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Memory and Imagination in Wordsworth and Coleridge

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth

Imagination and Memory

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).


Quiet Contemplation

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.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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.

"Tintern Abbey with Elegant Figures" by Samuel Colman

"Tintern Abbey with Elegant Figures" by Samuel Colman

Sharing Beauty

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 their hearts even in difficult times. “Tintern Abbey” and “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” reflect the poets’ inner musings about experiencing 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.

Works Cited

  • 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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


AJ Long from Pennsylvania on May 08, 2014:

I enjoy the works of both poets and appreciate their Romantic perspective of life and writing poetry! Your analysis presents an interesting viewpoint! Thanks Painted Seahorse!

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on March 11, 2012:

Thanks for the kind words, Mbuso. I love it when poetry and literature can influence the way we see the world. That's what it's for, I suppose!

Mbuso Mabuza on March 08, 2012:

a very good interpretation of coleridge's poem, i myself have been made to view the world differently

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on May 29, 2011:

Thanks, Michael! They were some of my favorite poets we studied in school.

MichaelStonehill on May 28, 2011:

A clear presentation of the role of imagination and memory in the creation of Romantic poetry. Well written!

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on February 22, 2011:

Thanks, Genna! I guess I'm proud to be an English major.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on February 22, 2011:

Excellent hub...I wish more writers on the hub would make these wonderful observations and contributions.