beyond the visible world: wordsworth and coleridge in lyrical ballads r.a. foakes

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Beyond the visible World: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads R.A. Foakes

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Page 1: Beyond the visible World: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads R.A. Foakes

Beyond the visible World: Wordsworth and Coleridge in

Lyrical Ballads

R.A. Foakes

Page 2: Beyond the visible World: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads R.A. Foakes

AbstractThis paper discusses the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge in celebration of the bicentenary of the publication of the Lyrical Ballads. It highlights the great contrast between the two poems that frame the volume Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and Wordworth’s ‘Lines Written for a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey’ Wordsworth’s recollection of the Wye landscape

Page 3: Beyond the visible World: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads R.A. Foakes

• Tintern abbey is vital to an understanding of the poem, as it is a famous site of picturesque beauty’ with all its historical and religious associations

• Foakes suspects that Wordsworth was also influenced by Giplin’s observations on the landscape, he praises the imagination, writing ‘this active power embodies half-formed images..gives existence to the most illusive scenes. These it rapidly combines; and…composes landscapes… more beautiful than any that exist in nature. They are..from the most beautiful of scenes..having been treasured up in the memory.’

• Wordsworth composes a landscape more beautiful than that he saw, out of forms of beauty treasured in his memory, leading him to ‘see into the life of things’

• W avoids direct mention of a creator , but invokes the idea of a spirit. In doing he gives more meaning to the picturesque than Giplin or his predecessors ever dreamt of. W has owed to recollections of the landscape – ‘sensations sweet’ and feelings of pleasure which have had moral influence

• Shift from apparently unconscious absorption of the scene through the eye to conscious explanation is not simple, is hedged with hesitations, explains the sad perplexity for his argument is also burdened by a profound sense of loss

• Whatever W has gained in imaginative perception uneasily linked to recollection of nature, is qualified by the loss of joy, of dizzy rapture he once experienced an now sees in his sisters wild ecstasies. Sober pleasure he anticipates for her future, when she too will come tor rely on memory is a poor thing in comparison

Page 4: Beyond the visible World: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads R.A. Foakes

Wordsworth’s: Two part prelude

• Drafted by W later in 1798• Attaches meaning to childhood experiences• Prelude begins with quotations from

Coleridges Frost at Midnight • Coleridge foresees the ‘lovely shapes’ of

the natural scene as speaking to his child in the ‘eternal language’ of God, as it might operate through the secret ministry of the frost

• Poem obviously had quite an impact on Wordsworth, who looks back in the prelude to his own childhood in a kind of parallelism with Coleridge looking on his infant

Page 5: Beyond the visible World: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads R.A. Foakes

Wordsworth & Coleridge

• Wordsworth writes about himself and though he goes so far as to associate his passion for nature with the ‘spirit of religious love’ he stops short of an appeal to God.

• In the two part prelude, can concentrate on the way his imaginative power was nourished as the common range of visible things grew dear to him and his mind was stored ‘with images in which in following years/ Far other feelings were attached’ – parallels to use of memory in Tintern Abbey

• Wordsworths early years involved little to provoke reproaches; stealing another’s trapped bird and boring a rowing skiff = his worst misdeeds , therefore in part two of the prelude there is no consciousness of sin

• Wordsworth’s spirit is a vague presence with no Christian overtones

• Coleridge writes of someone other than himself and projects through them religious meaning in the forms of nature.

• Coleridge associates blessing in childhood not with himself but with others eg. Infant in Frost at Midnight and usually with an explicit reference to the Christian God

• Coleridge wrote in a letter of 1794 ‘ Mine is a sensibility gangrened with inward corruption… and an intolerable sense of guilt’

• Coleridge cannot attach elevated thought to memories of his own earlier years, when he was in the ‘great city pent’ – sadness for what Coleridge missed out on in childhood

Page 6: Beyond the visible World: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads R.A. Foakes

• Wordsworth starts from the observing eye looking at the natural scene and attached feelings and meanings to the way he has ‘learned to look on nature’

• In Tintern Abbey, W describes his imaginative education through nature

• Wordsworth had no need of God since his sense of a beging spiritual order was based on an idealised innocent childhood

• Wordsworth reinteperates the youthful excitements of his visual experiences in terms of elevated thoughts and consturcts a language of sublimity

• Coleridge looks from the opposite direction, through the eye to the soul within.

• The Ancient Mariner, concerns the moral education of the wedding guest by the narrators glittering eyes ‘the moment that his face I see I know the man that must her me;’

• Coleridge needed God to provide an idea of forgiveness and redemption since he looked back on his past with a consciousness of guilt, connected no doubt with his fits of depression as in the disgust with himself the he felt in his debauchery at Cambridge or in failing in his moral duty. Believe Rime rooted in Coleridge’s own inner torments

• What all his religious musings failed to do was explain evil, the self created hell such as that brought about by the mariner’s cruelty in shooting the albatross.

• Claims the religious exhortations at the end of Rime ring hollow for God and the spirits provide a kind of machinery for the action but no motivation. The mariner is saved by the involuntary gushing of love that makes him bless the snakes unawares.

• Coleridge looks not at nature but into the soul and transforms the very idea of vision. ‘ in casting its spell, the poem makes us confront a horror that lies beyond good and evil, namely, the potential for sin, and for doing unwarranted violence to the self and to others, that lies in all human beings – importance of nature and the individual

Page 7: Beyond the visible World: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads R.A. Foakes

Style of critical response