excerpts from Biographia Literaria

from CHAPTER 14

"Doubtless," as Sir John Davies observes of the soul (and his words may with slight alteration be applied, and even more appropriately to the poetic IMAGINATION.)

Doubtless this could not be, but that she turns
Bodies to spirit by sublimation strange,
As fire converts to fire the things it burns,
As we our food into our nature change.

From their gross matter she abstracts their forms,
And draws a kind of quintessence from things;
Which to her proper nature she transforms
To bear them light on her celestial wings.

Thus does she, when from individual states
She doth abstract the universal kinds;
Which then re-clothed in divers names and fates
Steal access through our senses to our minds.

NOTES: The soul is equated to the poetic imagination in this poem. Ascribing the poem to the latter, the first stanza deals with how imagination gives life to the body. It transforms a mere body to a spirit. Percy Shelley in his A Defence of Poetry later echoes the idea that the spirit is superior to the body. What the imagination consumes it makes a part of itself, "as fire converts to fire the things it burns," and as the food we eat become part of us. The second stanza discusses how the imagination takes material from the earthly realm and idealizes them so that they can transform into "proper nature," which goes back to Coleridge's idea of " the truth of nature" and the purpose of poetry. Finally, the third stanza is also a return to another of the cardinal points of poetry, which is to let imagination offer us new and interesting ways of looking at something we are already familiar with. Sensual pleasures are transformed into cerebral ones.