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Wordsworth’s The Prelude and Coleridge’s Poems. ENGL 203 Dr. Fike. Business. Quiz: Please clear your desks. [Maymester: Response papers due.]. Today’s Assignment.

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  • Quiz: Please clear your desks.
  • [Maymester: Response papers due.]
today s assignment
Today’s Assignment
  • Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book 1, 188-96; and Book 12, 223-25, lines 208-335; Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, Chapter XIV, 645-50; "Frost at Midnight" 273-75; "Kubla Khan" 254-57; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 238-54.
  • This is two days’ material in one assignment; we will do what we can, and you can read the rest on your own—it’s all here in the slide show.

We are tracking the following themes:

  • Imagination
  • Nature
  • Sacred vs. secular
the prelude as epic
The Prelude As Epic
  • What is an epic? 
    • It is a poem in which there is one major action (e.g., Odysseus’s homecoming, the Fall of Man). In WW’s poem, the one action is the “Growth of a Poet’s Mind” (page 188).
    • It is “a poem including history” (Ezra Pound). In WW’s poem, we have his experience of the French Revolution (1789-1799), but mostly he focuses on common events from his personal experience. See page 217, note.
    • It includes an invocation of the muse. WW invokes “this gentle breeze” (1.1). In many languages wind and spirit are the same word. This is an example of what M.H. Abrams (following Thomas Carlisle) calls “natural supernaturalism,” the substitution of something natural for something classical (the muse of epic poetry) or Christian (the Holy Spirit in Milton).
now read aloud lines 1 30
Now Read Aloud Lines 1-30
  • Parallel to “TA”: “escaped / From the vast city,” he looks forward to his time in nature and finds that nature is enlivening his intellect (lines 19-20: “Trances of thought and mountings of the mind / Come fast upon me”).
  • “The earth is all before me.” Can you identify the allusion here?
last 5 lines of milton s pl
Last 5 Lines of Milton’s PL

Some natural tears they drop'd, but wip'd them soon;

The World was all before them, where to choose

Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:

They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,

Through Eden took thir solitarie way.

what the allusion suggests
What the Allusion Suggests
  • A sense that WW is picking up where Milton left off.  Milton ended with the expulsion of Adam and Eve, and WW begins his epic squarely in the fallen world. The allusion reminds us that, in the fallen world, gains will be hard won.
  • Milton:pathos::WW:joy (line 15).
  • Another important parallel:  blank verse (Milton’s verse form in PL).
introduction page 188
Introduction, page 188
  • “His theme is the tempering of imagination by nature, an educational process that leads to renovation, and to a balanced power of imagining that neither yields to a universe of decay nor seeks (as Blake did [see page 40: cleansing “the doors of perception”]) to burn through that universe.”
  • Remember: Romantic poetry is about the dialectical relationship between the mind and nature.
correspondent breeze
“Correspondent Breeze”

For I, methought, while the sweet breath of heaven

Was blowing on my body, felt within

A correspondent breeze, that gently moved

With quickening virtue, but is now become

A tempest, a redundant energy,

Vexing its own creation. (lines 33-38)

  • What is he saying here?
what the c b means
What the C.B. Means
  • The outer breeze has its counterpart within the human mind.
  • Breeze:nature::imagination:psyche.
  • BUT he is agitated. As a result, the inner breeze vexes his mind’s attempts to create poetry.
  • In other words, he starts his great poem by complaining about the difficulty of getting started!
more on vexation lines 269ff
More on Vexation: lines 269ff.
  • "Was it for this / That one, the fairest of all rivers, loved / To blend his murmurs with my nurse's song," etc.? 
  • Nature did all this for me, and now I can’t write about it?
  • But he IS writing.
possible topics for his epic
Possible Topics for His Epic
  • Line 109: “the life / In common things”
  • Line 120: “airy phantasies”
  • Line 129: “some noble theme”
  • Line 222-23: “A tale from my own heart”
  • Line 229-30: “some philosophic song / Of Truth that cherishes our daily life”
the stages again
The Stages Again
  • Stage Zero: “Intimations”—some kind of pre-existence.
  • Stage One: “a five years’ child” (line 288): physical response to nature.
  • Stage Two: not yet ten years old at line 307, the bird stealing episode, the stolen boat episode: emotional response to nature (fear).
  • Stage Three: “mellower years will bring a riper mind / And clearer insight” (236-37).
  • Stage Four: No hint here of future decay.
key concept spots of time
Key Concept: Spots of Time

There are in our existence spots of time,

That with distinct pre-eminence retain

A renovating virtue, whence, depressed

By false opinion and contentious thought,

Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,

In trivial occupations, and the round

Of ordinary intercourse, our minds

Are nourished and invisibly repaired;

A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,

That penetrates, enables us to mount,

When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.

(page 223, 12.208ff.)

  • First spot:  going to a place where a guy was hanged in chains and having sexual feelings for a girl.
  • Second spot:  Christmas time, father's death "appeared / A chastisement" for his sexual feelings (310-11).
  • POINT: Such ordinary events are what really matters in a person’s development. All of WW’s common experiences contribute to his maturation. “The Child is the father of the Man” (from his poem “My Heart Leaps Up,” page 168).
child man s father
Child = Man’s Father

How strange that all

The terrors, pains, and early miseries,

Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused

Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,

And that a needful part, in making up

The calm existence that is mine when I

Am worthy of myself! (1.344-50)

“The Child is father of the man” (“My Heart Leaps Up,” page 168)

from tennyson s ulysses
From Tennyson’s “Ulysses”
  • “I am a part of all that I have met.”
group activity
Group Activity
  • Consider the stolen boat episode on pages 194-95, starting at line 358.  What happens, and what do you make of WW's reaction?
  • What kind of imagery does WW employ here?  What is their psychological significance?
imagery in the boat episode

The “oars” (374)

The “unswerving line” he travels across the lake: using phallic instruments to row a phallic course across a feminine lake.

The “craggy ridge” (370).

The “huge peak, black and huge” that “Upreared its head” (378-80), representing masculine authority.


The boat

The cave it is kept in

The lake

Imagery in the Boat Episode
freudian stuff
Freudian Stuff
  • Freud holds that one has ambivalent emotions for an action or object (totem object) that is forbidden: i.e., both fear and desire. He also holds that a boy has Oedipal desire for the mate of the father. Both of these ideas come together in the stolen boat episode.
  • Because of guilt, the theft becomes a mere borrowing—an act of compromise: Freud says that we do things that resemble but fall short of the actual forbidden act (he takes the man’s boat for a ride rather than stealing the boat outright, and both are acts of compromise for taking the man’s woman). But the taboo against stealing has been broken, and Freud says that one is infected and becomes himself taboo, hence guilt (WW’s bad dreams at line 400) and the development of the superego.
the upshot
The Upshot
  • WW has tried out his own masculine authority, and he finds himself out of his depth.
  • Consequently, he suffers guilt for many days, his dreams are troubled, and he represses into the unconscious the inappropriate sexuality that is the latent content of the episode.
  • The result is the development of the superego (the morality principle).
episodes that anticipate the stolen boat episode
Episodes That Anticipate the Stolen Boat Episode
  • The bird-stealing episode: lines 317ff. Evidently this experience does not teach WW the proper lesson, so the lesson repeats with greater intensity in the boat episode.
  • “Nutting”: excised from The Prelude probably because it duplicates the Oedipal/sexual feeling of the boat episode.
biographia literaria chapter xiv pages 645 50
Biographia Literaria, Chapter XIV, pages 645-50
  • There are two sorts of poems (645):
    • Those from “ordinary life” (stolen boat episode).
    • Those with supernatural subjects like Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
  • Key concept:  "willing suspension of disbelief…constitutes poetic faith” (645); this is especially important because Col’s poems are supernatural.
  • Three characteristics of a poem (647):
    • Meter and/or rhyme.
    • The immediate goal is pleasure (see the “pleasure dome” in “KK”).
    • The ultimate goal is intellectual or moral truth. Cf. 648, top par.
  •  The nature of the imagination (649):
    • "synthetic and magical power"
    • "balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities"
    • primary and secondary imagination (next slide)
bl chapter xiii
BL, Chapter XIII:
  • "The imagination, then, I consider either as primary or secondary.  The Primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.  The secondary [imagination] I consider as an echo of the former, coexisting with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree and in the mode of its operation.  It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still, at all events, it struggles to idealize and to unify.  It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead."
from dr fike s a jungian study of shakespeare the visionary mode
From Dr. Fike’s A Jungian Study of Shakespeare: The Visionary Mode
  • The primary imagination, an act that is involuntary and usually unconscious, plays a key role in the cognitive process because it mediates “not only between sensation and perception, but also between perception and thought” (Rossky 58). Whereas the primary imagination actively perceives objects and frames concepts, the secondary imagination, which is voluntary and conscious, re-forms images and thoughts in a way that makes poetry.

What the eye and ear “perceive”: mirror.

What the eye and ear “half create”: lamp.

See “TA,” lines 106-07.


Primary imagination

Secondary imagination


the greater romantic lyric



Paradise Regained




Organized Innocence

GRL like “Frost at Midnight”

Here and now

There and then (imagination)

Here and now

POINT: Secularizing the pattern of sacred pattern.

The Greater Romantic Lyric
other characteristics of the grl
Other Characteristics of the GRL
  • A specific speaker in a specific landscape.
  • Interplay of the mind with that landscape.
  • The poem ends where it begins.
  • Three-part movement: in, out, in; here, there, here; now, then (the past), now; the mind’s detachment, involvement, and detachment with the external world.
  • Although the poem returns to the first stage, the speaker is different—has learned something.
outline of frost at midnight
Outline of “Frost at Midnight”
  • Stage one (lines 1-23):  Coleridge is sitting by the fire. His son, Hartley, is asleep. And “The Frost performs its secret ministry” (line 1). The stage is set for imaginative transport.
  • Stage two (lines 24-43): The vision—Coleridge remembers his school days. And there is a vision within the vision: he recalls how, in the past, he remembered (“dreampt,” line 27) a time further in the past. Memory within memory. More specifically, it is a memory about the anticipation of a stranger. Remembering his own childhood prepares him to think about his son’s future.
  • Ending—Stage Three (lines 44-end):  He begins to think about the “stranger” Hartley will become, the man Coleridge does not yet know. He predicts a rural future for Hartley (lines 54-57). Irony: H was to become a kind of vagrant in WW country, who never fulfilled his potential. Col also predicts that H will become a poet—this too is accurate: H was a minor poet in the WWian mode. POINT: The poet is back where he started, but he is not the same. He now has hopes for his son’s future.
frost and ta
“Frost” and “TA”
  • “Frost,” line 58-60: “so shalt thou see and hear / The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible / Of that eternal language”
  • “TA,” lines 105: “the mighty world / Of eye, and ear,--both what they half create, / And what perceive”
  • In both poems, nature stirs the imagination in a constructive way through the agency of sight and hearing.
  • POINT: “Frost” was written a few months before “TA,” so Col may have influenced WW rather than the other way around.
last verse par in frost
Last Verse Par. in “Frost”
  • Here we return to the opening image—frost.
  • Frost and memory bind together unlike things (“opposite or discordant qualities”) and help create an imaginative unity.
  • Frost, for example, creates a surface to receive and reflect the winter moon—a frequent symbol in Romantic literature for the imagination.
  • Sun:reason::moon:imagination.
key points about kubla khan
Key Points About “Kubla Khan”
  • This is a poem about the secondary imagination and about poetry. It enacts the bringing together of “opposite and discordant qualities.”
  • Sometimes the imagination is violent (as also in Blake’s “The Tyger”).
  • In the Romantic period, energy comes up from below (as it does in a volcano, a favorite image in Shelley).
  • The poet’s act of creation is greater than Kubla’s because it reconciles “opposite or discordant qualities” in a superior way.
  • What “opposite and discordant qualities” do you find in “KK”?
examples of opposites that the poem brings together
Examples of Opposites That the Poem Brings Together
  • Creation vs. destruction
  • Nature (outside) vs. art (garden, dome, song)
  • Decree vs. measureless::limits vs. no limits
  • Containment vs. endlessness
  • Going down vs. bursting forth (“burst” 20; “sank” 28)
  • Sunshine vs. caverns that are dark and cold: “A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!” (line 36).
  • Garden (sun) vs. outside (“moon”)
  • Neoclassical garden with the dome vs. untamed nature outside
  • Woman wailing for her demon lover vs. the damsel with a dulcimer: madness vs. control
rime of the ancient mariner
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • Rime:primary imagination::“KK”:secondary imagination.
  • Important concepts:
    • Ballad and ballad stanza: See H&H.
    • A Romantic quest poem features a solitary hero who meets with a supernatural female figure, is alienated from nature, and journeys to recover what is lost (sometimes union with the supernatural female).
    • A Romantic wanderer is a person with the mark of Cain, a type of the Wandering Jew. Col’s Ancient Mariner parallels but transcends these types; he is something other and greater.
  • Why does the Ancient Mariner kill the albatross? See page 241, line 82. Consider Col’s phrase in reference to Shakespeare’s Iago in Othello—“motiveless malignity.”
  • What does killing the albatross signify?
  • How is the A.M. redeemed? See line 286. What does he realize here? Cf. Blake: “Everything that lives is holy.”
  • What does the Ancient Mariner’s glittering eye suggest?
  • Why is the church an appropriate setting? Why does the A.M. speak to a wedding guest?
  • What is the moral of the poem? See esp. lines 612-17. See “The Eolian Harp” on page 237, lines 26-31.
  • Why is the wedding guest sadder but wiser (last stanza)? See Ecclesiastes 1:18 for a possible connection: “For in much wisdom is much vexation, / and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”