The Symbolic Imagination: Coleridge and the Romantic Tradition

The Symbolic Imagination: Coleridge and the Romantic Tradition

The Symbolic Imagination: Coleridge and the Romantic Tradition

The Symbolic Imagination: Coleridge and the Romantic Tradition


The original edition of this book studied the nature of symbol in Coleridge's work, showing that it is central to Coleridge's intellectual endeavor in poetry and criticism as well as in philosophy and theology. Symbol was for Coleridge essentially a religious reality, that participates in the nature of a sacrament as an encounter between material and spiritual reality. The author shows how Wordsworth and Coleridge developed a poetry, unlike that of the eighteenth century, based on symbolic imagination. He then related this symbolic poetry to the tradition of romanticism itself Richard Harter Fogle wrote of the original edition: "This is a just, graceful, and penetrating book. Considering the complexity of the material, it is lucid and often eloquent. Father Barth's interpretation of Coleridge's doctrine of symbol is essentially original, as are his illustrative readings from the poems. His substantial essay moves harmoniously from Coleridge's particular insights to their wider implications for romanticism." In this new edition, the author has enlarged the scope of his study, first reviewing in an introductory chapter the important scholarship of the past twenty years on symbol and imagination. He then goes on to give his work a deeper theological foundation, and to extend his argument to embrace what he calls Coleridge's "scriptural imagination." As in the original edition, he concludes that symbol is a phenomenon profoundly linked with the experience of romanticism itself and with a fundamental change in religious sensibility that has echoes even in our own time.



It has been more than twenty years since Princeton University Press published J. Robert Barth's The Symbolic Imagination: Coleridge and the Romantic Tradition. The book, praised by a range of distinguished reviewers with differing critical orientations, has been out of print and difficult to get for some time. Because of its strong emphasis on the religious dimension in Coleridge's aesthetic theory, it seemed appropriate that Fordham University Press consider it as the third volume in its developing Religion and Literature Series. And Barth, a continuing presence in Romantic studies and in the discourse interested in connections between art and religion, was eager to revisit his 1977 volume and, while not altering his basic argument, to develop it more fully and bring it into the notable contemporary dialogue on Coleridge's theory of imagination. Our reviewers agreed that this new and expanded edition fulfilled his expectations.

This volume, then, is a notably fresh and engaging study. Barth's distinction between the eighteenth-century "poetry of reference" and the new Romantic "poetry of encounter," and his strong emphasis on symbol as the agent of encounter that draws us into experience, remain his vital starting-points. And two new chapters, both revealing his continuing reflection, lecturing, and writing on the subjects, explore in even greater depth the theological foundation of Coleridge's idea of symbol and what he calls the scriptural dimension of his imagination. For Barth, the imagination and its symbolic renderings are at the heart of the questing spirit of Romanticism.

What we have here is a "new life" for a superior contribution to Coleridge students and to the rapidly developing field of religious critical discourse.


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