“What Is Life?” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

It’s the weekend and I kind of wanted to relax, but I also wanted to get a blog post written, so I searched my collection of poems by Coleridge for a short one that wouldn’t take up too much time to read and expound upon. I settled on this one.

Resembles life what once was deem’d light,
Too ample in itself for human sight?
An absolute self—an element ungrounded—
All that we see, all colours of all shade
By encroach of darkness made?
Is very life by consciousness unbounded?
And all the thoughts, pains, joys of mortal breath,
A war-embrace of wrestling life and death?

While this is indeed a short poem, there is a lot of contemplation going on regarding the essence of life. Coleridge appears to be considering that life itself is consciousness, or enlightenment. Our perception and ability to interact with our world is dependent upon our conscious mind. Without consciousness, life would be meaningless.

The most interesting aspect of this poem for me is the tension caused by the use of opposites; for example, light and darkness, pain and joy, life and death.  It is almost a representation of the opposing cosmic forces that hold existence together in balance. Think yin and yang. I myself have learned from experience that life is a constant struggle between opposites; for me it is often logic against emotion, or the spiritual against the material. This struggle is embodied by the archetypal image to which Coleridge alludes at the end of the poem, that of Jacob wrestling with the angel.

JacobAndAngelThe biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel is symbolic of man’s struggle with God. Jacob is essentially struggling to come to terms with the divine aspect of himself. Coleridge appears to be having the same internal struggle, trying to make sense of life’s meaning. Is he just a temporary vessel for “an absolute self,” or is there more to his existence? Is there an even deeper meaning that has yet to be illuminated by human consciousness?

I found this poem oddly comforting. It is good to know that I am not the only person plagued with these questions.

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Filed under Literature, Spiritual

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