Wordsworth’s The Prelude
and Coleridge’s Poems
ENGL 203
Dr. Fike
• Quiz: Please clear your desks.
• [Maymester: Response papers due.]
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
• 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
• 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
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
• 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
• “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
“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
• 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
• In other words, he starts his great poem by
complaining about the difficulty of getting
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
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
• Stage Zero: “Intimations”—some kind of preexistence.
• 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
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
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”
• “I am a part of all that I have met.”
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
• What kind of imagery does WW employ
here? What is their psychological
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
• The boat
• The cave it is kept in
• The lake
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
• 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
• 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
• “Nutting”: excised from The Prelude
probably because it duplicates the
Oedipal/sexual feeling of the boat episode.
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
• 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:
• "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
• 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.
• Primary imagination
• What the eye and ear
“half create”: lamp.
• Secondary
• See “TA,” lines 10607.
• See BL, XIII
The Greater Romantic Lyric
• Paradise
• Fall
• Paradise Regained
• Innocence
• Experience
• Organized Innocence
GRL like “Frost at
• Here and now
• There and then
• Here and now
POINT: Secularizing
the pattern of
sacred pattern.
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”
• 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,” line 58-60: “so shalt thou see and hear / The
lovely shapes and sounds intelligible / Of that eternal
• “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
• POINT: “Frost” was written a few months before “TA,” so
Col may have influenced WW rather than the other way
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”
• 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
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
• Woman wailing for her demon lover vs. the damsel with
a dulcimer: madness vs. control
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
• Rime:primary imagination::“KK”:secondary
• 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.
1. 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.”
2. What does killing the albatross signify?
3. How is the A.M. redeemed? See line 286. What does he realize here? Cf.
Blake: “Everything that lives is holy.”
4. What does the Ancient Mariner’s glittering eye suggest?
5. Why is the church an appropriate setting? Why does the A.M. speak
to a wedding guest?
6. What is the moral of the poem? See esp. lines 612-17. See “The Eolian
Harp” on page 237, lines 26-31.
7. 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.”

Wordsworth’s The Prelude and Coleridge’s Poems