Coleridge, on Feeling and Understanding (Bite-Sized Study Guide)

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COLERIDGE, ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FEELING AND UNDERSTANDING

Coleridge’s explores his ideas about how human sensation and perception is transformed by the ‘synthetic and magical’[1] power of the imagination in Biographia Literaria.

Coleridge places great emphasis on the power of the imagination granted to every percipient human being. Not only does it behave as an active mediator between our perceptions and sensations (i.e. what we understand and how we feel), but it is also the ‘living power and prime agent of all human perception’[2].

In a sense, this allows each person a personal interaction with God, as Coleridge believed that human perception is a ‘repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation’[3]. So, in the act of feeling and understanding, we are able to attain the ‘unified personality’[4] and bring the ‘whole soul of man into activity’[5].

Coleridge believes that imagination can be separated into two: primary and secondary. The primary imagination is effectively God re-perceiving again through us, but the idea of the secondary is more complex. The secondary is the poetic imagination. In essence, it is the same as the primary, although it may differ ‘in degree, and in the mode of its operation’[6]. It is the conscious will working in (partial) co-operation with the original creator, enabling us, as poets, to imitate God’s creations ‘without loss of originality’[7].

This concept of the primary and secondary imagination honours the individual’s ability and skill in the creative process, whilst firmly adhering to the primacy of God. This text implies that ‘each re-creative act that a poet performs is an act of worship’[8].

So, as the poet attempts to idealise and unify the ‘fixed and dead’[9] objects around him using his poetic imagination, the poetic genius granted by God ‘sustains and modifies’[10] the poet’s collected feelings and thoughts.

In this text, Coleridge expresses the belief that imagination is the ‘soul’[11] of poetic genius, transforming human feeling and understanding of God’s creations into a ‘graceful and intelligent whole’[12].


[1] ‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg670

[2] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from ‘Pt I Ch XIII’ in Biographia Literaria, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg676

[3] Coleridge, ‘Pt I Ch XIII’, Biographia Literaria, pg676

[4] J. A. Cuddon, ‘Fancy and Imagination’, in The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory (fourth edition), rev. by C. E. Preston (London: Penguin Books, 1999), pg306

[5] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from ‘Pt II Ch XIV’ in Biographia Literaria, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg681

[6] Coleridge, ‘Pt I Ch XIII’, Biographia Literaria, pg676

[7] Coleridge, ‘Pt I Ch XIII’, Biographia Literaria, pg676

[8] Leitch, ‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, pgs670-671

[9] Coleridge, ‘Pt I Ch XIII’, Biographia Literaria, pg676

[10] Coleridge, ‘Pt II Ch XIV’, Biographia Literaria, pg681

[11] Coleridge, ‘Pt II Ch XIV’, Biographia Literaria, pg682

[12] Coleridge, ‘Pt II Ch XIV’, Biographia Literaria, pg682

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