Active and Passive Methods to Imagination

Baurbald’s and Wordsworth’s experiences concerning physical sensation, observation, and poetic vision of nature lead them both to see a divine creative force which upon internalization will as a result, bring out the imagination (as Coleridge defines it, "the supreme poetic quality, a quasi-divine creative force that make the poet a godlike being" ( Although both Baurbald and Wordsworth are able to internalize and bring out their imaginations, Wordsworth achieves this passively through memory, while Barbauld, actively through contemplation.

Although Barbauld actively achieves imagination, she must first observe nature enabling her to see God’s creative power. Barbauld starts her observations when night falls and begins to recognize God’s creative power: "and with radiant finger points / To Yon blue concave swell’d by breath divine, / Where, one by one, the living eyes of heaven / Awake, quick kindling o’er the face of ether / One boundless blaze; ten thousand trembling fires" ("A Summer Evening’s Meditation" 23-27). It is clear in lines 24 and 25 that Baurbald can see God’s creative power in the moon and stars with the use of diction such as, "radiant," "divine," and "heaven." More observations of the evening sky are made to see Gods creative power: "where the unsteady eye / Restless and dazzled, wanders unconfin’d / O’er all this field of glories: spacious field! / And worthy of the master: he, whose hand / With hieroglyphics elder than the Nile, / Inscrib’d the mystic tablet, hung on high / To public gaze and said, adore, O man! / The finger of thy God" ("A Summer Evening’s Meditation" 28-35). Once again Barbauld recognizes the divine creative power in the sky making specific references to the, "master," and "God." By observing the night sky and all of its components (the moon and stars ), Barbauld sees the creative power of God and then proceeds to actively obtain imagination through contemplation.

Upon observing the creative power behind the moon and stars, Barbauld actively begins to contemplate what exactly is the creative power and how to obtain it. Barbauld’s contemplation takes the form of questions concerning her poetic visions of nature: "From what pure wells / Of milky light, what soft o’erflowing urn, / Are all these lamps so fill’d?" ("A Summer Evening’s Meditation" 35-37). By asking questions she is no longer passively watching nature around her but is taking an active role thinking and struggling to understand this divine creative force. This question however, yields no answers. After further thinking she asks another question which does not provide an answer to the first question, but lets her see that the stars have meaning and are not just there for aesthetic value: "How deep the silence, yet how loud the praise! / But are they silent all? Or is there not / A tongue in every star that talks with man, / And wooes him to be wise; nor wooes in vain: / This dead of midnight is the noon of thought, / And wisdom mounts her zenith with the stars" ("A Summer Evening’s Meditation" 47-52). These lines show the progress that Barbauld is making by actively questioning, and in the last line, her realization that this is the time to think.

After actively contemplating nature and making certain realizations, Barbauld is not only able to see God’s creative power, but is able to internalize it. This internalization occurs on line 53: "At this still hour the self-collected soul / Turns inward, and beholds a stranger there / Of high decent, and more than mortal rank / An embryo God; a spark of fire divine" ("A Summer Evening’s Meditation" 53-56). This internalization of God’s divine creative power is a result of the contemplation and active question asking. The internalization of this creative force allows Barbauld to use her imagination or "divine vision."

Barbauld’s imagination enables her to journey through space and the cosmos creatively seeing planets and stars with great detail, which would not be possible without her "quasi-divine creative force." With this new power she has the right to travel through the world created by the original divine creative power. Her creative journey begins with familiar places and objects than rapidly expands outward into space:

be it lawful now

To tread the hallow’d circles of your courts,

And with mute wonder and delighted awe

Approached your burning confines. Seiz’d in though,

On fancy’s wild an roving wing I sail,

From the green borders of the peopled earth,

and the pale moon, her duteous fair attendant;

From solitary Mars; from the vast orb

Of Jupiter, whose huge gigantic bulk

Dances I ether like the lightest leaf;

To the dim verge, the suburbs of the system,

Where cheerless Saturn ‘midst his wat’ry moons

Girt with a lucid zone, in gloomy pomp.

Sits like an exil’d monarch ("A Summer Evening’s Meditation" 68-81)

Barbauld’s journey begins with the earth and moon, then travels far into space where she creatively describes the Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. She has never seen these planets and is not describing what her sense take in, but is using her imagination to create similes, ("like the lightest leaf," and "Sits like an exil’d monarch") and images from within herself.

Although her imagination is capable of creating all these images it does have it’s limits, where the God’s creative power doesn’t appear to, which leads Barbauld to again actively question and contemplate God’s divine creative force. Barbauld realizes this as her creative journey through space comes to an end: "Sons of morning, first born of creation, / And only less than him who marks their track, / And guides their fiery wheels. Here must I stop, / Or is there aught beyond? What hand unseen Impels me onward thro’ the glowing orbs / Of habitable nature" ("A Summer Evening’s Meditation" 87-92). Here Barbauld returns to actively contemplating, asking if there is more than just the divine creative power.

As a result of Barbauld’s thinking she finds that there is in fact more than just the divine creative power and which leads to a series of questions concerning this divine being. These three questions clearly show her active contemplation by their scope and subject: "Where shall I seek thy presence? how unblam’d / Invoke thy dread perfection? / Have the broad eye-lids of the morn beheld thee? / Or does the beamy shoulder of Orion / Support thy throne?" ("A Summer Evening’s Meditation" 101-1? This question is much more complicated than her first questions of, is there more than just the creative power, she is not given an answer, however, by taking an active role through question and contemplation, Barbauld is able to internalized the creative divine power which has let her imagination create images of planets and stars.

Wordsworth, like Barbauld is able to internalize this divine creative power, yet he does in a passive manner through observation and reflection as opposed to the observation and contemplation of Barbauld. The passage of time and memory along with observing nature are the key elements to internalizing the divine for Wordsworth.

He begins his poem by observing nature and the landscape around him after a long passage of time: "Five years have passed; five summers, with the length / Of five long winters! And again I hear / These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs / With a sweet inland murmur.-Once again / Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs" ("Tintern Abbey" 1-5). Here Wordsworth is taking in nature and it revives his memory of the place five years ago which leads to his memory of internalizing the creative power in nature.

This is where Barbauld and Wordsworth vastly differ from each other in terms of internalizing the divine creative power. Wordsworth’s internalization process is through memory which is passive, while Barbauld’s is active through contemplation. With the revival of his memories, Wordsworth explains that even when he is away from nature he is still able to internalize the divine creative power and feel, "sensations sweet," a physical sensation brought on by the memory of nature. Other physical sensations follow with the internalization of the divine creative power: "Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart" ("Tintern Abbey" 29). Finally Wordsworth goes beyond the mere physical internalization: "And passing even into my purer mind / With tranquil restoration:-feelings too / Of unremembered pleasure" ("Tintern Abbey" 30-32). This internalization process is passive, in that Wordsworth is letting God’s divine creating power to internalize in him through his memories, instead of him trying to internalize it by thinking about it. The divine creative power is also evident in nature itself, not only the feelings he gets after internalizing it.

Wordsworth also realizes the divine creating power in nature when comparing his memory of the way he viewed nature as a boy and how he views it as a man. During his childhood he did not view nature as possessing a divine creative power, but rather as just nature and a place:

"For nature then

(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,

and their glad animal movements all gone by,)

To me was all in all.-I cannot paint

What then I was. The sounding cataract

haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,

The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,

Their colours and their forms, were then to me

an appetite: a feeling and a love,

That had no need of a remoter charm,

By thought supplied, or any interest

Unborrowed from the eye" ("Tintern Abbey 73-84).

Wordsworth is saying that nature to him was whatever he saw with his eyes, and he had no need of seeing a deeper meaning. This memory has a quality, "a feeling and love," which he feels as a child but doesn’t feel as a man. Wordsworth feels that he traded that quality as a child for divine creative power in nature which he is able to see and internalize: "I would believe, / Abundant recompence/ For I have learned / To look on nature, not as in the hour / Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes / The till sad music of humanity, / Not harsh nor grating, though of ample power / To chasten and subdue" ("Tintern Abbey" 87-94). Wordsworth goes into detail describing and giving examples of where he sees this divine creative force not through contemplation but simply from observation and memory:

"And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean, and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,

A motion and a spirit that impels

all thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things" ("Tintern Abbey" 94-103).

 These lines are very similar to the lines of Barbauld where she is describing the divine creative force she sees after observing and contemplating the evening sky. Wordsworth too recognizes the creative power and something greater than the creative power which he calls the, "sense sublime." Although both Barbauld and Wordsworth appear to be doing the same process, Wordsworth arrives at this point from his passive observation and memory.

Now that Wordsworth has passively internalized and recognized the divine creative power from nature he is able to create an image of himself from his imagination. He accomplishes this by creating a sense of himself in the landscape: "Of eye and ear, both what they half-create, / and what perceive; well pleased to recognize / In nature and the language of the sense, / The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse, / The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul / Of all my moral being" ("Tintern Abbey 107-112). Although the landscape exists already, Wordsworth contributes to it by placing his "purest thoughts," "heart and soul," and "moral being," within nature. The idea that his imagination creates an image of himself in nature is can also be seen in his memories through his sister. He sees his younger self in his sister and by projecting himself in the landscape his sister will be able to see him when she matures and is able to see what he sees now: "My dear, dear Friend, and in thy voice I catch / The language of my former heart, and read / Of my former pleasures in the shooting lights / Of thy wild eyes" (Tintern Abbey" 116-120). Wordsworth then notes that his sister will see him in the landscape when she gets older: "When thy wild ecstasies shall be matured / Into a sober pleasure, when thy mind / Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms, / Thy memory be a dwelling-place / For all sweet sounds and harmonies; Oh! Then, / If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief, / Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts / Of tender joy wilt thou remember me" ("Tintern Abbey" 139-147). Therefore, by placing his soul in nature he is allowing himself to be created in his sister’s memory when she matures and is able to see the divine creative power in nature herself. This is the end result of Wordsworth’s passive internalization of the divine creative power through memory.

This is the point that Barbauld got to by means of active contemplation. Both Barbauld and Wordsworth arrive at the same state of being able to create using their imaginations, but are not able to see the creative force behind the divine creating power that is evident in nature.

Wordsworth believes that with the passage of time or through death, one might be able to understand the divine creative power: "the affections gently lead us on, / Until the breath of this corporeal frame, / and even the motion of our human blood / Almost suspended, we are laid asleep / In body and become a living soul: / While with an eye made quiet by the power / Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, / We see into the life of things" ("Tintern Abbey" 9-16). Wordsworth is saying that when are bodies die we are no longer restricted and can see the creative force behind life.

Barbauld believes the same, that a passage of time will lead one to a moment (death) in which the force behind God’s creative power will reveal itself. This is evident in the last few lines of Barbauld’s poem: "wait the appointed time / And ripen for the skies: the hour will come / When all these splendours bursting on my sight / Shall stand unveil’d, and to my ravish’d sense / Unlock the glories of the world unknown" ("Tintern Abbey" 118-122). The line, "ripen for the skies," refers to death and one’s ascent to heaven and upon one’s arrival in heaven the divine force will show itself.

Both Barbauld and Wordsworth are searching for the creative power within themselves to create, their imaginations, and the divine force behind the creative power in nature. Although they both are searching for the same things, Barbauld chooses an active role that involves questioning and contemplation, where Wordsworth takes a passive route and tries to find both by observing and memory. Wordsworth and Barbauld are able to access the imagination within them, but are unable to understand the creative power behind the creative force that is evident in nature. Instead they both send a greater message out to everyone that tells people to be content with their lives and to have faith that they will discover the greater power in death. This provides a small level of comfort before death, with the idea of an immortal soul.