Coleridge's Poems

Coleridge's Poems The "Willing Suspension of Disbelief"

Besides being a supreme poet in his own right, Coleridge is also well-known for ushering in the Romantic age of poetry in England. Along with his friend William Wordsworth, Coleridge wrote and published Lyrical Ballads, a work that not only contained many of the two poets' poetic works, but also included essays on the nature and craft of poetry. When creating or reading poetry, Coleridge called for "That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith." By this he meant that the reader will accept the poem on its own terms, temporarily giving over to the author's vision of the world long enough to appreciate the work.

A fine example of this is Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", in which the reader (along with the targeted Wedding Guest of the poem) must accept the Ancient Mariner's tale at face value and assume the old man is telling the truth about his experiences. Coleridge builds this "willing suspension of disbelief" by beginning the Mariner's tale in familiar territory--a ship exploring the frozen wastes of the ocean--and slowly but inexorably drawing the reader into the Mariner's more supernatural encounters.

"Christabel" follows the same pattern, beginning with the allegedly violated woman being rescued by the title character, but eventually giving way to the so-called victim's malignant supernatural identity. A similar "suspension of disbelief" occurs in modern literary genres such as "magical realism" and horror, where the supernatural or unbelievable elements are framed in mundane terms and possess their own internal logic.