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Thursday, 25 October 2018

Why does Coleridge criticise Wordsworth's theory of poetic language?

"Biographia Literaria" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a great literary work. It has occupied a permanent position in the whole rang of English criticism. Along with some other important sides of poetry, Coleridge shows the merits and demerits of Wordsworth's poetry. It also shows his criticism of Wordsworth's theory of poetic language. His discussion is philosophical. His arguments are sound indeed.

Wordsworth has written "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" alone. But he in collaboration with Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Coleridge perhaps does not want to take the responsibility of the theories expressed in "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads". He feels necessary to defend himself. So he has written his " Biographia Literaria " as a self- defence. However, he points out the defects of Wordsworth's criticism and theory of poetic language. Three statements made by Wordsworth in his "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" lead Coleridge to criticises and object him. They are choice of rustic theme, rustic language and same language for both prose and poetry.
Wordsworth's theory of poetic language

Wordsworth chooses rustic theme for his poetry. He argues that in this condition of life, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturuty. He says that rustic theme is more emphatic than others. He directly attacks the conventional tradition of the language of poetry. To him, language for poetry should be the language really spoken by rustic people. By denying the contemporary literary theory, he has adopted the language of humble and rustic people. He has chosen this language because the humble people live in close relationship with nature. He says that their language is more passionate, more vivid and more forceful.

The Neo-classical poets suggest that the language of poetry is different from the language of prose. The language of poetry must be highly ornamental. But, according to Wordsworth, there is no difference between the language of prose and poetry. In this respect, he says -----
       
"There neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition."

The language of prose and poetry is closely related in their nature, function and appeal. The same elements are used in both. They are originated from the same sources and appeal to the same faculties. Wordsworth believes that poetry sheds on tears such as angels weep. But it will shed natural and human tears. Coleridge criticises Wordsworth's views on the theme of poetry. He says that rustic theme cannot bring the real theme of poetry. In some of his poems, he cannot choose the rustic themes. According to him, when Wordsworth chooses the rustic theme, he becomes like a rustic man. He talks about the rustic language really spoken by men. He wants to use the word, 'ordinary' for 'real'. Coleridge objects Wordsworth's views of rustic language. He says that if the poet wishes to use rustic language available, he must also think like the rustics. Thus he must go narrow his generous creative faculty: Coleridge criticises Wordsworth's theory of poetic language to a great extent. He says that poetry is a metrical composition. It must have its difference with prose. The language of prose and poetry cannot be identical. Coleridge believes that there must be an essential difference between the language of prose and poetry. In order to drive home the point, he cites a number of poems. He observes that the language of poetry must be selected and there must a proper arrangement of words. It is true that the words both for prose and poetry may be the same. But their arrangement is positively different. This difference results from metre which is essential for a poem. According to Coleridge, poetry is the metrical composition of imagination and feeling. 

To sum up, we can say that Coleridge might have requested Wordsworth to write a preface for their volume of poetry, Lyrical Ballads. He then found that his collaborator had expressed the views which he could not agree. He was not likely to take the charge of Wordsworth's views on the different aspects of poetry. So he decides to write "Biographia Literaria" to give a suitable reply. Coleridge criticises Wordsworth's theory of poetic language. He finds out its merit and demerits.

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