Romantic era poets like Coleridge and Wordsworth both relied heavily on nature imagery to convey core themes, and often nature became a theme unto itself. In “To William Wordsworth,” Coleridge writes accolades for his friend using many of the tropes of Romanticism, including the liberal use of nature metaphors to commend Wordsworth’s creativity. The metaphors are mainly encapsulated by the spirit of springtime and the ebbing of energy that seasonal rebirth entails. Elements of nature in “To William Wordsworth” include the tumultuous transition from winter into spring, with its attendant storms, as well as the swelling and ebbing of energy that comes from the act of gestation, procreation, and birth.
In “To William Wordsworth,” Coleridge shows that poetry and the act of creating poetic verse is akin to the mystery of creation itself. Coleridge uses analogies of pregnancy and birth to underscore the parallel between creative writing in poetic format and the act of procreation by human beings. For example, he writes of “momentary stars of my own birth / fair constellated foam…now a tranquil sea, / Outspread and bright, yet swelling to the moon.” The word “swelling” refers not only to the swells of tides in the ocean but also to a mother’s belly as she swells with child. Swelling also refers to the swelling of the creative spirit in the moments prior to the act of generation and creativity in artistic pursuits like poetry.
Moreover, Coleridge compares his relationship to Wordsworth to the natural relationship between a child and its mother in any animal species. Coleridge assumes the role of child, as he looks up to and idolizes his friend’s creativity much as a child admires the mother and depends on the mother for wisdom, teaching, and sustenance. “In silence listening, like a devout child, my soul lay passive, by thy various strain.” Most creatures are born weak and dependent, requiring both silence and passivity to absorb the wisdom passed down from the mother. Coleridge is thus using natural imagery related to procreation for two distinct purposes. The first purpose of birth imagery is to liken creative writing to the creation of all life on Earth. The second purpose of the birth imagery is to connect Wordsworth with the concept of motherhood and portray the poet as a mother figure in the poetic universe. As an influential poet, Wordsworth is hailed as being a generative force whose boundless creativity is an inspiration to Coleridge.
Corresponding with the imagery related to birth and creation, Coleridge also relies heavily on springtime metaphors in “To William Wordsworth.” Springtime is a motif that appears regularly throughout the poem, and because springtime is the season of rebirth, baby animals, and flower buds, it makes sense that Coleridge would connect motherhood and springtime when talking about Wordsworth’s poetry. Coleridge refers to the nature of “vernal growth,” which is akin to the wellspring of creativity flowing from Wordsworth’s pen. During the season of spring, many plants and animals experience a revitalization after the many months of winter meant their energy had been stagnant. The ice and snow of winter begin to thaw and melt, revealing currents of impassioned thought. As the ice and snow of winter thaws, rivers swell as do waterfalls. These new streams of water are metaphors for new streams of ideas in a poet’s mind. Streams of new water in springtime are the “tides obedient to external force,” which is of a spiritual nature.
The aquatic imagery is also linked to ebbing and flowing of creative inspiration. The “currents self-determined” reveals the collaboration between nature and humanity. A poet like Wordsworth receives “currents” of inspiration from nature and the spiritual world, but uses self-determination and free will to transform raw energy into creative output. It is this harnessing of the forces of nature that Coleridge admires in his friend, as Coleridge claims his friend is almost godlike in his “Genius” ability to generate such remarkable and “ever-enduring” verse. Once the poet participates in the act of creativity, he becomes immortal and thus transcendent: “both in power and act, / Are permanent, and Time is not with them.” Poetry transcends death and time.
Natural imagery also allows for the comparison of poetry to the sheer beauty found in nature. For Coleridge, Wordsworth’s poems are no less spectacular than gorgeous vistas and scenic landscapes: “Industrious in its joy, in vales and glens / Native or outland, lakes and famous hills!”…