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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: August 2010

3 - The ‘in-visible’ abstract: Stevens' idealism from Coleridge to Merleau-Ponty



I still have had

Thy after-sojourn in the self-same place

Present before my eyes, have played with times

(I speak of private business of the thought)

And accidents as children do with cards,

Or as a man, who, when his house is built,

A frame locked up in wood and stone, doth still

In impotence of mind by his fireside

Rebuild it to his liking. I have thought

Of thee, thy learning, gorgeous eloquence,

And all the strength and plumage of thy youth,

Thy subtle speculations, toils abstruse

Among the schoolmen, and Platonic forms

Of wild ideal pageantry, shaped out

From things well-matched, or ill, and words for things –

The self-created sustenance of a mind

Debarred from Nature's living images,

Compelled to be a life unto itself,

And unrelentingly possessed by thirst

Of greatness, love, and beauty.

In The Prelude Wordsworth expresses doubts about Coleridge's idealist imagination. Wordsworth observes his friend has introspected to the extent that the ‘actual world’, as Stevens calls it, no longer influences Coleridge's imagination. Coleridge lives on the ‘self-created sustenance of a mind / Debarred from Nature's living images, / Compelled to be a life unto itself’. But in charging Coleridge with relinquishing his talent to ‘Platonic forms of wild ideal pageantry’ Wordsworth checks his own tendency toward conceiving Coleridge's life in the abstract.

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Levin, Jonathan, The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism and American Literary Modernism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999)
Guardia, David M., Advance on Chaos: The Sanctifying Imagination of Wallace Stevens (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1983)
Ragg, Edward, ‘Pragmatic Abstraction v. Metaphor: Stevens’ “The Pure Good of Theory” and Macbeth' WSJ 30.1 (2006), 25