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S. T.

Coleridge: Imagination and Fancy



In Chapter XIII of Bigraphia Literaria, Coleridge writes:
The imagination then I consider either as primary, or secondary.
According to Coleridge, Imagination has two forms primary and secondary. !rimary
imagination is merely the power of recei"ing impressions of thee#ternal world thro$gh the
senses, the power of percei"ing the o%&ects of sense, %oth in their parts and as a whole. It is a
spontaneo$s act of the mind the h$man mind recei"es impressions and sensations from the
o$tside world, $nconscio$sly and in"ol$ntarily, imposes some sort of order on those impressions,
red$ces them to shape and si'e, so that the mind is a%le to form a clear image of the o$tside
world. In this way clear and coherent perception %ecomes possi%le.
The primary imagination is $ni"ersal, it is possessed %y all. The secondary imagination may %e
possessed %y others also, %$t it is the pec$liar and typical trait of the artist. It is the secondary
imagination which ma(es artistic creation possi%le. )econdary imagination is more acti"e and
conscio$s it re*$ires an effort of the will, "olition and conscio$s effort. It wor(s $pon its raw
material that are the sensations and impressions s$pplied to it %y the primary imagination. By an
effort of the will and the intellect the secondary imagination selects and orders the raw material
and re+shapes and re+models it into o%&ects of %ea$ty. It is ,esemplastic-, i.e. a shaping and
modifying power. Its ,plastic stress- re+shapes o%&ects of the e#ternal world and steeps them
with a glory and dream that ne"er was on sea and land. It is an acti"e agent which, dissol"es,
diff$ses, dissipates, in order to create.
This secondary imagination is at the root of all poetic acti"ity. It is the power which harmoni'es
and reconciles opposites. Coleridge calls it a magical, synthetic power. This $nifying power is
%est seen in the fact that it synthesi'es or f$ses the "ario$s fac$lties of the so$l . perception,
intellect, will, emotion . and f$ses the internal with the e#ternal, the s$%&ecti"e with the
o%&ecti"e, the h$man mind with e#ternal nat$re, the spirit$al with the physical. Thro$gh this
$nifying power nat$re is colored %y the so$l of the poet, and so$l of the poet is steeped in nat$re.
,The identity- which the poet disco"ers in man and nat$re res$lts from the synthesi'ing acti"ity
of the secondary imagination.
The primary and secondary imaginations do not differ from each other in (ind. The difference
%etween them is one of degree. The secondary imagination is more acti"e, more a res$lt of
"olition, more conscio$s and more "ol$ntary than the primary one. The primary imagination is
$ni"ersal while the secondary is a pec$liar pri"ilege en&oyed %y the artist.
Imagination and fancy, howe"er, differs in (ind. /ancy is not a creati"e power at all. It only
com%ines what is percei"es into %ea$tif$l shapes, %$t li(e the imagination it does not f$se and
$nify. The difference %etween the two is the same as the difference %etween a mechanical
mi#t$re and achemical compo$nd. In a mechanical mi#t$re a n$m%er of ingredients are %ro$ght
together. They are mi#ed $p, %$t they do not lose their indi"id$al properties. In a chemical
compo$nd, the different ingredients com%ine to form something new. The different ingredients
no longer e#ist as separate identities. They lose their respecti"e properties and f$se together to
cerate something new and entirely different. A compo$nd is an act of creation while a mi#t$re is
merely a %ringing together of a n$m%er of separate elements.
Th$s imagination creates new shapes and forms of %ea$ty %y f$sing and $nifying the different
impressions it recei"e from the e#ternal world. /ancy is not creati"e. It is a (ind of memory it
randomly %rings together images, and e"en when %ro$ght together, they contin$e to retain their
separate and indi"id$al properties. They recei"e no coloring or modification from the mind. It is
merely mechanical &$#taposition and not a chemical f$sion. Coleridge e#plains the point %y
*$oting two passages from )ha(espeare0s 1en$s and Adonis. The following lines from this poem
ser"e to ill$strate /ancy:
/$ll gently now she ta(es him %y the hand.
A lily prisoned in a goal of snow
2r i"ory in an ala%aster %and
)o white a friend engirds so white a foe.
In these line images are drawn from memory, %$t they do not interpenetrate into one another. The
following lines from the same poem ill$strate the power and f$nction of Imagination:
Loo(3 4ow a %right star shooteth from the s(y
)o glides he in the night from 1en$s- eye.
/or Coleridge, /ancy is the drapery of poetic geni$s %$t imagination is its "ery so$l which forms
all into one gracef$l and intelligent whole.
Coleridge owed his interest in the st$dy of imagination to 5ordsworth. B$t 5ordsworth was
interested only in the practice of poetry and he considered only the impact of imagination on
poetry Coleridge on the other hand, is interested in the theory of imagination. 4e is the first
critic to st$dy the nat$re of imagination and e#amine its role in creati"e acti"ity. )econdly, while
5ordsworth $ses /ancy and Imagination almost as synonyms, Coleridge is the first critic to
disting$ish %etween them and define their respecti"e roles. Thirdly, 5ordsworth does not
disting$ish %etween primary and secondary imagination. Coleridge-s treatment of the s$%&ect is,
on the whole, characteri'ed %y greater depth, penetration and philosophical s$%tlety. It is his
$ni*$e contri%$tion to literary theory.
Coleridge-s main contri%$tion to literary criticism is his theory of Imagination. In the
Biographia Literaria , he e#plained the terms imagination and fancy. It was 5ordsworth-s
poem 6$ilt and )orrow which made him concl$de that imagination and fancy were two
distinct fac$lties.
According to Coleridge, Imagination has two forms: primary and secondary.
The primary imagination is merely the power of recei"ing impressions of the e#ternal world
thro$gh the senses. It is an in"ol$ntarily act of the mind. The h$man mind recei"es impressions
and sensations from the o$tside world, $nconscio$sly and in"ol$ntarily. It imposes some sort of
order on those impressions, gi"es them shape, so that the mind is a%le to form a clear image of
the o$tside world. It is in this way that clear and coherent perception %ecomes possi%le. The
primary imagination is $ni"ersal and it is possessed %y all.
The secondary imagination may %e possessed %y others also, %$t it is the pec$liar and distincti"e
attri%$te of the artist. It is the secondary imagination, which ma(es artistic creation possi%le.
)econdly imagination is more acti"e and conscio$s in its wor(ing. It re*$ires an effort of the
will, and conscio$s effort.
The secondary imagination wor(s $pon what is percei"ed %y the primary imagination. Its raw
material is the sensation and impressions s$pplied to it %y the primary imagination. By an effort
of the will and the intellect, the secondary imagination selects and orders the raw material and re+
shapes it into o%&ects of %ea$ty.
)econdary imagination is the power, which harmoni'es opposites. It synthesi'es the "ario$s
fac$lties of the so$l+perception, intellect, will, emotion and f$ses the internal with the e#ternal,
the s$%&ecti"e with the o%&ecti"e, the h$man mind with the e#ternal nat$re, the spirit$al with the
physical and material.
The primary and secondary imaginations do not differ from each other in (ind. The difference
%etween them is one of degree. The secondary imagination is more acti"e, more conscio$s and
more "ol$ntary in its wor(ing than the primary one. The primary imagination is $ni"ersal it is
%asic imagination, fo$nd in all h$man %eings, while the secondary imagination is artistic
imagination, it is a special pri"ilege en&oyed %y the artist.
Imagination and fancy differ in (ind. These are acti"ities of two different (inds. Imagination
creates new forms of %ea$ty %y $nifying the different impressions it recei"es from the e#ternal
world. /ancy is not a creati"e power at all. It is a (ind of memory. It %rings together images and
e"en when %ro$ght to gather, they contin$e to retain their indi"id$al properties. /or Coleridge,
/ancy is the drapery of poetic geni$s, %$t Imagination is its "ery so$l, which forms all into one
whole.
The difference %etween imagination and fancy is same as the difference %etween a mi#t$re and a
compo$nd. In mi#t$re, a n$m%er of ingredients are mi#ed $p, %$t they do not lose their
indi"id$al properties. They still e#its as separate items. In a compo$nd, the different ingredients
com%ine to form something new. They lose their respecti"e properties and f$se together to create
something entirely different. )imilarly, where fancy is wor(ing, images lie separate where
imagination is at wor(, images are $sed into one.
Conclusion
Coleridge is the first critic to disting$ish %etween Imagination and /ancy. 4e is the first critic to
st$dy the nat$re of imagination and e#amine its role in creati"e acti"ity. The distinction %etween
imagination and fancy co$ld not %ecome pop$lar, yet Coleridge-s theory is important. It is
important %eca$se he was a poet of great technical refinement, and he $sed his e#perience for his
theori'ing a%o$t poetry.