Tag Archives: ode

“Dejection: An Ode” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge

I had not read this poem since college and reading it this time I confess that I was completely blown away. Not only is the imagery and symbolism so powerful, but the language and musical cadence is nothing short of exhilarating. I feel like I have just come off an emotional rollercoaster after finishing this.

It is a fairly long poem, so I am not going to include all of the text in this post, but for those who need, here is a link to an online version.

Poetry Foundation

The poem is comprised of eight stanzas and I will look at each stanza separately. In addition to the eight stanzas, the poem is prefaced with a quote from the “Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence.”

Stanza I

In Stanza I, the emphasis is on dreams and inspiration. Coleridge is awake at night and his mind is wandering, thoughts drifting through and playing upon his mind like the wind upon the Aeolian lute. But he has a sense of foreboding; that a storm is coming.

 For lo! the New-moon winter-bright!
And overspread with phantom light,
(With swimming phantom light o’erspread
But rimmed and circled by a silver thread)
I see the old Moon in her lap, foretelling
The coming-on of rain and squally blast.
And oh! that even now the gust were swelling,
And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!

There is some very interesting imagery here, particularly the New-moon shining brightly. The New Moon does not shine; it is dark. So we get a sense that he is slipping into the realm of the unseen, a place of “phantom light.” I see this as symbolic of his inner self, the part of him that is not visible to the world.

Stanza II

In the second stanza, Coleridge expresses emotional grief. His pain runs deep and is preventing him from being able to express himself artistically.

A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,
A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
In word, or sigh, or tear—

He gives himself over to silent contemplation, observing the space around him. There is a strong emphasis on vision in this stanza. His attention is focused on the sensory as opposed to the emotional.

I see them all so excellently fair,
I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!

Stanza III

Here Coleridge has a realization that the symbols and forms that populate the world around him are inadequate metaphors for what is inside him. It seems that he has been relying upon images from Nature to express his spiritual being.

I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.

Stanza IV

As the realization sets in, Coleridge expounds upon the idea of inspiration and enlightenment coming from within, and not from without.

O Lady! we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does Nature live:
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud!
And would we aught behold, of higher worth,
Than that inanimate cold world allowed

Artistic inspiration and spiritual enlightenment, which would have been similar in Coleridge’s view, is not bestowed upon us from Nature, but exist within us as the spark of divinity. Nature is but a reflection of the divine essence within us. It is the outward manifestation of the godlike soul that resides in our mortal shell.

Stanza V

In this stanza, Coleridge experiences a moment of spiritual rapture. He realizes that art and poetry is within him, and that poetry is the pure expression of his soul. This triggers a feeling of ecstasy. He realizes that by becoming pure of heart, he is able to connect with the muse that resides within himself, thereby becoming one with his creative side in a moment of sheer bliss.

O pure of heart! thou need’st not ask of me
What this strong music in the soul may be!
What, and wherein it doth exist,
This light, this glory, this fair luminous mist,
This beautiful and beauty-making power.
Joy, virtuous Lady! Joy that ne’er was given,

Stanza VI

Here Coleridge reflects back upon how he used to draw his inspiration from suffering.

There was a time when, though my path was rough,
This joy within me dallied with distress,
And all misfortunes were but as the stuff
Whence Fancy made me dreams of happiness:

He then elaborates how his physical illness has demonstrated that suffering is the wrong path to take in the pursuit of artistic inspiration. Coleridge commits to explore the pathway of joy instead. He affirms that one must seek to connect with one’s inner joy in order to truly become artistically inspired.

Stanza VII

This was my favorite stanza. Here we see the darker phantoms of the mind resurge. Coleridge experiences an inner struggle between the light and the darkness. As the conflicting emotions clash within, it seems like he is grappling with his sanity.

Hence, viper thoughts, that coil around my mind,
Reality’s dark dream!
I turn from you, and listen to the wind,
Which long has raved unnoticed. What a scream
Of agony by torture lengthened out
That lute sent forth! Thou Wind, that rav’st without,
Bare crag, or mountain-tairn, or blasted tree,
Or pine-grove whither woodman never clomb,
Or lonely house, long held the witches’ home,
Methinks were fitter instruments for thee,
Mad Lutanist! who in this month of showers,
Of dark-brown gardens, and of peeping flowers,
Mak’st Devils’ yule, with worse than wintry song,
The blossoms, buds, and timorous leaves among.

Stanza VIII

In the final stanza, we have an expression of resignation.

‘Tis midnight, but small thoughts have I of sleep:
Full seldom may my friend such vigils keep!
Visit her, gentle Sleep! with wings of healing,
And may this storm be but a mountain-birth,
May all the stars hang bright above her dwelling,
Silent as though they watched the sleeping Earth!

It is now midnight, a transitional time. Coleridge comes to a point of acceptance that although his muse sleeps, he will be kept awake by the storm of thoughts within his mind. But during this period, his muse will rest, and when she awakens, she will be refreshed and will bestow upon him new inspiration. And this inspiration will flow from within himself into the world around him, not the opposite way. Henceforth, his poetry will be an expression of the divine soul within.

I have always loved Coleridge’s poetry, but I guess I never gave this poem the consideration it deserves. I now feel that it is one of his finest works and I am certain that I will be reading it again. I never tire of great poetry and this is without a doubt great poetry.

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“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

KeatsNightingale“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats is a pretty dark poem, in my opinion. Keats seems to express a longing to escape reality, either through drugs, death, or poetry. Reality is nothing but suffering and he wants nothing more than to leave the real world and lose himself forever in fantasy and imagination.

The poem opens with Keats expressing pain and his desire to numb himself to everything around him.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

He continues to portray a depressing view of life, which fuels his desire to escape. He wants to become like the nightingale, hidden from the harsh light of reality and existing only in forests of darkness, singing (or creating poetry) in a realm removed from life’s suffering.

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
         What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                        And leaden-eyed despairs,
         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

At the end of the poem, Keats realizes that he cannot escape reality. He discovers that the realm of imagination created through his poetry is nothing but a lie. His words, rather than transporting him to another place, only bring him jarringly back to reality like the tolling of a bell.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
         As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
When I studied English Romanticism in college, I appreciated Keats, but he was not my favorite by any stretch. I confess, though, that I find myself enjoying his works more now. Maybe my head is in a different place. Anyway, if you want to read the poem online, click here.

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Ode to the West Wind: The Most Pretentious Poem Ever

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Let me start by saying that I love the English Romantic poets and I also really like Shelley’s works. That said, I’d be lying if I failed to confess that I find “Ode to the West Wind” to be the most pretentious poem I have ever read.

Before I slam this poem, let me state what I like about this poem. I think the concept of the poem is great. Essentially, Shelley is expressing the importance of suffering and experiencing life as a way to draw inspiration in the creation of poetry. I get that and I am in complete agreement. So the main idea is fine, it’s the language that Shelley uses that I have an issue with.

The first three sections of the poem end with the phrase “O hear!” I understand that he is using this as a refrain and a way to encourage people to listen to the poetic muse, but it just makes me cringe. It seems pompous to me, almost like he’s preaching from upon a dais to those uneducated folk who don’t quite understand the transcendent power of poetry. How different the tone would be if he had quietly encouraged readers to “Listen” instead.

The fourth section contains a line that for me is the epitome pretentious poetry:  “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” I am so glad that this was not the first poem I read, because if it was, I don’t think I would have ever read poetry again. I would venture to assert that this line could ruin anyone’s interest in poetry.

The fifth and final section begins with the following stanza:

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

While I like this final section the best, I am also annoyed by the fact that Shelley seems to be borrowing ideas from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, specifically from the poem “The Eolian Harp.” (Click here to read my review of that poem.) Not only did Coleridge employ the metaphor first, he did it much better, in my opinion.

It’s a shame that this poem seems to be a part of every English class that covers the Romantic period, because Shelley wrote much better poems. In fact, “Ozymandias” is one of my all-time favorites. (Click here to read my review of “Ozymandias.”) Still, I guess it does kind of sum up the ideologies that influenced the writers of that period.

Click here to read “Ode to the West Wind” online.

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“Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats

GrecianUrnAs an English major in college, I was very interested in the Romantic writers. I had read Keats before, but studying his works gave me a deeper appreciation of his skill as a poet. It had been a while since I read Keats, so I figured I would read one of his more well-known poems today, “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” (Click here to read the poem online.)

The first thing that one should notice about this poem is the title. It is an ode on and not an ode to a Grecian urn. Keats is not writing a poem dedicated to the urn; he is writing about the poetic beauty that he sees within the imagery on the urn. The ode is comprised of the pictures that decorate the vase.

Keats claims that the urn expresses “A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme.” It appears that he feels words and poetry are less evocative than the silent visual impressions. While words and cadence of poetry can certainly stir emotions, Keats feels that visual imagery can do so much more effectively.

The following lines are possibly my favorite in the poem:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
 Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
 Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:

There are two ways to interpret these lines. First, one could say that the unheard music is simply the lost songs of the ancients, which appear more desirous because we can never actually hear them. But I see a second interpretation, one that I feel is what Keats was actually getting at, which is that the divine, or what Keats calls Beauty later in the poem, cannot be expressed verbally, but can only be experienced by visual impressions projected upon one’s psyche. The music without sound is the symphony of images dancing within his consciousness.

I know that not everyone appreciates poetry, but this poem is so good it deserves to be read at least once. Personally, I am seriously considering dusting off my old school books and revisiting more of Keats’ works. It’s amazing how my reading list keeps growing!

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