on what happens in the poem itself, if indeed it does?

33. What allows the speaker to compose this poem in spite of the alleged interruption of his opium-and-Samuel Purchas-induced reverie? How does the enabling factor or power differ from memory?

34. If you agree that Kubla Khan is a poet-figure, by what means does he compose his "poetry" (his "stately pleasure dome" and its sublime surroundings)? What does this creative act do for him -- what knowledge or experience does it make possible?

35. "I would build that dome in air" (46), declares the speaker -- why would another vision of "A damsel with a dulcimer" (37) allow him to build the dome? Why do you suppose he's apparently unable to revive such a vision?

36. What does the speaker apparently mean by "building" in the lines just referenced? Does he mean "describing" or something more than that? Explain.

37. If the speaker were to build "the dome of pleasure," what relationship would thereby be established between him and his audience? What would the "building" do for that audience? How would they regard the poet? How might he regard himself?

38. The speaker avows his failure, but has he in fact failed? Or has he described/built the dome in some sense or to some extent? What major point about the nature of imagination (both the poet's and the listener or reader's) might "Kubla Khan" be understood to make? Another question might be, "has he failed at something it would be possible to do under any circumstances, however favorable?"

"Frost at Midnight"

39. From lines 1-43, how is the child (Samuel Coleridge in his early years) the "father of the man" in this poem, to borrow a phrase from Wordsworth -- what marked the experience and character of Coleridge as a boy that still marks them now? How does the "stranger" and its fluttering establish a key connection between the younger and older Samuel Coleridge?

40. In the third and fourth verse paragraphs (lines 44-74), Coleridge turns his attention to his seventeen-month-old son Hartley -- how will Hartley's relationship with nature be different than the one his father experienced as a boy (and, by inference, at present)? What "eternal language" (60) will Hartley be able to understand without painful effort?

41. The final verse paragraph (65-74) references the "secret ministry of Frost" that will go to work if the temperature drops enough to prevent the raindrops from falling off the cottage eaves. What further connotations does this natural process bear -- what might we infer from Coleridge's description of it as a "secret ministry"?

42. Why might the poet so emphatically describe the silentness and reflectiveness of the icicles that will form because of the cold? How might such references point towards an analogy between "the secret ministry of frost" and the workings of the human imagination, or the powers of self-reflection?

"Dejection: an Ode"

43. In the first stanza (lines 1-20), what is the weather as the speaker utters his lines? What hopes does the expectation of a storm raise in him?

44. In the second stanza (lines 21-38), how does the speaker characterize his state of mind as he observes the "western sky"? What problem is this depressed state causing him as an observer of nature? How does this stanza itself (along with the third one, lines 39-46) both describe and demonstrate that problem?

45. The fourth and fifth stanzas (lines 47-58, 59-75) further refine the third stanza's statement that he "may not hope from outward forms to win / The passion and the life, whose fountains are within" (45-46). What is the "Joy" he describes in these stanzas, and what effects does it have on the person who is suffused with it? What is the ideal relationship between a human being and the natural world?

46. In the sixth stanza (lines 76-93), how does the speaker describe the felicity of his former connection to nature, and how does he describe the process whereby that happy connection was lost? In what sense is philosophical reflection (including the poem he utters now) not helpful, and perhaps even harmful, to his spirits?

47. In the seventh stanza (lines 94-109), the speaker bids his "viper thoughts" take their leave and turns his attentions to the stirring wind. What does he hear -- what is the wind "up to," what "tales" does it tell? What progression, if any, in the speaker's psychological process does this stanza mark? Does listening to the harsh wind help him somehow? If so, in what sense does it help him?

48. In the concluding eighth stanza (126-39), what wish does the speaker Coleridge make on behalf of his absent addressee, Sara Hutchinson? Meyer Abrams divides the Greater Romantic Lyric into three stages -- a description of the natural scene, an analysis of that scene and the problem it brings to mind for the speaker, and an emotional ("affective") resolution of the problem. Does the speaker resolve his own problem in the current poem? One way to respond would be to compare the transaction between Coleridge and Sara in this poem with that between William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy towards the end of the "Tintern Abbey" ode.

Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN Package 2 (Vols. DEF) 0-393-92834-9.