Romanticism and Transcendence: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Religious Imagination
by J. Robert Barth
University of Missouri Press, 2003
eISBN: 978-0-8262-6291-2 | Cloth: 978-0-8262-1453-9
Library of Congress Classification PR5892.R4B37 2003
Dewey Decimal Classification 821.709382


Grounded in the thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Romanticism and Transcendence explores the religious dimensions of imagination in the Romantic tradition, both theoretically and in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge. J. Robert Barth suggests that we may look to Coleridge for the theoretical grounding of the view of religious imagination proposed in this book, but that it is in Wordsworth above all that we see this imagination at work.

Barth first argues that the Romantic imagination—with its profound symbolic import—of its very nature has religious implications, and notes parallels between Coleridge’s view of the imagination and that of Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. He then turns to the role of religious experience in Wordsworth, using The Prelude as a privileged source. Next, after comparing the conception of humanity and God in Wordsworth and Coleridge, Barth considers the role of religious experience and imagery in two of Coleridge’s central poetic texts, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel. Finally, Barth examines the continuing role of the Romantic idea of the religious imagination today, in literature and all the arts, linking it with the thought of theologian Karl Rahner and literary critic George Steiner.

Romanticism and Transcendence brings together literary theory, poetry, and religious experience, areas that are interrelated but are often not seen in relationship. By exploring levels of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s poetry that are often ignored, Barth provides insight into how and why the imagination was so important to their work. He also demonstrates how rich with religious value and meaning poetry and the arts can be.

The interdisciplinary nature of this important new study will make it useful not only to Wordsworth and Coleridge scholars and other Romantic specialists, but also to anyone concerned with the intellectual history of the nineteenth century and to theologians in general.

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