Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834)
Part I: Coleridge’s Theory of the Imagination. Poetry is, of itself, often a theory of poetry. Consider, under this thesis, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan or: A Vision in a Dream” (1816). In the opening lines, Coleridge plays with the etymological definition of poetry as making. The Khan decrees that the pleasure-dome should rise whereupon his servants presumably conjure it forth:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
The decree itself already functions as a kind of making or articulation; it is imperious, magical, even a bit demonic or demiurgic. The calling-forth of the artificial paradise entails, moreover, the transformation of nature through her re-creation under an idea: Thus the girdling walls enclose the “twice five miles of fertile ground” in a gesture of delimitation. That the ground is “fertile,” as Coleridge (1772 – 1834) writes, suggests that the labor of elevating structures on it has a generative relation to the fecund matter on which the labor operates; the two elements of the event have an a priori and complementary relation to one another. The matter has no features in the description, but presents only a blank aspect, like a mass of clay unformed; even the “gardens bright and sinuous rills,” seemingly natural, result artificially from the determination of a shaping will. The act itself and that which is acted upon thus match one another, forming dual aspects of a concluded whole in which pregnant formlessness has acquired a pleasing form, as in the endeavor of the Demiurge in Plato’s Timaeus.