Tag Archives: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“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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“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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“The Albatross” by Charles Baudelaire

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Often, for pastime, mariners will ensnare
The albatross, that vast sea-bird who sweeps
On high companionable pinion where
Their vessel glides upon the bitter deeps.

Torn from his native space, this captive king
Flounders on the deck in stricken pride,
And pitiably lets his great white wing
Drag like a heavy paddle at his side.

This rider of winds, how awkward he is, and weak!
How droll he seems, who lately was all grace!
A sailor pokes a pipestem into his beak;
Another, hobbling, mocks his trammeled pace.

The Poet is like this monarch of the clouds,
Familiar with storms, of stars, and of all high things;
Exiled on earth amidst its hooting crowds,
He cannot walk, borne down by his giant wings.

(Translation by Richard Wilbur)

When I started reading this poem, I was expecting allusions to Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Instead, I was thrust in front of a mirror and forced to see myself reflected in Baudelaire’s words.

I confess—I’m a bit of a dork, I’m introverted, and I can be socially awkward. I am certainly more interested in lofty ideas than in team sports or what Kim Kardashian is doing. As a result, I have frequently felt like an outsider, like the albatross flopping on the deck. As a kid, I was subjected to taunting and humiliation. Thankfully, over the years, I have learned to be OK with who I am and not try to play a role just to fit in socially. Also, being a dork is kind of cool now. Strange how paradigms change.

Like the Poet Baudelaire, I revel in the clouds of my thoughts and imagination; I am familiar with the storms of my passions and emotions; I reach for the stars; and I long for high things such as wisdom, knowledge, and spiritual growth. This poem lets me know that I am not alone, that there are others, like me, who share my passions and interests. I know I’m not the only albatross out there.

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“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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Ice Symbolism in Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Image from Princeton.edu

Image from Princeton.edu

This is my 200th blog post, so I wanted to do something worthy of the milestone. I decided to re-read and write about “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of my favorite poems. The poem is long and rich in symbolism, and I could easily write a dissertation on this one poem. But for brevity’s sake, I will focus on one aspect: the metaphor of ice.

I feel that ice is a key metaphor in this poem, especially since it figures prominently in the title. Rime is defined as “an accumulation of granular ice tufts on the windward sides of exposed objects that is formed from supercooled fog or cloud and built out directly against the wind.” So what make rime so unique is that it is the metamorphosis of gas to solid, bypassing the liquid state. Essentially, this would be symbolic of the transformation of spirit to flesh or matter.

Ice makes it first appearance in the poem at line 51:

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It crack’d and growl’d, and roar’d and howl’d,
Like noises in a swound!

The ice here seems both beautiful and frightening. The crystal structures create a stunning landscape, but also represent a dangerous place. Below the surface, hidden ice waits to tear into the hulls of ships. I see the ship as a metaphor for the journey into unknown regions. The land of ice represents the realm of imagination. I therefore interpret this passage as the mariner’s voyage into the mystic, a wondrous place where the images of the world are reflected and fractured. But a mariner must remain safe within his vessel, otherwise he becomes lost in the labyrinth of ice and cannot return to the realm of reality.

It is while in the land of ice and snow that the albatross appears, guiding the ship through the mists and clouds. I see the albatross as a spirit guide whose purpose is to lead souls safely through the mystical realms of imagination, ensuring they do not get lost. But the mariner, for no apparent reason, kills the albatross. He shows no emotion and has no remorse. Essentially, his soul has been iced over and his heart is frozen. It is a cold and senseless act that displays a complete disregard for all things divine and holy. This begins the ship’s descent into horror and the darker realms of the imagination.

It is only after the mariner begins to feel a sense of remorse that the ship begins to move again and the divine beings return to guide the ship safely to port. The rime that coated the mariner’s heart is melted away when he realizes that his actions have consequence and that all living things, instilled with the divine spirit, are deserving of love and reverence. He reiterates this belief toward the end of the poem.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.’

I’ve often wondered why the mariner chose to recount his tale to the wedding guest. After this reading, I’ve come to believe that it is because the wedding guest is displaying the same coldness of heart that was in the mariner. The mariner sees this and chooses the guest. Likewise, the guest recognizes the mariner’s past iciness resides within himself, which adds to the fear that he feels as the mariner unfolds his tale.

Lastly, the mariner knows that unless he relives his experience through the retelling of his tale, he is at risk of returning to his cold, unfeeling state. The rime over one’s heart and soul forms quickly and silently. It is only by exposing the darker regions of one’s memory to the light that one can prevent the icing over of emotion.

I have only scratched the surface of this poem. There are so many images and metaphors which one could explore, it would be easy to write an entire book about this one poem. I encourage you read it, and if you have read it before, read it again. I have no doubt that you will discover things that you missed in your previous readings.

Click here to read the poem online, or better yet, go to a local bookstore and buy a copy of Lyrical Ballads. It’s worth the money and you’ll be supporting your local bookseller.

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“To the Poet Coleridge” by Mary Robinson

MaryRobinsonYesterday and read and wrote about a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who is one of my favorite poets. This morning, I was debating whether to continue reading a novel I started or read a poem. I opted for a poem and scanned the table of contents in my collection of English Romantic Writers, looking for something which would be completely new for me. A poem by Mary Robinson caught my eye because it was addressed to Coleridge. I had never read anything by Robinson, in fact, I had not even heard of her before, so I decided to read the poem. (Click here to read the poem online.)

I love this poem! It works for me on many levels. First off, it’s very well written. Nothing here seems forced. The cadence of the poem is very musical and the words flow effortlessly. It seems more like an inspired outpouring of the soul than a constructed piece of writing.

Robinson praises Coleridge, particularly for his ability to inspire her as a poet, which to me is the ultimate praise. As a writer and musician, nothing fills me with humble joy quite like having someone tell me that what I’ve written or some music I’ve performed has sparked their artistic creativity. Robinson acknowledges that Coleridge’s words have provided her with visions and divine inspiration, the source of all meaningful artistic expression.

Genius of Heaven-taught poesy!
While, opening to my wondering eyes,
Thou bidst a new creation rise,
I’ll raptured trace the circling bounds
Of thy rich Paradise extended,
And listen to the varying sounds
Of winds, and foaming torrents blended.

I have to say that I feel inspired after reading Robinson’s poem today. She reminds me of why we read, why we listen to music, why we spend time gazing into the depths of a painting, and most importantly, why we create art.

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“Sonnet to the River Otter” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

ColeridgeI woke this morning and felt like reading from my college tome: English Romantic Writers. I opted for Coleridge, but didn’t want to read anything long and dense, so I scanned his section and discovered this poem, which is his earliest work included in the book and one I had not read before. I’ll include the text here, since it is short.

Dear native Brook! wild Streamlet of the West!
How many various-fated years have past,
What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimm’d the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! yet so deep imprest
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray,
But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that vein’d with various dyes
Gleam’d through thy bright transparence! On my way,
Visions of Childhood! oft have ye beguil’d
Lone manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs:
Ah! that once more I were a careless Child!

The river otter referred to in the title is clearly Coleridge as a child: playful, imaginative, and carefree. As an adult, he has returned to the place where he played as a child and being in that place causes a flood of vivid memories. But it is not just the memory of childhood events that he experiences, he becomes filled with the emotions he felt as a child, the boundless wonder and deep pleasure found in the simplest of things, like skimming a stone.

I see the brook as a symbol of Coleridge’s memory. When he writes “But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,” he is talking about his memories rising to the surface. The tints are the emotions attached to these memories. The emotions associated with his childhood experiences are what add color to his memories. But the stream is also a symbol for life, ever changing and flowing onward. He has drifted forward and left the realm of childhood behind.

The poem ends with Coleridge longing for his childhood, to be free of the cares associated with being an adult. But I sense there is more here than just a longing to be carefree again. I think that what Coleridge is really aching to recapture is the imaginative spirit he possessed as a child. The divine power of the imagination was incredibly important to the romantic writers, and Coleridge would have wanted to connect with the boundless imagination he felt as a child.

I confess, as I sit here drinking my coffee and trying not to think about the hectic day of work that looms before me, that the carefree and imaginative days of my childhood would be a welcome escape. I would love to just go and spend the day in the woods, tossing sticks and leaves into a stream just to watch them float away. But I can’t, which is why I can so relate to the feelings that Coleridge expresses in this sonnet.

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