Professor Peter Cassidy
LIT 222 C00
7 February 2015
Lines Written in Early Spring and Kubla Khan
William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were not only peers of the Romantic period, they were also friends and poets that worked on mutual projects. Although they had some similarities, Wordsworth drew most from nature while Coleridge expressed best his since of imagination. In Lines Written in Early Spring, Wordsworth focuses on direct and simple imagery to convey his roller-coaster of feelings in regards to the never-ending conquests of man, while through Kubla Khan, Coleridge finds more complicated approaches to express creation and bounds of imagination that were so much more complex in his eyes. Throughout these two poems, though different in their approach, Wordsworth and Coleridge teach us the importance of drawing inspiration for literature on a profound source, whether it’s nature or imagination.
Written by William Wordsworth in 1798, Lines Written in Early Spring utilized nature induced dialogue to create a simple poetic diction. As he witnessed the French Revolution, Wordsworth seemed to express a greatly disgruntled attitude because of the mayhem, loss, and materialistic desires of civilization, all brought upon by war. He seemed especially disheartened by that fact that it distanced people from more simple beginnings. He explains this in several times throughout the poem, heartbroken by “what man has made of man.” It is discussed how the flowers, the periwinkle, the birds and trees, all seem to live in harmony. They are happy with their world and the part they play in it. Humans, on the other hand, never seem to be satisfied with what is, and because of this we have “reason to lament.” In a time of war and destruction, Wordsworth is fixated on the happiness of the forest creatures. Their joy and lack of care leaves something to be wanted in his life, and he finds it refreshing that the source of joy isn’t something complicated to be discovered. He goes on, explaining that “their thoughts I cannot measure,” which is in great contrast to the general desire of mankind to discover, categorize, and measure things. This lends itself to the heart of Wordsworth’s message: the creatures do not need to know why life is good and why they are happy, they simply know that they are happy, and live peacefully in that state of mind. By appealing to one’s natural instincts, Wordsworth invites people back to their roots by viewing the world through naturalistic and romantic eyes.
Kubla Khan was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1816, and was penned shortly after an opium laced dream. Coleridge described his inspiration as drawn from an actual vision, and relied thoroughly on imagery in this poem so that he could paint the perfect picture of Xanadu to unlock the reader’s imagination. The dark and vivid setting was all of his own mind, and in it he unravels a story that leads to many possible paths of interpretation. It centers around an evil Mongol ruler, Kubla Khan, who seems to be void of good intentions due to the “ancestral voices prophesying war!” Coleridge evokes a creative sense in the poem, focusing heavily on biological creation in nature, which seems to reflect the creative attitude of the author. The water source, ALPH, is very similar to the word alpha, which in the Greek alphabet, signifies the beginning. Water is also typically a symbol of life. Then, starting around line fifteen, it would appear that Coleridge is signifying reproduction through vague and obscure metaphors. Without getting too graphic, it would seem the act of human procreation, specifically a male’s experience, is being described with phrases such as “it flung up momently the sacred river” and “burst huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail.” Still, war and destruction is also a commonplace in this work, and a dark tone encompasses every twist and turn Coleridge takes the reader on. He had previously witnessed and lectured on the French Revolution, and there’s little doubt that there were still traces of that experience in his work reflected in Kubla Khan.
Wordsworth and Coleridge began their poetic journey on a similar path, and even comprised a collection of work together called Lyrical Ballads. They both witnessed the wonders and horrors of the French Revolution, and its effect on them echoed in their works. Theoretical ideology was also woven into both poets’ lives and work. Wordsworth sought to understand how and why man differed from other species, while Coleridge delved into creation and expanding the world in one’s own mind. The contrast is seen in the different sources each author draws from. Wordsworth used real to life imagery found primarily in nature. He often spoke of known creatures and described recognizable places. Coleridge, however, was inspired by his imagination as his first, and often only, source. He reveled in the worlds he created in his mind, and was very diligent to describe each and every detail to his reader. It could be deduced then, that the authors found their escapes from the chaos of life in two very different places. Wordsworth took refuge in nature, and Coleridge in his own mind. While their similarities are abundant, these two distinct difference create a great contrast in tone of their works, and take their readers down very different paths. Regardless of how one personally interprets their various works, these poems have survived over two-hundred years of analysis, and both ring true to this day. That in essence, is the heart of sublime literature.