So, I’m sad that I didn’t have any response to the prompt. Maybe I wasn’t clear: it would be REALLY AWESOME to have some responses to the question under the “Prompt!” section. Like I said in the first post, I want this blog to be living, to have me and you all interacting and learning from each other. So, it would be great to have more responses to that. Of course, prompt is just awful, just tell me so! Enough of that… I’m very glad that some of you are responding, so definitely don’t stop that!
So, I said I would talk a little bit about who I thought would make a great Romantic poet. At first I was like, Well, duh, Bob Dylan. Then I got to thinking, That’s too obvious. While Dylan would probably make a great Romantic, at least in his early days, I believe another musician–often called a “Dylan Clone”–fits the bill better, especially since he’s from Scotland:
If you don’t know Donovan, he’s definitely worth looking up. Many of his early tunes are quite Wordsworthian. Check out “Colours” and “Catch the Wind.” Both of these carry themes associated with the acronym P.A.I.N. we discussed in the last post. If you dig this old folk stuff, check out his greatest hits. You may have heard “Mellow Yellow,” “Riki Tiki Tavi,” and other songs by him, but one of my favorites, and you’re definitely allowed to make fun of me for it, is “Atlantis.” Listen to this song, and it will prepare you for what we’re about to talk about with Coleridge.
Coleridge became a big shot in Literary Theory. Later in his life, he wrote an autobiography entitled Biographia Literaria. In the thirteenth chapter we find one of Coleridge’s most prominent ideas about literature, that mankind has two imaginations.
Sorry, Luke, according to Coleridge, it’s true. In fact, Coleridge believed the imagination, divided into a Primary and Secondary, was the most crucial power of the mind. It was what separated mankind from the animals. Coleridge, who was at times a minister and seeker of God, goes so far to say that reason cannot bring man closer to God; man can only reach God through the power of imagination. This idea also stands as Coleridge’s straightforward criticism of the Enlightenment and his reaffirmation of the Poet’s job to seek truth.
The primary imagination functions as that part of the imagination which acts as the prime agent of perception. Every stimulus to which our bodies responds interacts with the primary imagination. For example, think about eating your favorite pie. From cutting yourself a piece to chewing that last delicious piece of crust, your mind is interacting with the pie. You get the goopy fruit on your hands. Lick it off and taste the filling–that’s what I would do! As you eat it, you’re tasting, smelling, feeling… According to Coleridge, this is your Primary Imagination working as it interacts with stimulus. Of course, he uses fancier words like, “a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.” He can’t help using big words; he’s a Romantic!
The secondary imagination works like a bucket and a well. Every experience you’ve ever had fills up a well of experience. Down in this well each experience, perception, memory, feeling, etc. mingles together waiting for the bucket to be lowered and filled. When the Second Imagination is at work the bucket is lowered filling with a smorgasbord of perception, thus creating something new. This imagination also differs from the primary in that it must be consciously used and is at times limited. One uses the Secondary Imagination when creating, whether it’s a paper for Creative Writing or a poem for your secret diary.
So, what’s it all mean (and how does it apply to anything)?
Well, this theory is important because it really goes back to what Wordsworth said in the preface to The Lyrical Ballads and in other places that imagination lies close to the heart and mingles with emotions. Wordsworth says things like, “[P]oetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” This is quite close to what Coleridge describes in his ideas about the imagination. Recollected emotion is from that well which all experiences lie. Though the two poets disagree at times–Coleridge felt that Wordsworth was awful at using the language of the common man–their theories of imagination and creativity work similarly.
Let’s look at it with the P.A.I.N. paradigm.
Primitivism–The primary imagination takes in surroundings, creations from God, the most primitive of all things, while the secondary imagination stores these things in one place
Art and the Artist–It’s the old question: which defines which? Coleridge says that it’s not necessarily the artist that creates his art but the artist’s experiences. It’s almost passive creation; in a way, the poet is only a medium.
The Individual–It’s too obvious. All reactions to stimuli are stored in the individuality of the artist. No artist will have these same gathered perceptions, thus the artist is seen as a lone creator.
The Natural–Simply, Nature is the source of all stimuli for the Imagination.
I’ll reintroduce this one: Considering the P.A.I.N. paradigm and other things we’ve discussed, what modern-day person would fit in well with the Romantics?
We’ll take a look at a couple poems by Coleridge and introduce my man John Keats.