S. T. Coleridge Narrative Technique in Poetry

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Q. 1. Coleridge's narrative skill and art of story-telling are commendable. Discuss.
Write a critical note on the narrative style of Coleridge with illustrations from the text.

      Ans. The form that has appealed to the Romantic poets, besides the lyric, is the ballad. Coleridge uses the ballad form with artistic skill. He tells a tale so well that we become rapt listeners willing to believe even supernatural incidents as if they are the most natural things to happen in the given situation.

      Dramatic Beginning. Perhaps, the best-known and more appreciated of his narrative poems is The Ancient Mariner. The very beginning of the poem draws and keeps the attention of the reader. With the Wedding Guest, the reader too is hypnotised into attending to the Mariner's tale. Coleridge's artistic skill is noteworthy - he knows what will grip the attention. The wrinkled hand and the glittering eye of the Mariner are enough to awe the Wedding — Guest and rivet the reader's attention. Curiosity is at once aroused and one wants to read on. The opening of Christabel, similarly, is striking. Once again Coleridge shows his narrative skill in evoking and holding one's attention. The bleak and cold night with its silence broken by the owl, the unexpected crowing of the cock, the howling of the mastiff, the shrunken full mo on - the natural setting is perfect for the tale to follow.

      Building up Dramatic Action. Suspense is another quality that Coleridge uses with, artistic finesse. This is a part of his narrative skill. In The Ancient Mariner, we have a deceptively calm beginning to the Mariner's tale. Familiar details of the journey are given. The Wedding-Guest appropriately beats his breast at having to listen to such a pedestrian account. But now the dramatic turn comes. The storm blast comes and with it the ship is driven toward the South Pole. The descriptive skill is used to enhance the narrative art in the poem. The mysterious atmosphere is built up; there is an interplay of human emotions with the Albatross being fed and played with by the sailors. Then comes the single line that
the Mariner has shot the Albatross with his cross-bow. The dramatic quality is enhanced and the reader's imagination is gripped. The complete calm of the ocean and the motionless ship, the hanging of the dead Albatross round the Mariner's neck, the appearance of the skeleton ship zig-zagging its way along a calm ocean with no wind to help it move - these episodes build up the tension and prove the power of Coleridge's art The story by itself is simple, but is made interesting because of Coleridge's narrative art.

      In Christabel, similarly, the dramatic quality is built up with the help of suspense. When Geraldine appears, suspense is intensified. An ominous atmosphere is further created by the reaction of the mastiff and the dying brand leaping into light as Geraldine passes by. The climactic moment is prepared for by Coleridge in a remarkable manner. How subtly, yet with remarkable horrific effect, Coleridge conveys to us the sense of evil embodied in Geraldine. The effect of the evil on Christabel is again portrayed dramatically.

      Nature Description Enhances Dramatic Sense. The nature descriptions are used by Coleridge to enhance dramatic effect, just as music is used in drama and movies. The natural scenes harmonise with the events. In Christabel, the full moon, covered but not fully hidden by a cloud, looks dull and small - a clear sign that all is not well. In The Ancient Mariner, nature, violent and furious, calm and soothing, or still and stagnant serves to increase the dramatic effect of the incidents.

      Love: A Ballad within a Ballad. In Love we have a ballad within a ballad. The lover wins the love of Genevieve by narrating to her the sad tale of a knight who goes crazy because of unrequited love. The medieval atmosphere is used to enhance dramatic effect. The two stories are interwoven. The element of action, adventure and medieval chivalry in the knight's story works toward the climax when Genevieve, overwhelmed by the pathos of the story, rushes into her lover's arms.

      Human Interest and Psychological Insight. Psychological insight enhances the dramatic quality of Coleridge's narrative poems. The change that has come over the old Mariner would not have been so well conveyed through description as it is through giving the reaction of the pilot and his boy. The effect of guilt on the Mariner's mind too is vividly conveyed. Christabel is transformed by the contact with evil, but Coleridge does not say so directly. He hints at the change, but the hints have more dramatic effect than direct description would have had.

      Even Kubla Khan, though not basically a narrative poem, has some dramatic qualities. The description of the scene has dramatic effect—the place is "savage, holy, enchanted'', and is associated with a waning moon and a "woman waiting for her demon lover". The image of, the poet in an ecstasy of creation is not without dramatic touches.

      Conclusion. Coleridge has possessed a powerful narrative skill. He can invest a tale with drama even while giving to it a symbolic significance. More than Wordsworth, Coleridge has possessed the skill of telling a story effectively. Pictures alternate with incidents and images with episodes. There is action, excitement, thrill and subtle psycho—analysis. All these features combine to hold the reader's interest - the most important aspect of narrative poetry. The form of the ballad and the ballad meter are used with facility and felicity by Coleridge. This again is part of his narrative art.

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