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Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Biographia Literaria Chapter 4 Summary

In Chapter 4 of Biographia Literaria, 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 human beings 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 voluntary and conscious act that requires a balance between reason and emotion.


Coleridge praises Wordsworth as a genius who possesses a strong secondary imagination. He recounts how he first encountered Wordsworth's poems in 1794 and was deeply impressed by them. He also describes how he met Wordsworth in person in 1797 and formed a close friendship with him. He admires Wordsworth's poem "The Female Vagrant" as an example of his poetic skill and originality.

Coleridge then explains the purpose of his book, which is to explore the source and principle of poetic imagination. He contrasts his approach with Wordsworth's, who wrote a preface for their joint publication Lyrical Ballads in 1800. Wordsworth's preface was intended to defend their choice of using simple language and common subjects for their poems, as well as to express his views on the nature and function of poetry. Coleridge, on the other hand, aims to investigate the psychological and philosophical aspects of poetic creation. He warns his readers that his book is not meant for those who are only interested in superficial criticism or who disagree with his opinions.

Coleridge concludes the chapter by defining two more terms: fancy and imagination. He associates fancy with the Latin word "imaginatio" and imagination with the Greek word "phantasia". He claims that fancy is a lower faculty that merely combines existing images without creating anything new. Imagination, on the other hand, is a higher faculty that produces original and creative images that reflect the poet's inner vision.

This summary is based on the following sources:


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