“The Eolian Harp” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Photo from Wind Musik

By far, my favorite poetry falls into the category of romanticism, and Coleridge is up there among the best. It had been quite a while since I read The Eolian Harp. I think I was still in college last time I read it. So, I decided to read it again today.

When reading this poem, the first thing you should know is how an Eolian (or Aeolian) harp works. Shown in the picture here, an Aeolian harp is a box with strings that is set on a windowsill, outside, or any place where the wind can reach it. When the wind blows across the strings, it produces sound and the sound varies with the intensity of the wind.

The harp takes on levels of symbolism in the poem. On one level, it represents all living things, with the wind symbolizing God. Essentially, Coleridge is saying that when our spirits are tuned correctly, we reverberate the divine consciousness.

And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?

There is also sexual symbolism associated with the harp. Coleridge compares the harp to a woman, responding to gentle caressing and emanating the sweet music of love.

                            And that simplest Lute,
Placed length-ways in the clasping casement, hark!
How by the desultory breeze caressed,
Like some coy maid half yielding to her lover,
It pours such sweet upbraiding, as must needs

Finally, I see the harp as represnting the subconscious, or the imaginative part of the brain, and the wind being the voice of the poet. Wind is often a metaphor for voice, and the poem suggests that the music from the Eolian harp has the ability to conjure images within a person’s mind, or to transport that person into a mystical realm.

Whilst through my half-closed eyelids I behold
The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the main,
And tranquil muse upon tranquility:
Full many a thought uncalled and undetained,
And many idle flitting phantasies,
Traverse my indolent and passive brain,
As wild and various as the random gales
That swell and flutter on this subject Lute!

This is a beautifully written poem and there is a lot of spiritual symbolism woven in. I encourage you to read through it more than once. In fact, I think I will read it again myself.

Click here to read the poem online.

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One response to ““The Eolian Harp” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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