Samuel Taylor Coleridge ‘s Definition of Primary imagination, Secondary Imagination, Willing suspension of disbelief, Organic wholeness of a poem and Fancy


Samuel Taylor  Coleridge  on a trip the European continent lost his early sympathy with political radicalism and became interested in German philosophy, especially the 18th-century idealism of Immanuel Kant and the 17th-century mystical writings of Jakob Boehme, and in the literary criticism of the 18th-century dramatist G. E. Lessing. These studies made Coleridge the most influential English interpreter of German romanticism.  Coleridge returned to England in 1806. Between 1808 and 1819 he gave his famous series of lectures on literature and philosophy; the lectures on Shakespeare were partly responsible for a renewed interest in the playwright. Endowed with an intellect of the first order, and an imagination at once delicate and splendid, Coleridge planned to compose  various epic poems, and a complete system of philosophy, in which all knowledge was to be co-ordinated. However, he fell far sort of his target. He has, however, left enough poetry of such excellence as to place him in the first rank of English poets, and enough philosophic, critical, and theological matter to constitute him one of the principal intellectually formative forces of his time. His knowledge of philosophy, science, theology, and literature was alike wide and deep, and his powers of conversation, or rather monologue, were almost unique.

Major Critical works: The evolution of fundamentally new critical principles in literature is the main achievement of Coleridge's Biographia literaria (1817). Coleridge also wrote a large amount of practical criticism, much of which helped to elevate the reputations of Renaissance dramatists and poets neglected in the 18th century. 

Biographia Literaria,  Lectures on Shakespeare

Samuel Taylor  Coleridge
According to Coleridge, Imagination has two forms primary and secondary.
In the 13th chapter of Biographia Literaria,  Coleridge talks of fancy and imagination.

Primary imagination: It is merely the power of receiving impressions of the external world through the senses, it perceives objects both in their parts and as a whole. It is an involuntary act of the mind: the human mind receives impressions and sensations from the outside world unconsciously and involuntarily it imposes some sort of order on those impressions, reduces them to shape and size, so that the mind is able to form a clear image of the outside world. It is in this way that clear and coherent perception becomes possible.

Secondary Imagination: The primary imagination is universal and is possessed by all. The Secondary imagination makes artistic creation possible. It requires an effort of the will and conscious effort. It works upon what is perceived by the primary imagination: its raw material is the sensations and impressions supplied to it by the primary imagination. It selects and orders the raw material, and reshapes and remodels it into objects of beauty. It is ‘ensemplastic’ and it ‘dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to create’. The Secondary Imagination is at the root of all poetic activity. It is the power which harmonizes and reconciles opposites, and Coleridge calls it a magical synthetic power. It fuses the various faculties of the soul-the subjective with the objective, the human mind with external nature, the spiritual with the physical or material.

The primary and secondary imaginations do not differ from each other in kind. The difference is only of degree. The SI is more active, more as a result of volition, more conscious and more voluntary than the primary one.

Fancy: Imagination and fancy differ in kind. Fancy is not a creative power at all, but is a mechanical process which receives the elementary images  which come to it ready made, and without altering these, fancy reassembles them  into a different order from that in which it was received. It only combines what it perceives into beautiful shapes, but does not fuse and unify. It is a kind of memory that arbitrarily brings together images, and even when brought together, these images continue to retain their separate and individual properties. They receive no colouring and or modification from the mind.

Willing suspension of disbelief: During the perusal of a poem or the witnessing of a play, there is neither belief nor disbelief, but a mere suspension of disbelief.

Organic wholeness of a poem: Coleridge established that the poem is an organic whole, and that its form is determined by its content and is essential to that content. Thus metre and rhyme are not merely ‘pleasure super-added’, not something superfluous which can be dispensed with, not mere decoration, but essential to that pleasure which is true poetic pleasure.



  1. sir, which book would you suggest for ugc(net) preparation.

  2. Elvira, Sorry I cant recommend books for you. I would rather provide you a specific guide @

  3. sir,is there any other objective questions to read on s t coleridge's B.literaria

  4. You giving Very good meaning of definition


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