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The Scribner English Classics
FREDERICK H. SYKES, PH.D.
TEACHERS COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
COLERIDGE’S ANCIENT MARINER AND SELECT POEMS
The text of the poems in this volume is that of J. Dykes Campbell in the Globe edition of Coleridge’s poems. For the introduction I have depended also largely upon his Memoir of Coleridge, and upon the two volumes of the “Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge,” edited by the poet’s grandson, Mr. E.H. Coleridge. In the Notes, as will be seen, I am indebted particularly to the general editor of this series, Dr. F.H. Sykes, to Dr. Lane Cooper of Cornell University, and again to Mr. Coleridge, through whose kindness I have been able to get a reproduction of the Marshmills crayon, undoubtedly the most satisfactory portrait of the poet in existence, for the frontispiece.
I. SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
II. COLERIDGE’S POEMS
THE ANCIENT MARINER
FRANCE: AN ODE
DEJECTION: AN ODE
YOUTH AND AGE
WORK WITHOUT HOPE
Globe Edition. Edited by J. Dykes Campbell. 1 vol. Muses’ Library. Edited by Richard Garnett.
LIFE AND CRITICISM:
Stephen, Leslie, Article “Coleridge” in “The Dictionary of National Biography.”
H.D. Traill, “Coleridge” (“English Men of Letters Series”).
Caine, T.H., “Coleridge” (“Great Writers Series”).
Coleridge, S.T., “Biographia Literaria” (“Everyman’s Library”).
De Quincey, T., “Lake Poets.”
Hazlitt, W., “First Acquaintance with Poets.”
Cottle, J., “Reminiscences of Coleridge and Southey.”
Pater, W., “Appreciations.”
Shairp, J.C., “Studies in Poetry and Philosophy.”
Sarrazin, Gabriel, “La Renaissance de la Poesie Anglaise, 1798-1889.”
Brandl, Alois, “S.T. Coleridge and the English Romantic School.”
Haney, J.L., “A Bibliography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.”
I. SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
I. THE BEGINNINGS
Coleridge lived in what may safely be called the most momentous period of modern history. In the year following his birth Warren Hastings was appointed first governor-general of India, where he maintained English empire during years of war with rival nations, and where he committed those acts of cruelty and tyranny which called forth the greatest eloquence of the greatest of English orators, in the famous impeachment trial at Westminster, when Coleridge was a sixteen-year-old schoolboy in London. A few years before his birth the liberal philosophy of France had found a popular voice in the writings of Rousseau, which became the gospel of revolution throughout Europe in Coleridge’s youth and early manhood. “The New Heloise” in the field of sentiment and of the relation of the sexes, “The Social Contract” In political theory, and “Emile” in matters of education, were books whose influence upon Coleridge’s generation it would be hard to estimate. When Coleridge was four years old the English colonies in America declared their independence and founded a new nation upon the natural rights of man,–a nation that has grown to be the mightiest and most beneficent on the globe. Coleridge was seventeen when the French Revolution broke out; he was forty-three when Napoleon was sent to St. Helena. He saw the whole career of the greatest political upheaval and of the greatest military genius of the modern world. Fox, Pitt, and Burke,–the greatest Liberal orator, the greatest Parliamentary leader, and the greatest philosophic statesman that England has produced–were at the height of their glory when Coleridge went up to Cambridge in 1791.
In literature–naturally, since literature is but an interpretation of life–the age was not less remarkable. Dr. Johnson was still alive when Coleridge came up to school at Christ’s Hospital, Goldsmith had died eight years before. But a new spirit was abroad in the younger generation. Macpherson’s “Fingal,” alleged to be a translation from the ancient Gaelic poet Ossian, had appeared in 1760; Thomas Percy’s “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry,” a collection of folk-ballads and rude verse-romances such as the common people cherished but critics had long refused to consider as poetry, was published in 1765. These two books were of prime importance in fostering a new taste in literature,–a love of natural beauty, of simplicity, and of rude strength. The new taste hailed with delight the appearance of a native lyric genius in Burns, whose first volume of poems was printed in 1786. It welcomed also the homely, simple sweetness, what Coleridge and Lamb called the “divine chit-chat,” of Cowper, whose “Task” appeared in the preceding year. But it was in Coleridge himself and his close contemporaries and followers that the splendor of the new poetry showed itself. He was two years younger than Wordsworth, a year younger than Scott; he was sixteen at the birth of Byron, twenty at that of Shelley, twenty-four at that of Keats; and he outlived all of them except Wordsworth. His genius blossomed early. “The Ancient Mariner,” his greatest poem, was published some years before Wordsworth’s “Ode on the Intimations of Immortality” was written, or Scott’s “Lay of the Last Minstrel.” He was in the prime of life, or what should have been the prime of life–forty years old–when Byron burst into sudden fame with the first two cantos of “Childe Harold” in 1812; he was forty-six when Keats published “Endymion”; he was fifty-one when Shelley was drowned. And of all this gifted company Coleridge, though not the strongest character or the most prolific poet, was the profoundest intellect and the _most originative poetic spirit_.
There was little hint, however, of future greatness or of fellowship with great names in his birth and early circumstances. His father was a country clergyman and schoolmaster in the village of Ottery St. Mary, in Devonshire, a simple-hearted unworldly man, full of curious learning and not very attentive to practical affairs. His mother managed the household and brought up the children. Both his parents were of simple West-country stock; but his father, having a natural turn for study and having done well in his early manhood as a schoolmaster, went at the age of thirty-one as a sizar, or poor student, to Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge, took orders, and was afterwards given the living of Ottery St. Mary. Here he continued his beloved work of teaching, in addition to his pastoral duties, and by means of this combination won the humble livelihood which, through his wife’s careful economy, sufficed for rearing his large family. Coleridge tells us that his father “had so little of parental ambition in him that he had destined his children to be blacksmiths, etc.” (though he had “resolved that I should be a parson”), “and had accomplished his intention but for my mother’s pride and spirit of aggrandizing her family.” Several of the children rewarded their mother’s care by distinguishing themselves in a modest way in the army or in the church, but the only one about whom the world is curious now was the youngest of the ten, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was born at Ottery St. Mary, October 21, 1772.
The essential traits of his later character appeared in his early childhood. Almost from infancy he lived in his imagination rather than in the world of reality. “The schoolboys drove me from play, and were always tormenting me, and hence I took no pleasure in boyish sports, but read incessantly…. I became a _dreamer_, and acquired an indisposition to all bodily activity; and I was fretful, and inordinately passionate.” “Sensibility, imagination, vanity, sloth,” were “prominent and manifest” in his character before he was eight years old. Such is his own account of his childhood, written to his friend Poole in 1797; and it is an accurate description, as far as it goes, of the grown man. But of the religious temper, too, the love of freedom and of virtue, the hatred of injustice, cruelty, and falsehood that guided his uneven steps through all the pitiful struggle of his middle life, of the conscience that made his weakness hell to him–of these, too, we may be sure that the beginnings were to be seen in the boy at Ottery St. Mary, as indeed they were before his eyes in the person of his father, who, if not a first-rate genius, was, says his son, “a first-rate Christian.”
The good vicar died in 1781; and the next year, a “presentation” to Christ’s Hospital having been secured for him, little Samuel, not yet eleven years old, went up to London to enter the famous old city school. Here,
“In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,”
“Saw nought lovely but the sky and stars,”
one of some seven hundred Blue-Coat boys, Coleridge lived for nine years.
Most of the boys at Christ’s Hospital, then as now, were given a “commercial” education (which none the less included a very thorough training in Latin); but a few of the most promising students were each year selected by the masters for a classical training in preparation for the universities, whence they were known as Grecians. Coleridge was elected a Grecian in 1788. The famous Boyer–famous for his enthusiasm alike in teaching the classics and in wielding the birch–laid the foundation of Coleridge’s later scholarship. Here, too, Coleridge did a great amount of reading not laid down in the curriculum,–Latin and Greek poetry and philosophy, mediaeval science and metaphysics–and won the approval of his teachers by the excellence of his verses in Greek and Latin, such as boys at school and students at the universities were expected to write in those days. In the great city school, as in the Devonshire vicarage, he lived in the imagination, inert of body and rapacious of intellect; but he was solitary no longer, having found his tongue and among his more intellectual schoolfellows an interested audience. While yet a boy, he would hold an audience spellbound by his eloquent declamation or the fervor of his argument till, as Lamb, who was one of his hearers, tells us, “the walls of the old Grey Friars re-echoed to the accents of the _inspired charity boy_!” That is the way his conversation,–or monologue, as it often was,–affected not boys only, but men, and especially young men, to his dying day. He cast a spell upon men by his speech; upon his schoolfellows, upon young men at the universities in the Pantisocracy days, upon Lloyd and Poole at Nether Stowey, upon earnest young thinkers in his last days at Highgate; so that even if he had never written “The Ancient Mariner” and the _Biographia, Literaria_ he would still be remembered for the inspiration of his talk.
Further details of the life at Christ’s Hospital must be sought in Lamb’s two essays, especially that on “Christ’s Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago.” In 1791, having secured a Christ’s Hospital “exhibition,” he entered Jesus College, Cambridge.
His university life extended over three years, from October, 1791, to December, 1794. It was an unhappy time for him and an uneasy time for his respectable relatives, for reasons that were partly in his own nature and partly in the temper of the times.
Even Boyer’s severe training, while it had made him a hard student and an unusual scholar for his years, had failed to give him what he most needed as a balance to his intellect and imagination, stability of character. There is evidence that after the first few months, during which the habits of his hard school life had not yet broken, the new liberty of university life led him into extravagance, if not dissipation. Work he doubtless did (he won the Browne medal for a Greek ode on the slave-trade in 1792), but fitfully, giving less and less attention to his regular studies and more to conviviality and, above all, to dreams of literary fame. He wrote verses after various models, sentimental, fanciful, or gallant; he was enthusiastic in praise of a contemporary sonneteer, the Rev. William Bowles, whose “divine sensibility” seemed to him the height of poetic feeling; and in connection with Wordsworth’s younger brother Christopher, who entered Cambridge in 1793, he formed a literary society that discussed, among other things, Wordsworth’s volume of early poetry, “Descriptive Sketches,” published in that year. Wordsworth himself was a Cambridge man, but had taken his degree in 1791 and gone abroad, so that the two men whose personal friendship was to mean so much in English poetry did not meet until 1796. Already in 1793, however, Coleridge had developed political theories, or rather sympathies, which were preparing him for fellowship with Wordsworth.
The French Revolution, which, after years of preparation, took concrete shape in 1789, did not look to young Englishmen in 1791-4 as it looks to us now, nor even as it was to look to those same Englishmen in 1800. In those first years warm-hearted young enthusiasts at the universities saw in the violence of their fellow-men across the Channel only the struggles of the beautiful Spirit of Liberty bursting the chains of age-long tyranny and corruption and calling men up to the heights to breathe diviner air.
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very Heaven!”
wrote Wordsworth afterwards; and in the glow of his young idealism he had gone over to France in the autumn of 1791 and was on the point of throwing in his lot with the revolutionists, when his parents compelled his return by cutting off his supplies. And many who, like Coleridge, merely watched from afar shared his faith that a new order of things was to be established, wherein Love should be Law and man’s inhumanity to man become but a memory of things outworn.
Less generous men, with a selfish interest in established privileges; timid men, who looked with terror upon any prospect of change; older and wiser men, who better understood the foundations of social order and the nature of man–all these looked with distrust upon the revolutionary idealism that was spreading from France through the younger generation of Englishmen. The new notions of liberty, it was felt, threatened not only the vested rights of property and the prescriptions of rank, but the Church, too, and religion. Some of the would-be reformers were avowed atheists; some (Coleridge and his friends, for instance, in the Pantisocracy period) were communists. In general, they ascribed all the evils of society to “institutions,” and wanted them abolished.
Just how far Coleridge had gone in this direction by the autumn of 1793 we do not know; far enough at least to disturb his view of the future, to worry his elder brother George, a clergyman and school-teacher, who had in some measure filled a father’s place to the young genius, and, most important of all, to alarm and distress a gentle girl in London. For before he left Christ’s Hospital for Cambridge he had become intimate at the house of a Mrs. Evans, and most of the letters preserved from his first two years at the University were addressed to her or to one of her two daughters, Anne and Mary. With the latter Coleridge was in love; and that she had some regard for him is apparent from a letter she sent him in 1794. Before that, however, Coleridge had taken a step that seemed likely to close at once his college career and his prospects of literary fame. The reasons have not been recorded: probably pecuniary embarrassment, the yeasty state of his religious and political ideas, and impatience or despondency over his love-affair with Mary Evans, combined to precipitate his flight; what we know is that he ran away from Cambridge and in December, 1793, enlisted as a dragoon in the army.
Coleridge had hardly taken the step before he repented of it. His letters to his brother George, who with other friends bestirred himself for Coleridge’s release as soon as his whereabouts was discovered, are rather distressing in their self-abasement. The efforts of his friends were successful and in April he returned to the University, where a public admonition was the extent of his punishment, and he continued in receipt of his Christ’s Hospital exhibition.
But Coleridge’s college days were practically over. He was now nearly twenty-two years old, and the revolutionary unrest which had doubtless contributed to his first escapade soon resulted in the formation of schemes that took him away from Cambridge for good and all. In June, 1794, he made a visit to an old schoolfellow at Oxford. Here he met Robert Southey of Balliol College. A friendship sprang up between them out of which, before the end of the summer, grew the Utopian scheme of Pantisocracy. A company of gentlemen and ladies were to emigrate to America, take up lands in the Susquehanna valley, and there establish an ideal community in which all should bear rule equally and find happiness in a life of justice, labor, and love. The education of the young in the principles of ideal humanity was an important part of the scheme. We are reminded of the Brook Farm experiment in New England a generation later, which bears a daughter’s likeness to Pantisocracy, the chief difference being that the New England enthusiasts were mature men and women and really put the idea into practice, whereas the Pantisocrats were for the most part collegians and never got beyond the stage of talking and writing about their plans. The scheme was further elaborated at Bristol, where Coleridge, returning from a vacation tour in Wales, again met Southey, and at Bath, the home of Southey and of Southey’s betrothed and her sister, Edith and Sarah Fricker–“two sisters, milliners of Bath,” as Byron contemptuously called them.
To the other sister, Sarah, Coleridge rather precipitately engaged himself. His love for Mary Evans was not dead, but he seems to have despaired of winning her and to have determined, by uniting himself domestically with Southey and his friends, to make retreat from their communistic scheme impossible. A few weeks later he is back at Cambridge, tortured apparently between his old love and his new engagement. Mary Evans has written to him deploring his wild notions and the mad plan of Pantisocracy, yet confident that he has “too much sensibility to be an infidel.” Southey has reproved him rather sharply for failing to write to his betrothed at Bath. Our next glimpse of him is at London, discussing poetry and philosophy with Lamb at the “Salutation and Cat” tavern and perhaps trying to get a sight of Mary Evans. In December he is again at Bristol, in lively correspondence with Southey about democracy, Pantisocracy, and poetry, but at the same time he addresses a last appeal to Miss Evans. Her answer is kind, but final; that chapter is closed, and Coleridge writes to Southey that he will “do his duty,” by which he means apparently that he will be faithful to Pantisocracy and marry Sarah Fricker.
The Pantisocracy scheme could not in the nature of things be long-lived. As a matter of fact it lasted little more than a year, ending in a rupture between the two leading spirits just when they became brothers-in-law. Coleridge spent the summer of 1795 in Bristol in company with Southey, writing and lecturing. In October he was married to Sarah Fricker in “St. Mary’s Redcliff, poor Chatterton’s church.” In November Southey married Edith Fricker and set sail for Lisbon, where his uncle was the English chaplain; and Pantisocracy was dead.
The break with Southey was the natural result of attempting to force through a scheme impracticable in itself and doubly impracticable for the men who conceived it. Its collapse did not altogether sever their literary relations. The collaboration begun in “The Fall of Robespierre” (Cambridge, 1794) was continued in Southey’s “Joan of Arc” (1796), to which Coleridge contributed the part afterwards printed (with some additions) as “The Destiny of Nations,” and in Coleridge’s first volume of “Poems” (Bristol, 1796). A more important contributor to this volume, however, was Charles Lamb, whose initials were appended to four of the pieces. A second edition appeared in June, 1797, with eleven additions from Coleridge besides verses by Lamb and Charles Lloyd, all under the title: “Poems by S.T. Coleridge. Second Edition. To which are added Poems by Charles Lamb, and Charles Lloyd.” The publisher of both editions was Joseph Cottle, a bookseller of Bristol, who played the part of provincial Murray to the young poets in these years.
Meanwhile Coleridge, after a period of lecturing and projecting, had as we have seen married Sarah Fricker, with whom he was now very much in love, and had begun housekeeping in a cottage at Clevedon near the Bristol Channel. The beauty of the place and his happiness there are celebrated in “The Aeolian Harp” and “Reflections on Leaving a Place of Retirement” (better known by its opening words, “Low was our pretty cot”). His next residence was in Bristol–rather a base of operations than a home, for Coleridge was on the road much of the time, lecturing, preaching, soliciting subscriptions for his political and philosophical paper “The Watchman” (which ran from March to May, 1796), and trying in various other ways to provide for his family, which was increased by the birth of a son in September, 1796. At last in December he secured the little cottage at Nether Stowey in the Quantock Hills (south of the Bristol Channel, in Somerset), close to the house of his beloved friend, Thomas Poole, where he lived until his departure for Germany in September, 1798.
II. AT NETHER STOWEY
The Stowey period was the blossoming time of Coleridge’s genius. All the poems in this volume except the last four, and besides these “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” “Frost at Midnight,” and “Fears in Solitude”–the bulk of his achievement in poetry–were either written or begun in 1797 and 1798. It will be proper, then, to dwell a little on his circumstances, his friends, and his ideas during these two years.
The means of livelihood for himself and his family when he went to Stowey were a subscription of about L40 that Poole and some friends got together for him, L20 that Cottle paid for the second edition of the “Poems,” the promise of L80 from the father of Charles Lloyd, who was to live with him and study under his direction, and such money as he could earn by reviews and magazine articles, which he estimated at L40 a year; not a munificent provision for a household of three adults and a child. But the theories of the simple life that had made Pantisocracy seem a feasible project still inspired him with confidence. “Sixteen shillings,” he wrote to Poole, “would cover all the weekly expenses of my wife, infant, and myself. This I say from my wife’s own calculations.” Further, he will support himself by the labor of his hands. “If you can instruct me to manage an acre and a half of land, and to raise in it, with my own hands, all kinds of vegetables and grain, enough for myself and my wife and sufficient to feed a pig or two with the refuse, I hope that you will have served me _most_ effectually by placing me out of the necessity of being served.” This was in December, just before he moved to Stowey. In February he wrote from his new home to another friend: “From seven till half past eight I work in my garden; from breakfast till twelve I read and compose, then read again, feed the pigs, poultry, etc., till two o’clock; after dinner work again till tea; from tea till supper, _review_. So jogs the day, and I am happy…. I raise potatoes and all manner of vegetables, have an orchard, and shall raise corn with the spade, enough for my family. We have two pigs, and ducks and geese. A cow would not answer the keep: we have whatever milk we want from T. Poole.”
There is a suspicious regularity about this schedule. Lamb wrote from London in January: “Is it a farm that you have got? And what does your worship know about farming?” His agricultural activity, in the month of February, must have been chiefly prospective; and we may safely assume that Poole supplied other things besides milk, and that the poet spent more time reading, dreaming, and talking than he did raising potatoes. A good deal of time must have been spent in the actual composition of his poetry, including his play “Osorio,” which was written in 1797, and in studying the landscape beauties of the Quantocks. After the coming of the Wordsworths to Alfoxden he spent much of the time walking between Alfoxden and Stowey, or further afield with Wordsworth and his sister. “My walks,” he wrote afterwards, “were almost daily on the top of Quantock, and among its sloping coombs. With my pencil and memorandum-book in my hand, I was making studies, as the artists call them, and often moulding them into verse with the objects and imagery immediately before my eyes.” This does not sound much like “raising corn with the spade.”
On Sundays he would sometimes preach before such Unitarian congregations, within walking distance, as cared to hear him. But as he would take no pay for his services his preaching contributed nothing toward the support of his family. Lloyd, who was epileptic and subject to moody variation in his attachments, was but an irregular housemate after the first few months, and his contribution to the household expenses was correspondingly uncertain. The future looked so dark in October, 1797, that in spite of misgivings and former scruples he had concluded that he “must become a Unitarian minister, as a less evil than starvation.” Accordingly he was in Shrewsbury in January, 1798, preaching in the Unitarian church and on the point of accepting the pastorate at a salary of L150 a year, when the sky brightened in another quarter. Thomas and Josiah Wedgwood, sons of the famous potter and friends of Thomas Poole, offered him an equal sum annually as a free gift. They were wealthy men, well able to afford it; they attached no condition to the gift except that he should devote himself entirely to the study of poetry and philosophy, which was precisely what he wanted to do; and he was not long in determining to accept the offer. “I accepted it,” he wrote to Wordsworth while still at Shrewsbury, “on the presumption that I had talents, honesty, and propensities to perseverant effort.” The propensities, alas, remained propensities, never acquiring the force of habit. The pension, however, continued to be paid in full until 1812, when Josiah Wedgwood withdrew his half of it. The other half, upon the death of Thomas Wedgwood in 1805, had been secured to Coleridge for life; and this annuity must have constituted the chief reliance of Mrs. Coleridge for many years.
If Coleridge did not prosper financially, he was at least fortunate in his friends; and a man’s friends are after all the best testimony to the character of his mind and heart. When he went to Stowey in December, 1796, he was again on good terms with Southey, though the enthusiasm of their first fellowship was gone. The friendship with Lamb, begun in their school-days and renewed at the “Salutation and Cat” in 1794, was maintained by an eager correspondence and by Lamb’s visit to Stowey in July, 1797; and although Lloyd’s vagaries led to a coolness between the old friends in the following year, the breach was soon healed, and the friendship continued till death. Another with whom Coleridge maintained a voluminous correspondence in 1796-7 was John Thelwall, theoretical democrat, atheist, and admirer of Godwin, whose visit to Coleridge and Wordsworth in the summer of 1797 so shocked the good conservatives of the neighborhood that Wordsworth had to leave Alfoxden in consequence of it. But without doubt the dearest and most influential friend Coleridge had before the Wordsworths came into his life was Thomas Poole. It was in order to be in daily intercourse with Poole that he moved to Stowey; and Poole’s hesitation about securing the cottage for him, arising, Coleridge seemed to fear, from imperfect confidence and friendship, was a source of agonized apprehension to the sensitive poet. When we consider that Poole was a self-educated man, a Somersetshire tanner with no claim to literary genius or philosophical acquirements, Coleridge’s devotion to him and dependence on him bring out in a strong light the substantial, elemental character of the man. “O Poole!” Coleridge wrote to him from Germany afterwards, “you are a noble heart as ever God made!” Poole had indeed in a marked degree the genius for friendship. Strength of character, sympathy, and self-effacing devotion, combined with prudence and sincerity, made this man a tower of refuge for the unstable spirit of the poet.
No other single relation, however, can compare in importance, for Coleridge’s poetic development, with that which sprang up in the summer of 1797 between him and William Wordsworth. Just when they first met is not recorded. We have seen that Coleridge was acquainted with Wordsworth’s younger brother in his college days, and discussed with him Wordsworth’s first published poems. In January, 1797, he told Cottle that he wished to submit his “Visions of the Maid of Arc” to Wordsworth for criticism. The earliest definite record of their personal acquaintance is a letter Coleridge wrote to Cottle while on a visit to Wordsworth at Racedown (just over the Somerset border in Dorsetshire) early in June. About the beginning of July he is again at Racedown; and when he returns he brings Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy with him for a visit. On the 7th Lamb arrived for his long-planned reunion with Coleridge. The second week of July, 1797, was thus a rich and long-remembered time for all of them, despite the fact that Mrs. Coleridge “accidentally emptied a skillet of boiling milk” on her husband’s foot, which confined him “during the whole time of Charles Lamb’s stay.” The others took long walks in the neighborhood, amid such scenery as is described in “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” a poem that admirably voices the happiness, of those days of spiritual fellowship. The Wordsworths did not return to Racedown. “By a combination of curious circumstances a gentleman’s seat, with a park and woods, elegantly and completely furnished,… in the most beautiful and romantic situation by the seaside, four miles from Stowey–this we have got for Wordsworth at the _rent of twenty-three pounds a year, taxes included_!” Coleridge triumphantly announced to Southey; and in this house, the Manor of Alfoxden, the Wordsworths remained for a year, in daily companionship with Coleridge and surrounded by scenes of natural beauty that have left a lasting mark on the work of both poets.
What the friendship with Coleridge meant to Wordsworth may best be seen in “The Prelude: or, Growth of a Poet’s Mind,” Wordsworth’s greatest long poem, written some years afterwards and addressed throughout to Coleridge.
“There is no grief, no sorrow, no despair, No languor, no dejection, no dismay,
No absence scarcely can there be, for those Who love as we do.”
What Wordsworth was to Coleridge is more important for us here. The admiration which the brilliant child of genius felt for the great preacher-poet is chiefly, one feels, an admiration for his character. As a matter of fact, Wordsworth had written nothing, up to his coming to Alfoxden, that would have preserved his name as a poet, nothing so noteworthy or promising as what Coleridge had already written. But Coleridge felt in this lean and thoughtful young man a strength of mind, a depth and sureness of heart that compelled his allegiance and even imparted, for the time, some of that resolution in which he was by nature so sadly deficient. The character of their friendship is to be seen not only in the published work of the two poets from this time on (notably in “Dejection”), but perhaps even more clearly in Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal and in Coleridge’s letters. “I speak with heart-felt sincerity,” he wrote to Cottle in June, 1797, “and (I think) unblinded judgment, when I tell you that I feel myself _a little man by his side_, and yet do not think myself the less man than I formerly thought myself…. T. Poole’s opinion of Wordsworth is that he is the greatest man he ever knew; I coincide.” Wordsworth’s influence is evident in a letter from Coleridge to his brother George in April, 1798: “I love fields and woods and mountains with almost a visionary fondness. And because I have found benevolence and quietness growing within me as that fondness has increased, therefore I should wish to be the means of implanting it in others, and to destroy the bad passions not by combating them but by keeping them in inaction.” Under the calming and clarifying influence of the stronger Northern spirit the fever of his revolutionary dreams abated, he found happiness in the conscious exercise of his poetic powers, and for one year in his troubled existence his genius showed itself in all its splendor.
The immediate poetic result of their friendship was the “Lyrical Ballads,” published by Cottle in September, 1798. The origin of the work has been described both by Wordsworth (in a prefatory note to “We Are Seven”) and by Coleridge (in the _Biographia Literaria_, chap. xiv.). At first, they were to collaborate in writing a poem the proceeds of which should pay the expenses of a little tour they were making when the plan was thought of, in November, 1797; and thus “The Ancient Mariner” was begun. As this poem grew under Coleridge’s “shaping-spirit of imagination” Wordsworth saw that he “could only be a clog” upon its progress, and it was resigned to Coleridge. The plan was then enlarged to include a volume illustrating “two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination.” Wordsworth was to illustrate the former principle, Coleridge the latter, and the proceeds of the book were to go toward the expenses of a trip to Germany, decided on in the spring of 1798. The bulk of the volume was Wordsworth’s, and was typically Wordsworthian, ranging from such simple ballads of humble incident as “Goody Blake” and “The Idiot Boy” to the magnificent blank verse of “Tintern Abbey”; Coleridge’s share consisted of a brief poem called “The Nightingale,” two short extracts from “Osorio,” and “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere.”
Apart from the “Lyrical Ballads” Coleridge conceived and finished between June, 1797, and the departure for Germany in 1798, and published in the latter year, “Fire, Famine, and Slaughter,” “Frost at Midnight,” “Fears in Solitude,” and “France.” He conceived and partly executed, but did not then publish, “Christabel,” “Kubla Khan,” “Love,” “The Ballad of the Dark Ladie,” and “The Three Graves.” Thus, all Coleridge’s best poetry, with the exception of those three saddest of voices out of a broken life, “Dejection” (1802), the lines to Wordsworth on hearing him read “The Prelude” (1807), and “Youth and Age” (1823-32), belongs either wholly or in its inception to the year of his fellowship with the Wordsworths in the Quantock Hills.
Of his political, religious, and literary opinions at this time he has left a fairly adequate account in his published writings and his correspondence, especially in the _Biographia Literaria_ and in the letter to the Rev. George Coleridge referred to above. The first year of his married life saw him still, in spite of the failure of Pantisocracy, an eager visionary reformer upborne by generous enthusiasm and ardent religious feeling. “O! never can I remember those days,” he wrote in the _Biographia_, “with either shame or regret. For I was most sincere, most disinterested! My opinions were indeed in many and most important points erroneous; but my heart was single. Wealth, rank, life itself, then seemed cheap to me, compared with the interest of (what I believed to be) the truth, and the will of my Maker.” However much he may have consorted with unbelievers like Thelwall and distressed his good brother George by his heterodoxy, he was by nature deeply religious. He tried in his letters to recover Thelwall from his “atheism,” though he heartily approved a sentiment expressed by the latter: “He who thinks and _feels_ will be virtuous; and he who is absorbed in self will be vicious, whatever may be his speculative opinions.” Godwin’s system of “Justice,” with its soulless logic, he abhorred. He preached often in Unitarian churches. To young Hazlitt, who heard him preach in January, 1798, from the text “And He went up into the mountain to pray, _Himself, alone_,” it seemed “as if the sounds had echoed from the bottom of the human heart, and as if that prayer might have floated in solemn silence through the universe.” In politics he was, when he went to Stowey, “almost equidistant from all the three prominent parties, the Pittites, the Foxites, and the Democrats”; he was “a vehement anti-ministerialist, but after the invasion of Switzerland, a more vehement anti-Gallican [see the last two stanzas of “France”], and still more intensely an anti-Jacobin.” Under Wordsworth’s influence his thoughts turned in great measure from contemporary politics to more fundamental matters. Always his poetry had been the utterance of his essential being. “I feel strongly and I think strongly,” he wrote to Thelwall in 1796, “but I seldom feel without thinking or think without feeling. Hence, though my poetry has in general a hue of tenderness or passion over it, yet it seldom exhibits unmixed and simple tenderness and passion. My philosophical opinions are blended with or deduced from my feelings.” Wordsworth gave his feelings a new object and his philosophy a higher aim. In April of the second year at Stowey, in the letter to his brother already quoted, Coleridge wrote: “I have for some time past withdrawn myself totally from the consideration of _immediate causes_, which are infinitely complex and uncertain, to muse on fundamental and general causes, the ‘causae causarum.’ I devote myself to such works as encroach not on the anti-social passions–in poetry, to elevate the imagination and set the affections in right tune by the beauty of the inanimate impregnated as with a living soul by the presence of life–in prose to the seeking with patience and a slow, very slow mind, ‘Quid sumus, et quidnam victuri gignimus,’–what our faculties are and what they are capable of becoming.” This last sentence is a sort of half-prophetic summary of his life’s work; but the poetry soon gave way to the prose, and he never again so nearly realized his poetical ideal as he had already done in “The Ancient Mariner.”
Of his person and the impression he made upon people at this time there are various contemporary accounts. To Thelwall, in November, 1796, he sent the following description of himself: “… my face, unless when animated by immediate eloquence, expresses great sloth, and great, indeed almost idiotic good-nature. ‘Tis a mere carcass of a face; fat, flabby, and expressive chiefly of inexpression. Yet I am told that my eyes, eyebrows, and forehead are physiognomically good; but of this the deponent knoweth not. As to my shape, ’tis a good shape enough if measured, but my gait is awkward, and the walk of the whole man indicates _indolence capable of energies_…. I cannot breathe through my nose, so my mouth, with sensual thick lips, is almost always open. In conversation I am impassioned, and oppose what I deem error with an eagerness which is often mistaken for personal asperity; but I am ever so swallowed up in the _thing_ said that I forget my _opponent_. Such am I.” The Rev. Leapidge Smith, in his “Reminiscences of an Octogenarian,” remembered him as “a tall, dark, handsome young man, with long, black, flowing hair; eyes not merely dark, but black, and keenly penetrating; a fine forehead, a deep-toned, harmonious voice; a manner never to be forgotten, full of life, vivacity, and kindness; dignified in person and, added to all these, exhibiting the elements of his future greatness.” Hazlitt, in “My First Acquaintance with Poets” (a paper that every student of Coleridge’s life and poetry should read), describing him as he appeared on his visit to Hazlitt’s father at Wem in 1798, says: “His complexion was at that time clear, and even bright. His forehead was broad and high, light as if built of ivory, with large projecting eyebrows, and his eyes rolling beneath them like a sea with darkened lustre…. His mouth was gross, voluptuous, open, eloquent; his chin good-humored and round, but his nose, the rudder of the face, the index of the will, was small, feeble, nothing–like what he has done.” And Dorothy Wordsworth (to close with a contemporary and sympathetic impression) set him down in her journal after their first meeting at Racedown thus: “He is a wonderful man. His conversation teems with soul, mind, and spirit…. At first I thought him very plain, that is for about three minutes: he is pale, thin, has a wide mouth, thick lips, and not very good teeth, longish, loose-growing, half-curling, rough black hair. But if you hear him speak for five minutes you think no more of them. His eye is large and full, and not very dark, but grey–such an eye as would receive from a heavy soul the dullest expression; but it speaks every emotion of his animated mind; it has more of ‘the poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolling’ than I ever witnessed. He has fine dark eyebrows, and an overhanging forehead.” The friendly and keen-sighted woman gives a more sympathetic picture than the others; but there must have been truth, too, in the view of the equally keen-sighted and less friendly Hazlitt, whose description accords well with Coleridge’s self-portraiture, and in the last sarcastic item, too well, with the remainder of the poet’s career.
[Footnote 1: “Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge,” ed. by E.H. Coleridge, Vol. I., p. 180, note.]
[Footnote 2: The uncertainty as to the color of his eyes is a tribute to their expressiveness. Carlyle described him in 1824 as having “a pair of strange brown, timid, yet earnest-looking eyes.” Emerson visited him in 1833 and found him “with bright blue eyes and fine clear complexion.”]
III. THE REST OF THE STORY
Coleridge lived for thirty-six years after he left Stowey for Germany in 1798. His fame as a poet grew as the world became acquainted with and learned to feel the peculiar charm of his poetry, and he was even more famous, for a while, as a literary critic and a moral philosopher. But they were years of weak-willed wandering, of vast hazy plans and feeble performance, lighted only here and there by glimpses of fragmentary accomplishment, and that seldom in poetry. Keats died at twenty-six, leaving behind him a body of poetry hardly less wonderful than Coleridge had fashioned at the same age; and another poet sang of him:
“The bloom, whose petals, nipt before they blew, Died on the promise of the fruit, is waste.”
In Coleridge the poet died at nearly the same age, almost as completely as if the man himself had passed “within the twilight chamber … of white Death”; and “Dejection” is that poet’s dirge. The remaining years need therefore but few words.
Coleridge had taken opium, perhaps as early as his school-days, for relief from neuralgia. He had recourse to it in March, 1796, for sleeplessness; in the following November, for relief from violent nervous pains; and near the close of the Stowey period, in May, 1798, when the vagaries of Lloyd, the estrangement from Lamb, domestic anxiety, and physical suffering had reduced him to a state of extreme nervous wretchedness, he again took refuge in opiates, of which “Kubla Khan” is partly the result. He returned from Germany in 1799, worked for a while on a newspaper in London and on a translation of Schiller’s “Wallenstein,” and in the summer of 1800 removed to Keswick in Cumberland, in the Lake Country, where the Wordsworths had already established themselves. Here, in the autumn of 1800, he strove to finish “Christabel,” and did finish the second part. In the winter and spring he suffered from a complicated illness, in which he again had recourse to laudanum; and from the spring of 1801 he was confirmed in the opium habit, sinking often to pitiful depths of moral and physical misery. He was in the Mediterranean, chiefly at Malta, from 1804 to 1806. His wife and children remained at Keswick, where Southey and his family had become co-tenants with them of Greta Hall. Southey, it might almost be said, took care of Coleridge’s family henceforth; for Coleridge had begun to find his own fireside an intolerable place as early as 1802, lived little at home, and made a formal separation from his wife in 1808,–though they saw each other occasionally after that and the Wedgwood annuity continued to be paid to Mrs. Coleridge. In 1809 he was living with the Wordsworths at Grasmere, where he wrote several numbers of a politico-philosophical paper called “The Friend.” About the close of 1810 he was taken in hand by a Mr. and Mrs. Morgan of Hammersmith, near London, under whose care he kept the opium in check sufficiently to give his famous lectures on the “Principles of Poetry” in the winter of 1811-12, and another series in the early summer on Shakespeare. In the winter following, his play of “Remorse,” a recast of the “Osorio” of 1797, was acted in London with some success. In the winter of 1813-14 he lectured, in a “conversational” fashion, at Bristol. He also wrote irregularly for the London papers during these years. But his studies, since his return from Germany, had been directed to metaphysics, and especially to the philosophical bases of poetry and theology; and the last twenty years of his life, at least, were occupied with plans for a great philosophical work covering these two fields of thought. One of the fragments of the great work that actually came to light, the _Biographia Literaria_, seems to have been sent to the printers in 1815. A collected edition of his poetry was also begun while he was under the Morgans’ care.
From 1816 till his death in 1834 he lived in comparative peace, if not in happiness, with a Mr. Gilman of Highgate near London, an apothecary. Gilman and his wife were able so far to wean him from the drug, or to regulate his use of it, that he brought to the birth something of his vast plans in criticism and philosophy, notably the _Biographia Literaria_ (1817) and the “Aids to Reflection” (1825). The beginning of his stay with Gilman was also marked by the publication of “Christabel” and “Kubla Khan” (1816), and of a collected edition of his other poems (including “The Ancient Mariner,” considerably revised) under the title “Sibylline Leaves” (1817). But the poems that were not finished in the first great period at Stowey remained unfinished. He talked divinely (“an archangel a little damaged,” Lamb said), and both by his talk and his metaphysical writings profoundly influenced the literature and philosophy of the century, both in England and America; but the poet in him was dead.
“Sense of past youth, and manhood come in vain, And genius given, and knowledge won in vain; And all which I had culled in woodwalks wild, And all which patient toil had reared, and all Commune with _thee_ had opened out–but flowers Strewed on my corse, and borne upon my bier, In the same coffin, for the self-same grave!”
It would be a mistake to ascribe the paralysis of Coleridge’s powers of constructive imagination exclusively to laudanum. Rather the resort to narcotics and the inability to control his creative faculty are alike symptoms of a temperamental malady which had its roots in his nature close to the seat of that special faculty. Under a favorable conjunction of outward circumstance and inward state, imagination came; it possessed him, and he labored in it, happily. Afterwards he could revise what he had shaped, analyze it philosophically, perfect some details of it, but he could not proceed in the creative act after the inspiration had left him. His own description of his nature–“_indolence capable of energies_”–is accurate as far as it goes. The opium, resorted to often, no doubt, to quicken the dreams in his brain as well as to relieve his bodily suffering, helped to enfeeble his will; but the “indolence” was in him before he became addicted to opium, and he was never “capable of energies” at the call of duty, but only at the call of his “shaping spirit,” over whose coming and going he had no control.
Poetically it is perhaps as well. Had he been like his friend Wordsworth in strength and steadiness of purpose–which is to suppose him another nature than he was–his life would have been happier and more edifying, but he would hardly have given us anything better than “Christabel” and “The Ancient Mariner.” Romantic poetry of the higher type is essentially the creature of mood. Even Wordsworth’s long and conscientious labors produced but a small bulk of poetry of this character, amid dreary reaches of uninspired preaching. Coleridge waited–in despondency often, in self-upbraidings, in the temporary deception of opium dreams with their consequent misery–for the return of the spirit; and it did not come.
[Footnote 1: From the lines addressed to Wordsworth after hearing him read “The Prelude,” in 1807.]
II. COLERIDGE’S POEMS.
“THE ANCIENT MARINER”
“The Ancient Mariner” was first printed in the first edition of “Lyrical Ballads,” 1798, again with considerable changes in the second edition, 1800, and without further significant change in the editions of 1802 and 1805. Its fifth appearance was in “Sibylline Leaves,” 1817, again with some important changes, and the addition of the Latin motto and the marginal gloss. In the “Poetical Works,” 1828, and again in the “Poetical Works,” 1829, the poem appeared in its final form as we now have it,–differing very little from the form it had in “Sibylline Leaves.” One or two significant minor changes will be mentioned in the notes.
Coleridge’s own account of the genesis of the poem, given in the _Biographia Literaria_ nearly twenty years later, is interesting. “During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours, our conversations turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination. The sudden charm, which accidents of light and shade, which moonlight or sunset, diffused over a known and familiar landscape, appeared to represent the practicability of combining both. These are the poetry of nature. The thought suggested itself (to which of us I do not recollect) that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions, as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real. And real in this sense they have been to every human being who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time believed himself under supernatural agency. For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life; the characters and incidents were to be such as will be found in every village and its vicinity where there is a meditative and feeling mind to seek after them, or to notice them when they present themselves.
“In this idea originated the ‘Lyrical Ballads’; in which it was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. Mr. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the wonders and loveliness of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.
“With this view I wrote ‘The Ancient Mariner,’ and was preparing, among other poems, ‘The Dark Ladie,’ and the ‘Christabel,’ in which I should have more nearly realized my ideal than I had done in my first attempt. But Mr. Wordsworth’s industry had proved so much more successful, and the number of his poems so much greater, that my compositions, instead of forming a balance, appeared rather an interpolation of heterogeneous matter. Mr. Wordsworth added two or three poems written in his own character, in the impassioned, lofty, and sustained diction which is characteristic of his genius [among them the “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey”]. In this form the ‘Lyrical Ballads’ were published.”
Lyrical they hardly were, in any current meaning of that word; they were narrative. But they were ballads as the word was then understood. The two cardinal points of poetry that Coleridge says they had in view in this partnership production were both believed to be special marks of the ballad; the charm of homeliness and simplicity, and the spell of the supernatural and romantic. Bishop Percy’s “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry,” 1765, had created a taste for the traditional poetry of humble folk. Spreading to Germany and uniting there with the sentimental sensationalism of the eighteenth century, this taste found expression in Burger’s “Lenore,” which in turn had a powerful influence in England, five distinct translations of it appearing in 1796. Of the distinction so much insisted on by later analysts of the true popular ballad–its communal origin, its impersonality, its freedom from adornment, its lack of conscious art–the Englishman of Coleridge’s time took no account. “The Ancient Mariner” is not a ballad in the sense in which “Sir Patrick Spens” or “Young Waters” is a ballad. It is in the highest degree a work of conscious and individual art. It is rather to be classed, like “Christabel,” as a romance. But it was conceived and written under the influence of the “ballad revival,” and bears many marks of that influence both in its general structure and in its details of workmanship.
Much of the archaic diction and antique spelling, as well as the ruder grotesquerie, that in the first edition proclaimed its relation to the pseudo-balladry of the time disappeared in the later editions. But the archaisms, the “unpoetical” diction, and especially the disregard of tense coherence in the poem as we now have it, contribute greatly to the atmosphere of romance–as of a story removed alike from the commonplace experience of every day and from familiar literary conventions–which it was Coleridge’s intention to produce. By a few devotional ejaculations–“Heaven’s Mother send us grace!” “To Mary Queen the praise be given!”–we are made to feel that the Ancient Mariner lived before the Reformation, in the ages of wonder and faith. Repetition, as in many stanzas of Part IV., is a device caught from the folk-ballad and modified to produce the effect of a spell, which is so strong a mark of the poem. The abrupt opening, the unannounced transitions in dialogue, the omission of all but the vital incidents of the story, all belong to the ballad style. The verse form is what is known as the ballad stanza (stanza of four lines–a line of four accents followed by one of three, the second and fourth lines riming) variously extended and modified to suit the mood of the passage. The prose summary in the form of a marginal gloss, first added in the edition of 1817, is a practice taken from early printed books, but not from balladry, which is normally oral.
Of the literary qualities of the poem much might be said, but I call attention here to but two: the organic structure of the story and the character of the imagery, two important aspects of creative imagination. The seven parts are seven stages of the narrative, each, except the last, closing with a reference to the Mariner’s sin. The story proceeds like the successive acts of a play. In Part I. the deed is committed; in Part II. the punishment begins; in Part III. the punishment reaches its climax. Part IV. brings the “turn”; in the crisis of his sufferings comes the consciousness of fellowship with other creatures and repentance for his cruelty. Parts V. and VI. relate his penance begun, and his return by supernatural agencies to the world of human fellowship; and Part VII. brings us back to the opening scene, closing the whole with a moral. The moral is so plainly set forth that one wonders how Mrs. Barbauld could ever have complained, as Coleridge tells us she did, that the poem “had no moral.” His reply is worth recording: “I told her that in my opinion the poem had too much; and that the only, or chief fault, if I might say so, was the obtrusion of the moral sentiment so openly on the reader as a principle or cause of action in a work of such pure imagination. It ought to have had no more moral than the Arabian Nights’ tale of the merchant’s sitting down to eat dates by the side of a well, and throwing the shells aside, and lo! a genie starts up, and says he _must_ kill the aforesaid merchant, because one of the date shells had, it seems, put out the eye of the genie’s son.” But the poet of 1798 knew better than the metaphysician of 1830. The moral is as essential a part of the whole poem as moral consciousness is of man; without it the poem would be without the coherence of human interest which alone can secure for “these shadows of imagination” “poetic faith.” The moral, really, is suffused throughout the work, is the blood of its being; that it should be formulated at the close is quite in accord with the simplicity which marked the whole conception of the “Lyrical Ballads,” and is moreover perfectly harmonious with the spirit of the poem itself. There have been poets who seemed to be without the moral sense, and who have written poetry quite free from any moral, like Poe and his landscape visions, but wonderful as they are, they are abnormal, and are less great as they are less completely human. It may be that Wordsworth, as one infers from recollections of the composition of the poem, suggested the moral plot; but if so it entered at once and completely into Coleridge’s imagination and governed the shaping of the poem from the start. In all the very considerable changes and omissions that the poem underwent after it was first printed, there was none that either retrenched from or added to the moral interpretation of the tale.
Of its imagery the most evident characteristic is what may be called the anthropomorphic treatment of nature. This, although in accord with modern conceptions of primitive culture, is not at all a mark of the popular ballad. Sun, and moon, and storm-wind, and ocean are in folk-song sun and moon and wind and water and nothing more; but in “The Ancient Mariner” they are living beings.
“And now the Storm-blast came, and he Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings, And chased us south along.”
“And straight the Sun was flecked with bars, (Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered With broad and burning face.”
“Still as a slave before his lord,
The ocean hath no blast;
His great bright eye most silently Up to the Moon is cast–
“If he may know which way to go;
For she guides him smooth or grim. See, brother, see! how graciously
She looketh down on him.”
This is the most noticeable of the “modifying colours of imagination” in “The Ancient Mariner.” The practice might be classed as a sort of personification; but how utterly different in its effect from the conventional “literary” personifications of the eighteenth century–of Gray in the “Elegy,” for instance! Grandeur, and Envy, and Honour, in that admirable poem, are not real persons to the imagination; the abstraction remains an abstraction. But in Coleridge’s poem all nature is alive with the life of men. Other elements of “that synthetic and magical power to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of imagination,” and which blends “the idea with the image” and “the sense of novelty and freshness with old and familiar objects” will be felt as the poem is studied.
Wordsworth related in after years that the suggestion for the poem came from a dream of a phantom ship told to Coleridge by a friend, and that he (Wordsworth) proposed the shooting of the albatross, the revenge of the “tutelary spirits,” and the “navigation of the ship by the dead men,” and contributed the fourth stanza of the poem and the last two lines of the first stanza of Part IV. He had been reading Shelvocke’s “Voyages,” a book in which he had found a description of albatrosses as they are seen in far southern waters. Other reading that may have suggested some of the scenery is described in the “Notes” to the Globe edition of Coleridge’s poems. There are also passages and situations in the last two acts of Wordsworth’s play, “The Borderers,” which Coleridge read with great admiration in the summer of 1797, that have evident kinship with “The Ancient Mariner,” and Wordsworth’s “Peter Bell” (composed at Alfoxden, but printed many years later) suggests what the story might have become if Coleridge instead of Wordsworth had withdrawn from collaboration.
“CHRISTABEL” AND “KUBLA KHAN”
“Christabel” and “Kubla Khan” were first printed in 1816, in a pamphlet along with “The Pains of Sleep,” a sort of contrast to “Kubla Khan” composed in 1803. In the Preface to this pamphlet Coleridge informs us that the first part of “Christabel” was written at Stowey in 1797 and the second part at Keswick, Cumberland, in 1800. The poem was intended originally for the “Lyrical Ballads,” and it was with the hope of finishing it for the second edition that Coleridge took it up again in the fall of 1800. There is a good deal of uncertainty as to just how much of the work was done at that time. In two letters of that period he speaks of it as “running up to 1300 lines,” and “swelled into a poem of 1400 lines,” so that it is no longer suitable for the “Lyrical Ballads”; but hardly half of this amount was printed in the 1816 pamphlet or has ever been found since. One suspects that already in 1800 dreams and projects had begun to be confounded with performance. In the latter of the two letters mentioned above he relates how his “verse-making faculties returned” to him, after long and unsuccessful struggles with “barrenness” and deep “dejection,” as the result of drinking, “at the house of a neighbouring clergyman, … so much wine, that I found some effort and dexterity requisite to balance myself on the hither edge of sobriety.” On the whole, it seems probable that “Christabel” owes little to the forced efforts of his first year in the Lake country. Like most of the other poems in this volume, it is a product of the great year at Stowey. He himself told a friend in later years: “I had the whole of the two cantos in my mind before I began it,” adding very truly, “certainly the first canto is more perfect, has more of the true wild weird spirit than the last.”
Down to the close of his life he dreamed of finishing this work. He amused his listeners at Highgate with a continuation of the plot; and in 1833 he declared that if he “were perfectly free from vexation and were in the _ad libitum_ hearing of fine music” he could yet finish “Christabel,” “for I have, as I always had, the whole plan entire from beginning to end in my mind; but I fear I could not carry on with equal success the execution of the idea.” Wordsworth had a different recollection. He told Coleridge’s nephew in 1836 that he did not think Coleridge “had ever conceived, in his own mind, any definite plan for it; that the poem had been composed while they were in habits of daily intercourse, and almost in his presence, and when there was the most unreserved intercourse between them as to all their literary projects and productions, and he had never heard from him any plan for finishing it”; and added, what is fully borne out by a study of Coleridge’s life: “schemes of this sort passed rapidly and vividly through his mind, and so impressed him, that he often fancied he had arranged things, which really, and upon trial, proved to be mere embryos.”
“The unfinished window in Aladdin’s tower Unfinished must remain,”
wrote Longfellow, alluding to “The Dolliver Romance” that Hawthorne left incomplete at his death. There is strong kinship, moral and artistic, between Coleridge and Hawthorne; both believed that the heart is more than the head, and neither could force his imagination to work under unfavorable conditions. But Hawthorne’s failure of imagination came at the end of a fruitful and consistent career, and his life failed with it; in Coleridge the poet died half a lifetime before the man, and left the man–the preacher and philosopher–to lament his loss.
Whether or not Coleridge had the story complete in his mind, what we have is a fragment, and does not enable us to divine, as some broken statues do, the plan of the whole. What it gives us is the romantic mood, the sense of “witchery by daylight,” and this it does more hauntingly than anything else in the English language. It is a series of magical and unforgetable pictures. It owes a good deal to the old verse romances and ballads that so impressed the imagination in those days of the mediaeval revival, but it was itself a far stronger influence. It operated as an original force, both by its form and by its spirit, upon the poetic imagination of the first half of the nineteenth century more widely and deeply than the work of any other man, Burns and Keats not excepted. Scott heard it read from manuscript, and the “Lay of the Last Minstrel,” with the series of verse romances that followed, may almost be called a result of that reading; the verse form of Scott’s romances certainly is. Poe’s poetry is as far as the poles removed from Scott’s; yet a close study of Poe’s work shows the influence of “Christabel” to be even deeper here than in the “Lay of the Last Minstrel.”
Coleridge was fully aware of a special power, both of imagination and of verse-music, in the poem. His attempts to complete it in 1800 brought persistently to his mind the project of a philosophy of poetry, and especially of this poem, as we may infer from a letter to Poole in March, 1801: “I shall … immediately publish my ‘Christabel,’ with two essays annexed to it, on the ‘Preternatural’ and on ‘Metre.'” When the two cantos were at last printed in 1816, Coleridge wrote in the Preface: “The metre of the ‘Christabel’ is not, properly speaking, irregular, though it may seem so from its being founded on a new principle: namely, that of counting in each line the accents, not the syllables. Though the latter may vary from seven to twelve, yet in each line the accents will be found to be only four. Nevertheless this occasional variation in number of syllables is not introduced wantonly, or for the mere ends of convenience, but in correspondence with some transition, in the nature of the imagery or passion.” This is not to be taken quite literally. The accentual principle was assuredly nothing new in English verse, and syllable-counting, though introduced by Chaucer, had to be reintroduced by the Renaissance poets and did not become an unquestioned convention till the latter part of the seventeenth century. But the return to free accentual verse in the “Christabel” was an innovation at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is to be noted, too, that there are lines of three and even of two accents in Part I.
In chap. XV. of the _Biographia Literaria_, in a list of the “specific symptoms of poetic power” in Shakespeare’s early work, Coleridge places first “the perfect sweetness of the versification; its adaptation to the subject; and the power displayed in varying the march of the words…. The sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of imagination; and this, together with the power of reducing multitude into unity of effect, and modifying a series of thoughts by some one predominant thought or feeling, may be cultivated and improved, but can never be learnt. It is in these that _Poeta nascitur non fit_.”
“Kubla Khan” is the remembered fragment of a dream. All that we know about it is contained in the note Coleridge prefixed to it in the pamphlet of 1816. In the summer of 1798 (Coleridge says 1797, but this seems to have been a slip of his memory) “the author, then in ill health, had retired to a lonely farm-house between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire. In consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his chair at the moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of the same substance, in ‘Purchas’s Pilgrimage’: ‘Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall.’ The author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as _things_, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awaking he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!”
Opinion will ever vary as to its poetic worth. Coleridge himself professed to consider it “rather as a psychological curiosity” than as a thing “of any supposed _poetic_ merits”; to Lamb he repeated it “so enchantingly that it irradiates and brings heaven and elysian bowers into any parlour when he sings or says it,” and it has been a sort of touchstone of romantic taste ever since. It supremely illustrates that “sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it,” which the poet declared to be a gift of the imagination that can never be learnt.
[Footnote 1: See notes to this poem in the Globe edition, and E.H. Coleridge’s “Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge,” Vol. I, p. 245, note.]
“FRANCE: AN ODE”
This ode was written in February, 1798, and first printed in the “Morning Post” for April 16 of that year, under the significant title of “Recantation.” In the autumn it was printed with its present title in a pamphlet together with “Fears in Solitude,” another political poem, and “Frost at Midnight,” a poem on his infant child. In October, 1802, it was reprinted in the “Post” with a prose “Argument” (see notes), less necessary for the readers of that time than it may be now. Coleridge, like Wordsworth, had welcomed the French Revolution as ushering in an era of light and love in human society; both, though Wordsworth more profoundly, had been depressed by the excesses of 1793-4, and by the lust of conquest which became more and more evident under the Directory; and when at last in February, 1798, the French armies invaded Switzerland, the ancient sacred home of liberty in Europe, Coleridge “recanted” in this ode.
Political poetry is likely to lose its power with the passing of the events and passions that give it birth; it retains its power just in proportion as it is built on lasting and universal interests of the heart of man. That “France” has retained its position as one of the great odes of the English language is due not only to the loftiness of its thought and the splendor of its imagery, but even more to the fact that it turns from the political excitement of the hour to the grandeur and beauty of nature and to those aspirations and ideals whose home is “in the heart of man.”
From the second edition of “Lyrical Ballads,” 1800. It was planned by Coleridge as an introduction to the ballad of “The Dark Ladie,” which was never completed, but of which some fifteen stanzas were printed in the 1834 edition of his “Poetical Works.” Its composition cannot be accurately dated. It is conceived in the general spirit of the ballads but is simpler, more purely a poem of sentiment, than either “Christabel” or “The Ancient Mariner,” and makes no use of the supernatural. Its simplicity and absolute purity of tone are, however, something more than a negative virtue. Coleridge himself declared of it and “The Ancient Mariner” that they might be excelled, but could not be imitated.
“DEJECTION: AN ODE”
This ode was written in April, 1802, at a time when, after sickness, opium, domestic unhappiness and the consequent paralysis of his poetic faculty had driven him to seek distraction in the study of metaphysics, he made a visit to Wordsworth at Dove Cottage and in that vitalizing presence experienced a brief return of his powers–enough to give wonderful expression to perhaps the saddest thoughts that ever visited ungoverned genius. The earliest known form of the poem, preserved in a letter to W. Sotheby of July 19, 1802, shows (what is apparent enough to one familiar with the relations existing between the two poets) that it was conceived as a letter to Wordsworth, who is addressed in this earliest version as “Dearest Poet,” “Wordsworth,” and “William.” It was first printed in the “Morning Post” for October 4, 1802, with “Edmund” for Wordsworth’s name and with some omissions, but with the strong personal feeling undiminished; and in its present form (that is, with the parts omitted in the 1802 print restored, but with the substitution of “Lady” for “Edmund” and with numerous other omissions and changes, notably in the last stanza, all tending to depersonalize the poem) in “Sibylline Leaves,” 1816. In 1810 a hint given by Wordsworth, with the best intentions, to a third person concerning the real nature of Coleridge’s troubles, was reported, or rather misreported, to Coleridge, and an estrangement fraught with deep grief to both ensued. The breach was healed, as much as such wounds may be, by the mediation of a common friend in 1812; but the old glad and fruitful fellowship could never be restored. Coleridge wrote to Poole, February 13, 1813: “A reconciliation has taken place, but the _feeling_, which I had previous to that moment, … that, I fear, never can return. All outward actions, all inward wishes, all thoughts and admirations will be the same–_are_ the same, but–aye, there remains an immedicable _But_.”
“Dejection” is distinguished from the other poems in this volume by containing, along with its wonderful interpretation of outward nature into harmony with his own else unutterable sadness, Coleridge’s–and perhaps all poets’–essential philosophy of poetry. It was natural that the metaphysics in which he had been immersed should color his thought; but literature affords few if any instances of metaphysics so transformed into poetry in the crucible of feeling as is afforded by stanza V. of this ode.
“YOUTH AND AGE” AND “WORK WITHOUT HOPE”
In these two poems Coleridge has left a record of the sadness of a life lived
“In darkness, with the light of youth gone out,”
or returning only in glimpses that showed what he had lost. In these latter years he was busy enough in an incoherent, visionary fashion, and did even write and publish (though in characteristically fragmentary form) a work that made a great impression on young men in the second quarter of the century, his “Aids to Reflection”; but his activity was philosophical and theological, not poetic, and even in that field the product fell far short of his plans and promises. The inner and real life of the man is revealed, now as always, in his poetry; and amidst what profound dejection it glimmers on, these two brief poems show.
“Youth and Age” was written in 1823–“an _air_ that whizzed … right across the diameter of my brain … over the summit of Quantock at earliest dawn just between the nightingale that I stopt to hear in the copse at the foot of Quantock, and the first sky-lark that was a song-fountain, dashing up and sparkling to the ear’s eye, … out of sight, over the cornfields on the descent of the mountain on the other side–out of sight, tho’ twice I beheld its mute shoot downward in the sunshine like a falling star of silver”–so he described the conception of the poem in the original MS., printed by Mr. Campbell in the Notes to the Globe edition. It was a flash of poignant memory of the old days at Stowey. The first thirty-eight lines were printed in 1828, and the whole poem (including the last six lines, which were not in the original draft) in 1834.
“Work Without Hope” was written, Coleridge says, “on the 21st February, 1827,” and was first printed in 1828.
THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
IN SEVEN PARTS
Facile credo, plures esse Naturas invisibiles quam visibiles in rerum universitate. Sed horum omnium familiam quis nobis enarrabit? et gradus et cognationes et discrimina et singulorum munera? Quid agunt? quae loca habitant? Harum rerum notitiam semper ambivit ingenium humanum, nunquam attigit. Juvat, interea, non diffiteor, quandoque in animo, tanquam in tabula, majoris et melioris mundi imaginem contemplari: ne mens assuefacta hodiernae vitae minutiis se contrahat nimis, et tota subsidat in pusillas cogitationes. Sed veritati interea invigilandum est, modusque servandus, ut certa ab incertis, diem a nocte, distinguamus–T. BURNET, _Archaeol. Phil_, p. 68.
[Sidenote: An ancient Mariner meeteth three Gallants bidden to a wedding-feast, and detaineth one.]
It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
“By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
The bridegroom’s doors are opened wide, 5 And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set: May’st hear the merry din.”
He holds him with his skinny hand,
“There was a ship,” quoth he. 10 “Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!” Eftsoons his hand dropt he.
[Sidenote: The Wedding-Guest is spellbound by the eye of the old seafaring man, and constrained to hear his tale.]
He holds him with his glittering eye– The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child: 15 The Mariner hath his will.
The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man, The bright-eyed Mariner. 20
“The ship was cheered, the harbor cleared, Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.
[Sidenote: The Mariner tells how the ship sailed southward with a good wind and fair weather, till it reached the Line.]
The sun came up upon the left, 25 Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right Went down into the sea.
Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon–” 30 The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast, For he heard the loud bassoon.
[Sidenote: The Wedding-Guest heareth the bridal music; but the Mariner continueth his tale.]
The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes 35 The merry minstrelsy.
The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast, Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man, The bright-eyed Mariner. 40
[Sidenote: The ship driven by a storm toward the south pole.]
“And now the Storm-blast came, and he Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings, And chased us south along.
With sloping masts and dipping prow, 45 As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe, And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast, And southward aye we fled. 50
And now there came both mist and snow, And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by, As green as emerald.
[Sidenote: The land of ice, and of fearful sounds where no living thing was to be seen.]
And through the drifts the snowy clifts 55 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: 60 It cracked and growled, and roared and howled, Like noises in a swound!
[Sidenote: Till a great sea-bird, called the Albatross, came through the snow-fog, and was received with great joy and hospitality.]
At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul, 65 We hailed it in God’s name.
It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit; The helmsman steered us through! 70
[Sidenote: And lo! the Albatross proveth a bird of good omen, and followeth the ship as it returned northward through fog and floating ice.]
And a good south wind sprung up behind; The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners’ hollo!
In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud, 75 It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white, Glimmered the white moon-shine.”
[Sidenote: The ancient Mariner inhospitably killeth the pious bird of good omen.]
“God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!– 80 Why look’st thou so?”–“With my cross-bow I shot the Albatross.
The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left 85 Went down into the sea.
And the good south wind still blew behind, But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariners’ hollo! 90
[Sidenote: His shipmates cry out against the ancient Mariner, for killing the bird of good luck.]
And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay, 95 That made the breeze to blow!
[Sidenote: But when the fog cleared off, they justify the same, and thus make themselves accomplices in the crime.]
Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head, The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird That brought the fog and mist. 100 ‘T was right, said they, such birds to slay, That bring the fog and mist.
[Sidenote: The fair breeze continues; the ship enters the Pacific Ocean, and sails northward, even till it reaches the Line.]
The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst 105 Into that silent sea.
[Sidenote: The ship hath been suddenly becalmed.]
Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down, ‘T was sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea! 110
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand, No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day, 115 We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
[Sidenote: And the Albatross begins to be avenged.]
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink; 120 Water, water, every where
Nor any drop to drink.
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs 125 Upon the slimy sea.
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white. 130
[Sidenote: A Spirit had followed them: one of the invisible inhabitants of this planet, neither departed souls nor angels, concerning whom the learned Jew, Josephus, and the Platonic Constantinopolitan, Michael Psellus, may be consulted. They are very numerous, and there is no climate or element without one or more.]
And some in dreams assured were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us From the land of mist and snow.
And every tongue, through utter drought, 135 Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if We had been choked with soot.
[Sidenote: The shipmates, in their sore distress, would fain throw the whole guilt on the ancient Mariner: in sign whereof they hang the dead sea-bird round his neck.]
Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young! 140 Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
[Sidenote: The ancient Mariner beholdeth a sign in the element afar off.]
There passed a weary time. Each throat Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time! a weary time! 145 How glazed each weary eye,
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.
At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist; 150 It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.
A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water-sprite, 155 It plunged and tacked and veered.
[Sidenote: At its nearer approach, it seemeth him to be a ship; and at a dear ransom he freeth his speech from the bonds of thirst.]
With throats unslaked, with black lips baked, We could nor laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood! I bit my arm, I sucked the blood, 160 And cried, A sail! a sail!
With throats unslaked, with black lips baked, Agape they heard me call:
[Sidenote: A flash of joy;]
[Sidenote: And horror follows. For can it be a ship that comes onward without wind or tide?]
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in, 165 As they were drinking all.
See! see! (I cried) she tacks no more! Hither to work us weal;
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadies with upright keel! 170
The western wave was all a-flame.
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly 175 Betwixt us and the Sun;
[Sidenote: It seemeth him but the skeleton of a ship.]
And straight the Sun was flecked with bars, (Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered With broad and burning face. 180
Alas (thought I, and my heart beat loud) How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the Sun, Like restless gossameres?
[Sidenote: And its ribs are seen as bars on the face of the setting Sun. The Spectre-Woman and her Deathmate, and no other on board the skeleton-ship.]
Are those her ribs through which the Sun 185 Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a Death? and are there two? Is Death that woman’s mate?
[Sidenote: Like vessel, like crew!]
Her lips were red, her looks were free, 190 Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare Life-in-Death was she, Who thicks man’s blood with cold.
[Sidenote: Death and Life-in-Death have diced for the ship’s crew, and she (the latter) winneth the ancient Mariner.]
The naked hulk alongside came, 195 And the twain were casting dice;
‘The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!’ Quoth she, and whistles thrice.
[Sidenote: No twilight within the courts of the Sun.]
The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out; At one stride comes the dark; 200 With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.
[Sidenote: At the rising of the moon.]
We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip! 205 The stars were dim, and thick the night, The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white; From the sails the dew did drip–
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horned Moon, with one bright star 210 Within the nether tip.
[Sidenote: One after another,]
One after one, by the star-dogged Moon, Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang, And cursed me with his eye. 215
[Sidenote: His shipmates drop down dead.]
Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump, They dropped down one by one.
[Sidenote: But Life-in-Death begins her work on the ancient Mariner.]
The souls did from their bodies fly,– 220 They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul, it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my cross-bow!”
[Sidenote: The Wedding-Guest feareth that a Spirit is talking to him;]
“I Fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand! 225 And thou art long, and lank, and brown, As is the ribbed sea-sand.
I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown.”–
“Fear me not, fear not, thou wedding-guest! 230 This body dropt not down.
[Sidenote: But the ancient Mariner assureth him of his bodily life, and proceedeth to relate his horrible penance.]
Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on the wide, wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony. 235
[Sidenote: He despiseth the creatures of the calm.]
The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things Lived on; and so did I.
[Sidenote: And envieth that they should live, and so many lie dead.]
I looked upon the rotting sea, 240 And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.
I looked to heaven, and tried to pray; But or ever a prayer had gusht, 245 A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.
I closed my lids, and kept them close, And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky 250 Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.
[Sidenote: But the curse liveth for him in the eye of the dead men.]
The cold sweat melted from their limbs, Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me Had never passed away.
An orphan’s curse would drag to hell A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is a curse in a dead man’s eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse, And yet I could not die.
[Sidenote: In his loneliness and fixedness he yearneth towards the journeying Moon, and the stars that still sojourn, yet still move onward; and every where the blue sky belongs to them, and is their appointed rest, and their native country and their own natural homes, which they enter unannounced, as lords that are certainly expected and yet there is a silent joy at their arrival.]
The moving Moon went up the sky,
And nowhere did abide:
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside–
Her beams bemocked the sultry main,
Like April hoar-frost spread;
But where the ship’s huge shadow lay, The charmed water burnt alway
A still and awful red.
[Sidenote: By the light of the Moon he beholdeth God’s creatures of the great calm.]
Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white, And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.
Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black, They coiled and swam; and every track 280 Was a flash of golden fire.
[Sidenote: Their beauty and their happiness.]
[Sidenote: He blesseth them in his heart.]
O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart, And I blessed them unaware: 285 Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.
[Sidenote: The spell begins to break.]
The selfsame moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank 290 Like lead into the sea.
Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary Queen the praise be given! She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven, 295 That slid into my soul.
[Sidenote: By grace of the holy Mother, the ancient Mariner is refreshed with rain.]
The silly buckets on the deck,
That had so long remained,
I dreamt that they were filled with dew; And when I awoke, it rained. 300
My lips were wet, my throat was cold, My garments all were dank;
Sure I had drunken in my dreams,
And still my body drank.
I moved, and could not feel my limbs: 305 I was so light–almost
I thought that I had died in sleep, And was a blessed ghost.
[Sidenote: He heareth sounds and seeth strange sights and commotions in the sky and the element.]
And soon I heard a roaring wind:
It did not come anear; 310 But with its sound it shook the sails,
That were so thin and sere.
The upper air burst into life!
And a hundred fire-flags sheen,
To and fro they were hurried about! 315 And to and fro, and in and out,
The wan stars danced between.
And the coming wind did roar more loud, And the sails did sigh like sedge;
And the rain poured down from one black cloud; 320 The Moon was at its edge.
The thick black cloud was cleft, and still The Moon was at its side.
Like waters shot from some high crag, The lightning fell with never a jag, 325 A river steep and wide.
[Sidenote: The bodies of the ship’s crew are inspired, and the ship moves on;]
The loud wind never reached the ship, Yet now the ship moved on!
Beneath the lightning and the Moon The dead men gave a groan. 330
They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose, Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream, To have seen those dead men rise.
The helmsman steered, the ship moved on; 335 Yet never a breeze up blew;
The mariners all ‘gan work the ropes, Where they were wont to do;
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools– We were a ghastly crew. 340
The body of my brother’s son
Stood by me, knee to knee:
The body and I pulled at one rope, But he said nought to me.”
[Sidenote: But not by the souls of the men, nor by daemons of earth or middle air, but by a blessed troop of angelic spirits, sent down by the invocation of the guardian saint.]
“I fear thee, ancient Mariner!” 345 “Be calm, thou Wedding-Guest!
‘T was not those souls that fled in pain, Which to their corses came again,
But a troop of spirits blest:
For when it dawned–they dropped their arms, And clustered round the mast; 350 Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths, And from their bodies passed.
Around, around, flew each sweet sound, Then darted to the Sun; 355 Slowly the sounds came back again,