Tag Archives: Lake District

“Lines to a Beautiful Spring in a Village” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Apollo and the Muses by Jan van Balen

Apollo and the Muses by Jan van Balen

Once more, sweet stream! with slow foot wand’ring near,
I bless thy milky waters cold and clear.
Escaped the flashing of the noontide hours,
With one fresh garland of Pierian flowers
(Ere from thy zephyr-haunted brink I turn)
My languid hand shall wreath thy mossy urn.
For not thro’ pathless grove with murmur rude
Then soothest the sad wood-nymph, solitude:
Nor thine unseen in cavern depths to well,
The hermit-fountain of some dripping cell!

Pride of the vale! thy useful streams supply
The scattered cots and peaceful hamlet nigh.
The elfin tribe around thy friendly banks
With infant uproar and soul-soothing pranks,
Released from school, their little hearts at rest,
Launch paper navies on thy waveless breast.
The rustic here at eve with pensive look
Whistling lorn ditties leans upon his crook,
Or starting pauses with hope-mingled dread
To list the much-loved maid’s accustom’d tread:
She, vainly mindful of her dame’s command,
Loiters, the long-filled pitcher in her hand.

Unboastful stream! thy fount with pebbled falls
The faded form of past delight recalls,
What time the morning sun of hope arose,
And all was joy; save when another’s woes
A transient gloom upon my soul imprest,
Like passing clouds impictured on thy breast.
Life’s current then ran sparkling to the noon,
Or silvery stole beneath the pensive moon:
Ah! now it works rude brakes and thorns among,
Or o’er the rough rock bursts and foams along!

Upon first reading of this poem, it appears to be a pastoral work extolling the beauty of a stream as it flows through a small village. Having visited the Lake District of England several times, I can envision the scene that Coleridge is describing. But there are several metaphors in here that lead me to believe that the stream in this poem is really a symbol for poetic inspiration, a flowing stream of consciousness that feeds his psyche with images and emotion from which his poetry springs.

The first clue appears in the second line, where he describes the stream’s water as both milky and clear. We have an oxymoron here. I suspect that he uses the image of milkiness to symbolize the nurturing effect that the stream is having upon him. As a young child being fed milk from his mother’s breast, Coleridge is being fed by his muse and nurturing milk is what causes him to develop as a poet. It also brings clarity of vision, especially his inner vision, hence the stream is also described as clear. Just like in “Kubla Khan,” the poet has drunk the milk of Paradise and received divine inspiration.

The next clue to the poem’s symbolism is the reference to Pierian flowers. This is a mythological reference to the Pierian spring which was in Macedonia and was considered sacred to the Muses. The waters from the Pierian spring were believed to provide poetic inspiration (source: English Romantic Writers – David Perkins). Here, Coleridge is establishing a connection between the stream he sees running through the village and the mythological spring which was associated with the Muses.

The rest of the poem is easy enough to interpret. The stream evokes memories of his past, both joyful and painful. He experiences an array of emotions, all of which are inspiration for his poems.

Personally, I really enjoyed this poem, enough to read it twice before drafting this post. Coleridge was truly an inspired individual and a master of crafting words. Cheers!

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“Lines Left Upon a Seat in a Yew-tree” by William Wordsworth

WordsworthThis poem was originally published in the Lyrical Ballads, which is a collaborative collection of works by Wordsworth and Coleridge. When I was younger, I read the Lyrical Ballads several times. Then, on a trip to England, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the Lake District and visit Wordsworth’s cottage. Doing so gave me a deeper appreciation of these works.

For me, I see a lot of mystical symbolism in this poem. First off, the yew tree is a symbol of rebirth and resurrection, which is why it is often found in cemeteries in England. Keep this in mind when reading the poem.

The poem opens with the writer beckoning a Traveller to rest at a yew tree. He describes the effect of the surrounding environment on a person:

Yet, if the wind breathe soft, the curling waves,
That break against the shore, shall lull thy mind
By one soft impulse saved from vacancy.

I get the impression that sitting at the tree and listening to the sounds causes one to enter a state of altered consciousness.

The poem continues with reflections upon some ancient mystical Being who seems to have some connection to the yew tree:

Who he was
That piled these stones and with the mossy sod
First covered, and here taught this aged Tree
With its dark arms to form a circling bower,
I well remember.–He was one who owned
No common soul.

I feel that the person being described here is some form of fertility king, such as described in Frasier’s The Golden Bough. But as the poem continues, it appears that the fertility king had become unfruitful. Hence, a new king is needed in order to continue the cycle of rebirth and regeneration.

Fixing his downcast eye, he many an hour
A morbid pleasure nourished, tracing here
An emblem of his own unfruitful life:

The first part of the poem ends with the death of the fertility king, who left behind the yew as a symbol of his impending resurrection. Now a new king can emerge and take his place upon the bough.

On visionary views would fancy feed,
Till his eye streamed with tears. In this deep vale
He died,–this seat his only monument.

In the second and final section of the poem, the Traveller is encouraged to take his rightful place as the new fertility king. He is warned to avoid feelings of pride and contempt and to focus on the mystery of “Nature’s works.” He is also instructed that:

… true knowledge leads to love;
True dignity abides with him alone
Who, in the silent hour of inward thought,
Can still suspect, and still revere himself
In lowliness of heart.

This poem is more complex than it appears. I encourage you to read this slowly and more than once in order to get the full effect.

Click here to read the poem online, or better yet, visit your local bookstore and buy a copy of the Lyrical Ballads. It’s worth the investment.

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