The Importance of Memory and Imagination for Wordsworth and Coleridge
William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” are similar in many ways, in part because they are the poets’ personal reflections on the beauty of nature and the power of memory. Indeed, both poets believe that memory and imagination are vital in the creation of poetry. For Wordsworth and Coleridge, imagination can bring joy into people’s hearts, and the memories of special places can fortify the spirit.
Serenity through imagination
Imagination proves to be Coleridge’s only comfort when he is unable to join his friends for a walk. “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” focuses on his imagining what his friends see and feel on their trek. Coleridge begins by describing in specific detail the places with which he is familiar and then moves to speculation about what his friends will see. They view “the sea, / With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up / The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles / Of purple shadow!” (23-26).
Coleridge writes that perhaps they will see a small boat on the sea, just as he supposes that Charles Lamb has been pining to return to nature, “many a year, / In the great City pent, winning thy way / With sad yet patient soul” (29-31). As Coleridge imagines how Charles will feel when he sees the sunset, he exclaims: “A delight / Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad / As I myself were there!” (43-45). The poet’s imagination gives him great peace and happiness, and he learns that quiet contemplation has its own rewards that can aid him in writing poetry.
Refuge in memories
Memory also plays a central part in both poems. For both Wordsworth and Coleridge, a memory of nature refreshes them. In “Tintern Abbey,” Wordsworth says of the remembrance of such beautiful forms:
I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration. (Wordsworth 27-31)
The “[b]eauties and feelings” for Coleridge “would have been / Most sweet to my remembrance even when age / Had dimm’d my eyes to blindness!” (Coleridge 3-5). Wordsworth also mentions blindness, claiming that “[t]hese forms of beauty have not been to me, / As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye” (Wordsworth 24-25).
For both poets, the memories of a beautiful scene remain alive in their minds as something to look back on when the world seems ugly and unkind. Wordsworth describes being stuck “in lonely rooms, and mid the din / Of towns and cities” and having only his memories to sustain him (26-27). Coleridge recognizes the “evil and pain / And strange calamity” that Charles Lamb suffered when his sister killed his mother (31-32). Both Coleridge and Wordsworth find refuge in their memories of tranquil nature.
In both poems, the poets vicariously experience nature through someone else. Coleridge experiences the walk himself through his imagining what his friends see. For Wordsworth, he sees Tintern Abbey for the second time after five years, and for the first time again through the eyes of his sister Dorothy. Addressing Dorothy, he states that “in thy voice I catch / The language of my former heart, and read / My former pleasures in the shooting lights / Of thy wild eyes” (Wordsworth 117-120). Wordsworth shares the gift of this memory with his sister, a memory made more precious to him by her presence.
Imagination and memory help both Wordsworth and Coleridge retain joy in the hearts even in difficult times. “Tintern Abbey” and “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” reflect the poets’ inner musings about experience nature and sharing it with others. Wordsworth and Coleridge recognize that imagining and remembering a special place is a gift they can keep with them.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison.”
Damrosch, David, et al. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Second Compact Edition. 2 vols. New York: Pearson, Longman, 2004.
Wordsworth, William. “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.” Damrosch, et al: 2:202-206.
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