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Home » , » What distinction does Coleridge draw between a ' poem' and 'poetry ' in Biographia Literaria?
"Biographia Literaria" by S.T. Coleridge has occupied a permanent position in the whole range of English literary criticism. In this critical essay, the critic discusses many important points. He analysed and drawn some striking difference between 'a poem' and 'poetry '. In "Chapter XIV", he puts a number of questions regarding the nature and function of poetry. Then he ventures to answer them. But we find that Coleridge does not express his views on the nature and value of poetry in a well-planned and compact shape. He does not give any exact definition of poetry too. Yet we find his remarks on the nature of poetry and general discussion of Wordsworth's poetic theory. We can bring a proper shape of poem from his comments on them. His comments on 'a poem' and 'poetry' are artistic, psychological and philosophical.

First of all, it is necessary to understand how Coleridge distinguishes 'a poem' from 'a prose composition'. Coleridge says that a poem contains the same elements as a prose composition. Both of them use words. So there is no difference between the elements of a prose composition and a poem. In this respect, Coleridge says-----
       "A poem contains the same elements as a prose composition." 

But only one difference is to be noticed here. Metre or rhyme or both is employed in a poem. But they are not used in a prose composition.According to Coleridge, the immediate purpose of a poem is the communication of pleasure. But the immediate purpose of prose is the communication of truths. A poem must be an organic unity. It differs from a work of scientific prose in having its immediate object, pleasure, not truth. Metre, rhyme etc. are used in a poem. But they are not used in prose. If metre is used superficially, it can be a poem. But a poem cannot please us if there is no organic unity. Coleridge thinks that the main aim of poetry is to give pleasure.Coleridge does not regard metre as absolutely essential for poetry. He clearly says that poetry of highest kind may exist without metre. At the same time, he also believes metre to be useful and necessary for writing poetry. In fact, he is against for the use of metre and rhyme in poetry. He refers to Plato, Jeremy and Burnet who wrote the poetry without poetry. He asserts that metre and rhyme have been imposed on poetry in order to make it easily memorised. In this respect, Coleridge says-----
      "Thirty days hath SeptemberApril, June, and November."

Here the use of verse makes it easier for schoolboys and others to remember the number of days in the different months. Coleridge distinguishes a poem from poetry in his "Biographia  Literaria". He opines that poetry is a wider term than a poem. It is an activity of poet's mind. But a poem is merely one of the forms of its expression. Poetic creativity is basically an activity of the imagination. Poetry is a kind of activity in which any creative artist, poets, painters or scientists work. It brings out the whole soul of man into activity through the magical power of imagination. Coleridge identifies imagination with the soul of poetry. It is a living power. This distinction between poetry and poem is not very clear. Instead of defining poetry, Coleridge proceeds to describe a poet. From the poet, he proceeds to enumerate the characteristics of imagination.

In conclusion, we can say that Coleridge's distinction between 'a poem' and 'poetry' is not clear enough. It seems that this distinction does not for clearness. By the word, 'poetry', he means all kinds of imaginative activity including painting, sculpture, architecture etc. It has been used by Coleridge in a very wide sense to mean all the fine arts. Only in this sense, he has drawn a distinction between 'a poem' and 'poetry'.


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