Coleridge’s Philosophy of Symbolism

  • Raimonda Modiano


Although Coleridge left relatively few statements on the symbol, critics have generally paid special attention to his philosophy of symbolism. Undoubtedly, Coleridge gave the symbol privileged status in his writings, and regarded it not only as a literary trope, superior to allegory, but as an elevated means of attaining self-knowledge and moral values. For Coleridge the symbol made possible the fellowship between the sensible and the super-sensible world, man and nature, the self and other individuals. All this is evident in Coleridge’s often-quoted definition of the symbol in The Statesman’s Manual (SM, p. 30). But I am primarily interested in a different record, composed of several notebook entries that precede The Statesman’s Manual definition and reveal more clearly the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of Coleridge’s emerging conception of symbolism. These entries show that the idea of the symbol grew out of Coleridge’s experience of love and helped him work out personal problems in his relationship with Sara Hutchinson. Moreover, they indicate that nature loses much of its importance for Coleridge the more he links the symbol with increasingly higher goals, such as the unity ofconsciousness and the mind’s quest for an ideal model of perfection in the Absolute. For Coleridge the symbol ultimately requires a free activity of the mind that finds its sustenance in human agents rather than nature.


Natural Object External Object Love Relationship Virtuous Action Ultimate Truth 
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© Raimonda Modiano 1985

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  • Raimonda Modiano

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