The Two Worlds: Nature in William Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’ and Supernatural in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’

An Introduction
 William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were the high priest of romanticism and it is by their joint efforts that the 19th century becomes the periods of change and new birth in literature. It is the romantic revival --- a movement in the literature, characterized by reliance on the imagination and subjectivity of approach, freedom of thought and expression, and an idealization of nature. The great achievement of theirs is Lyrical Ballads that brought about a new line of poetic thought. The preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800) was of prime importance as a manifesto of literary romanticism. Here, the two poets affirmed the importance of feeling and imagination to poetic creation and disclaimed conventional literary forms and subjects. Thus, as romantic literature everywhere developed, imagination was praised over reason, emotions over logic, and intuition over science—making way for a vast body of literature of great sensibility and passion. 


  THE STUDY OF THE Lyrical Ballads SHOWS SOME SIMILARITIES AND CONTRASTS IN THE OUTLOOK OF WORDSWORTH AND COLERIDGE AS POETS. Wordsworth studied the simple objects of Nature and imparted to them the colour of imagination --the concern with nature and natural surrounding, delight in unspoiled scenery and in the innocent life of rural dwellers . It was not his business to make excursions in the world of supernaturalism. It was left to Coleridge  to introduce the world of supernaturalism, mystery and magic in poetry.The trend toward the irrational and the supernatural was an important component of his poetry.Thus whereas Wordsworth sought to give the objects of nature that colour of his imagination, it was left to Coleridge  to make the supernatural look like natural. So he aimed at representing perfectly that side of the romantic imagination  which seeks to lose itself in dream and marvel. Thus in Coleridge we find love of the picturesque, preoccupation with the Gothic past ,the Middle Ages, and delight in mystery and superstition.

A Comparative Study

  THERE are many ways of approaching the poetry of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The commonest and the easiest is the comparative study. So here we begin with William Wordsworth'“Tintern Abbey”  and Samuel Taylor Coleridge'sChristabel .

“Tintern Abbey” and Wordsworth's Mysticism

  Wordsworth being the most philosophical of the English poets has time and again in his poetry embodied his own philosophy of life. But in no poem of Wordsworth do we come across harmonious fusion philosophy and poetry as in his “Tintern Abbey”. “Tintern Abbey” written in July, 1798 and published in the Lyrical Ballads, it is the record of poet's spiritual development. Philosophy has here been transmuted here into deathless poetry. In other words, Wordsworth while recording his spiritual realizations and mystic perception, achieved in the blissful solitude of Nature far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, has never ceased to poetic. It is became the philosophical perceptions that he has embodied in the poem are not bookish. He has recorded what has drowned in his mind in moments of most elevated thinking and meditation. The genuineness of his own experience is unmistakable and it has but a unique poetic distinction to all his utterance, in the poem.

                In “Tintern Abbey” he tells of his gaining through meditative communication with nature perceptions of truths denied to ordinary mortals and of his pantheistic creed. We certainly hear the voice of a philosopher when he speaks of his realization of the inner harmony which subsists in the entire created world. Like “The Prelude” the present poem, in a miniature scale, attempts at a revelation of the mysteries of life. The inner illumination that he gains through meditation on nature makes the unintelligible world intelligible to him. In moments of highest spiritual illumination he has transcendental experience super-reality. Like the vedanist, the poet becomes an image of tranquility unshaken by sorrows and sufferings which are merely shadows inadequate and powerless to shake the spirit that has attained serenity. He has attained, as though, “a purer mind and neither evil tongues /Rash judgements, nor the surees of selfish men’ can disturb his ‘cheerful faith, that all which we behold/ Is full of blessings!”

                Thus his “Tintern Abbey” above is enough to justify why he is called the high priest of Nature, ‘the philosophic poet of nature’, ‘the poet of contemplative communion with nature and like. To Wordsworth nature is not only procession of seasons and seasonal fruition; it is the eye of all things, natural and supernatural into which the observant soul can peer and behold the spirit that inhabits all things.

                Wordsworth is seldom content to draw beautiful scenes of their own shake. He looks on nature to here ‘the still sad music of humanity’. In fact, Wordsworth believes that there is a ‘preordained harmony between the soul of man and the soul of Nature. To him nature has a sympathetic consoling strengthening and elevating personality willing and eager to communicate with soul in man. Thus in the final stage of his association with nature he has attained a deep spiritual realization. He feels the presence of an inevitable Devine power in the objects of nature and in the mind of man. This awareness of the Devine spirit in everything that he behold fills his mind with joy of elevated thoughts and a sense sublime. Even the most common place objects of nature seemed to carry to him the intimation of immortality and evoke in him ‘thought that do often lie too deep for tears’.

                Wordsworth being the most thoughtful and philosophical of the poets has, as we cause to knowledge from the poem, sought to detect something that lies deep beneath the objects of external nature. He is capable of attaining though meditation of sublime state of mind transcending the limitation of flash:-
                “That serene and blessed mood”
                In which the affections gently lead us:-
                Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
                And even the motion of our human blood
                Almost suspended, we are laid asleep.

This aesthetic experience in Hindu philosophy is what is called ‘Samadhi’-

                Such highly philosophical perceptions are so poetically rendered that his poetic sensibility is never a suspect. Indeed, Wordsworth has shown in the poem at odds with each other. He has not in his poetry sought to expand any coherent system of philosophy. What he has sought to do is to embody in sublime poetry his purely personal realizations of certain varieties of life and existence. A poet at heart that he is, he has taken care to see that his philosophical formulations are presents in a manner which will not interfere with the essential emotional reality that forms the very soul of the poem.


 Sir Walter Raleigh said that ‘romance’ throws over us the ‘magic of distance’. Ordinary events and experiences, if seen through the glamour of distance of time or circumstances, assume a charm which is defined as romantic. This is exactly what Coleridge has done in Christabel. Though we can not exactly place the events of the poem in any particular century, yet we are not far wrong in associating them with that vaguely defined extent of period known as the middle ages, while planning a new volume of poems (Lyrical Ballad 1798) to be jointly written by Wordsworth and Coleridge, Coleridge undertook to deal with the supernatural. As he himself tells us in “Biographia Literaria” (1817): “It was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for this shadow of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith”. The middle Ages provided Coleridge with themes, setting and atmosphere to which he wished to accomplish.

               "Christabel , a lengthy poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was planned to be written in five parts, but only two parts were completed in 1800. It is a graceful recreation of the medieval world of fantasy, magic and marvel. Here Coleridge does not attach to the supernatural to anything concrete and definite rather by hinting invites the supernatural with the air of suggestion and indefiniteness which not only strikes the readers for its failure, but also it suggests eeriness of a remote horror. Above all, the trick of carry on narrative through questions and answer is very much apt to this purpose.

                A proper supernatural atmosphere is created from the very beginning of the poem. The poem opens at midnight, the time when charms and enchantments are undertaken and ghosts appears and walk about. This midnight hour is accompanied with the mysterious activities of owls, cock and mastiff bitch. They seem to scent the figure of a visitant from the other world. Again it is the time when the spirit of the dead-wife of Baron to visit the castle to guard her daughter from evil spirit.
                “Tis the middle of night by the castle clock,
                And the owls have awakened the crowing cock
                Tu - Whit! Tu - Whoo!”
Thus by the process of slow and attentive elaboration poet makes us psychologically prepared for the appearance of Geraldine.

                In ‘Christabel’ Coleridge’s finer imagination catches the medieval atmosphere of faith, beliefs, superstitions and mystery. A medieval lady went to a forest at midnight to prey for the welfare of her betrothed knight, whom she had dreamed in the yester-night. In the middle Ages people would have the protection of Jesus and Mary and cross themselves when they were face to face with danger. Christabel as we have seen have done everything according to the medieval chivalry to rescue ladies in distress and then to send them to their parents under the care of armed guards. We hear Christabel to assume Geraldine to send her safe and bring to her father’s hall. In the middle ages it was the custom to hang swords, shield and trophies on the walls of the hall.

                The poem also makes reference to the darkness of the medieval period – its witchcraft and ruffians. In the middle ages witches were pernicious beings. They caused their victims to waste and wither away by the power of their diabolical spell. Geraldine exercises such a power under the spell of Christabel’s dead mother in order to keep it off.

                The exercising power and the physical description of Christabel is essentially medieval. The lady is exceedingly beautiful. Her white neck, blue veined unsandal’d feet, her silken robe, her dazzling jewels on her hair makes it clear that she belongs to not the world. Christabel is seized with a fear. Above all, the naked breast of Geraldine suggests something ominous;
                “Behold! Her bossom and half her side-
                A sight to dream of, not to tell!”

                Thus Coleridge in ‘Christabel’ has recreated the very atmosphere and spirit of the Middle Ages with the help of romantic imagination. So the supernatural atmosphere becomes more vivid with the medievalism. The spirit of romance on which the supernaturalism thrives can be best evoked by taking the imagination to the dim, distant part. In Christabel he takes us to the old medieval days and let us see their castle with its moat, gate, tower – clock and bitch, and breathe their religious and superstitious air.


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