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Elaine Vermeulen
Elaine Vermeulen

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Biographia Literaria Chapter 4 Summary


Samuel Taylor Coleridge Biographia Literaria Chapter 4 Summary




In Chapter 4 of Biographia Literaria, Samuel Taylor Coleridge discusses the nature and role of imagination and poetry. He distinguishes between two types of imagination: the primary and the secondary. The primary imagination is the power of the human mind to perceive and create reality. It is common to all people and essential for their survival. The secondary imagination is the power of the poet to transform and recreate reality according to his or her artistic vision. It is a rare and sublime faculty that requires genius and inspiration.


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Coleridge also introduces the concept of fancy, which he contrasts with imagination. Fancy is the ability to combine and associate existing images and ideas without creating anything new or original. It is a mechanical and passive process that relies on memory and association. Imagination, on the other hand, is a creative and active process that relies on reason and intuition. It produces new and original images and ideas that reveal the hidden connections and meanings of reality.


Coleridge praises his friend and fellow poet William Wordsworth as a genius of the secondary imagination. He recounts how he discovered Wordsworth's poems during his last year at Cambridge University in 1794, and how he was impressed by their originality and beauty. He also mentions how he met Wordsworth in person in 1797, and how they collaborated on the Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems that revolutionized English poetry. Coleridge explains that Wordsworth's motivation in writing the preface to the Lyrical Ballads was to explore the nature and function of poetic imagination, while his own intention in writing the Biographia Literaria was to investigate the source and principle of poetic imagination. He invites his readers to follow him in his inquiry, or else to stop reading if they disagree with his views.


This chapter is one of the most important and influential chapters in Biographia Literaria, as it reveals Coleridge's poetic theory and practice. Coleridge's distinction between imagination and fancy, as well as his definition of the primary and secondary imagination, have been widely adopted and discussed by later critics and poets. His appreciation of Wordsworth's poetry also shows his deep friendship and admiration for him, as well as his recognition of his own role as a collaborator and critic.


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