Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a close friend and collaborator of William Wordsworth, with whom he co-authored the influential poetry collection “Lyrical Ballads”. However, in his critical writings and letters, Coleridge expressed several objections to Wordsworth’s poetry. These objections can be grouped into several broad categories:
Lack of Imagination: Coleridge believed that Wordsworth’s poetry lacked imagination, which he defined as “the power of evoking and combining, the images and ideas suggested by objects perceptible to the senses.” Coleridge felt that Wordsworth relied too heavily on simple, everyday language and descriptions of nature, without the transformative power of the imagination to elevate these descriptions into something more profound.
Emphasis on the Ordinary: Coleridge also objected to what he saw as Wordsworth’s focus on the ordinary and mundane aspects of life. He believed that Wordsworth’s emphasis on rural life and simple pleasures failed to capture the full range of human experience, and that it ignored the complexity and darkness of the human psyche.
Lack of Structure: Coleridge criticized Wordsworth’s poetry for lacking formal structure and coherence. He believed that Wordsworth’s reliance on “spontaneous overflow” and a loose, unstructured style resulted in poems that were often diffuse and incoherent.
Overreliance on the Self: Coleridge argued that Wordsworth’s poetry was overly focused on the individual self, to the exclusion of other people and the wider world. He felt that Wordsworth’s celebration of the individual “I” and the subjective experience of nature resulted in a solipsistic worldview that ignored the importance of social and political context.
Inconsistency: Finally, Coleridge criticized Wordsworth for being inconsistent in his poetic style and philosophical views. He felt that Wordsworth’s shift away from the radical politics of his youth towards a more conservative worldview was reflected in his poetry, and that this shift compromised the integrity and coherence of his work.
While Coleridge’s objections to Wordsworth’s poetry were often pointed, he also recognized the significant achievements of his friend and collaborator. In particular, Coleridge praised Wordsworth’s ability to capture the “common heart” of humanity and to use language in a way that felt natural and unforced. Despite their differences, Coleridge and Wordsworth remained close friends and continued to collaborate throughout their lives.