The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, John Martin (1789–1854)

Wordsworth and Coleridge: Romanticism and the Radical Imagination

Instructor: Rebecca Ariel Porte
Stonefruit Espresso + Kitchen
1058 Bedford Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11205

Romanticism arrived in England towards the end of the French Revolution in the form of a strange, anonymously published volume of poetry called Lyrical Ballads (1798). This book ushered in an ambitious, new mode of poetic writing inspired by the same ideals, imbroglios, and follies of Enlightenment philosophy that spurred the architects of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Though it would take some time for the veil of anonymity surrounding Lyrical Ballads to dissolve, this co-authored book also announced the intense and not always harmonious intellectual collaboration of its creators, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge—both fervent adherents of the Revolution in their youth, both of whom, in different ways, would vociferously renounce that early passion after the bloodshed and hypocrisies of the Terror. Grounded in a mixture of forbidding archaisms and vulgar vernaculars (rather than in the artful, high-flown language that had characterized much of eighteenth-century poetry), Lyrical Ballads was an explicitly experimental project—and an explicitly radical one—that engineered new and often irregular forms to suit its explorations of rural life, poverty, the natural, the “supernatural,” and modes of imagination, political and otherwise.

Beginning with this landmark text and traveling through extracts of Wordsworth’s Prelude, Coleridge’s Biographia Litteraria, and occasional poems by both figures, this course will trace the complicated relationship between these poets—with special attention to the formal and political transformations that suffuse their work—and introduce students to crucial questions in the study of Romantic literature: In what ways does the radical imagination of Romanticism form and deform itself out of the upheavals of the French Revolution? What, moreover, does it mean to talk about the politics of Romantic poetry? What can reading Wordsworth and Coleridge in tandem teach us about Romanticism’s philosophical constructions of solitude and sociality, nature and aesthetics? How and why did these poets resist or revise Enlightenment ideals of reason? And how should we understand the phenomenon we call Romanticism in all its contradictions?

In addition to poetry and prose by Wordsworth and Coleridge, the course will feature supplemental materials in the form of contemporary literary criticism and intellectual contexts from the period, including works by Berkeley, Burke, Kant, Rousseau, and Wollstonecraft.

Course Schedule

Sunday, 6:30-9:30pm
March 05 — March 26, 2017
4 weeks


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