Fragmentary Nature and Imperfection of Coleridge's Work

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      Coleridge's period of poetic creation is incredibly brief. His is not a case of decline in poetic faculties as is the case with Wordsworth, but a case of arrest of poetic power, of creative imagination. His imagination is as rich as ever; his intellect as restless and keen, but they has sought expression in channels other than those of verse. Dejection: An Ode has been described as the poet's dirge to his own imagination. To the magic heights of The Rime and Christabel, Coleridge never rose again. Some have sought the causes in external circumstances and others have offered a more psychological approach.

      Among the external causes the failure of Coleridge health from 1801 onwards is an important one. He has inherited a tendency to gout which is accentuated by carelessness and indifference. Ill-health brings depression and lowering of animal spirits. Recourse to opium results not only in a deadening of natural sensibilities, but also in the prevention of resurrection of poetic powers.

      A contributory cause is Coleridge's natural indolence. He has described himself as a great "tomorrower." Says Margoliouth, "one thing was not given to Coleridge, self control without submission to outside authority." C.H. Herford puts it thus: "phenomenal wealth of ideas and equally phenomenal weakness of will embarrassed and distracted his subtle and delicate poetry."

      Domestic unhappiness and estrangement from friends, adds to indolence and irresolution, proves harmful to what is most characteristic of Coleridge's poetry - its spirit of peace and gentleness. Under their stress as Courthope points out, creative faculty gradually withers.

      The second group of causes concerns the inner life of Coleridge. The first of his sources of inspiration to fail him was the revolutionary enthusiasm, though it does not prove fatal to poetry. It is interesting to note that Coleridge's stay in Germany coincides with his death as a poet. In other words ''Metaphysics destroyed the poet in Coleridge."

      In his characteristically pungent way Quiller-Couch describes these explanations of Coleridge's arrest of poetic power as "foolish". "Let us ask ourselves", he writes "if it is conceivable within one man's measure to produce a succession of poems on the plane of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". The question is indisputably answered by Christabel and Kubla Khan, both fragments. "The quality of Coleridge's poetic genius", in the words of Compton-Rickett, "does not suggest long life". Coleridge's poetry is dream poetry. Such poetry as Kubla Khan and The Rime "comes not with observation. It draws its sustenance from mysterious half-lights of dreams." "The dream faculty and the power to word its message", observes O. Elton, "to a perfectly felicitous tune, is too finely strung and too liable to be jarred by outer vexations and inner disharmonies for a long lease to be expected of it." C.E. Vaughan asks: "Is it reasonable to suppose that any poet could have gone on living forever in an air so rarefied as that The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, and Christabel?" The wonderful dream palaces Coleridge built for himself in the clouds, the colours and forms of which are charged with a thousand suggestions from the unearthly and enchanted world of dreams cannot have endured.

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