A&O QUOTE – willing suspension of disbelief



Samuel Taylor Coleridge; portrait by James Northcote, 1804

Samuel Taylor Coleridge




That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.

Coleridge 1817.





































Samuel T. Coleridge (1772-1834), British poet and literary critic, wrote in Chapter XIV of his autobiography, Biographia Literaria, the following passage:

“In this idea originated the plan of the “Lyrical Ballads”; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. Mr. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.”

When the reader/viewer becomes involved in the artist’s work and, even though s/he knows that none of the events or person recorded in the story can actually occur, s/he “lets it happen” and can thereby enjoy a stronger bond with the mind of the artist.


 (Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1817. Biographia Literaria ch. 14  p314 in Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. by H.J. Jackson, Oxford, 1985)  







































This resonates with Thoreau’s observation that “It is only necessary to behold the least fact or phenomenon, however familiar, from a point a hair’s breadth aside from our habitual path or routine, to be overcome, enchanted by its beauty and significance … To perceive freshly, with fresh senses is to be inspired.” (Journal Dec 11, 1855 8:44)


 The “lethargy of custom” is a lovely term … A&O students: we will look at the neuroscience of “automatization” and habit formation–and how deautomatize.

AND, consider Alfred North Whitehead’s comment on the error of cultivating at least one habit: that of thinking of what we are doing: “The precise opposite is the case,” he said, “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”   



A&O notes on POETIC LICENSE and

A&O notes on TRUTH and BEAUTY