Critics Remarks on S. T. Coleridge Poetry

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      William Wordsworth: On the Origin of The Ancient Mariner Circumstances Leading to the Development of the Poem. In the autumn of 1797 he (Coleridge), my sister, and myself has started from Alfoxenden pretty late in the afternoon, with a view to visit Linton and the Valley of Stones near to it: and as our united funds are very small, we have agreed to defray the expense of the tour by writing a poem to be sent to the New Monthly Magazine set up by Phillips, the bookseller, and edited by Dr. Aikin. Accordingly, we set off, and proceeded along the Quantock Hills towards Watchet; and in the course of this walk has planned the poem of the Ancient Mariner, have been found on a dream, as Mr. Coleridge said, of his friend Mr. Cruikshank. Much the greatest part of the story was Mr. Coleridge's invention, but certain parts I have suggested; for example, some crime is to be committed which should bring the old Navigator, as Coleridge afterward has delighted to call him, the spectral persecution, as a consequence of that crime, and his own wanderings. I have been reading in Shelrock's Voyages a day or two before, that while doubling Cape Horn they frequently see albatrosses in that latitude, the large sort of sea-fowl, some extending their wings twelve or thirteen feet. "Suppose said I, 'you represent him as having killed one of these birds on entering the South Sea, and that the lutelary spirits of these regions take upon them to avenge the crime". The incident is thought fit for the purpose, and adopts accordingly. I also suggest the navigation of the ship by the dead men but do not recollect and I have anything more to do with the scheme of the poem. The Gloss with which it is subsequently accompanied is not thought of by either of us at the time, at least not a hint of it is given to me, and I have no doubt, it is a gratuitous afterthought. We began the composition together on that to be a memorable evening: I furnished two or three lines at the beginning of the poem, in particular —

And listen'd like a three years' child:
The Mariner had his will.

      These trifling contributions, all but one (which Mr. C; has with unnecessary scrupulously recorded) sliped out of his mind, as well they might. As we have endeavoured to proceed conjointly (I speak of, the same evening), our respective manners have proved so widely different that it would have been quite presumptuous to me to do anything but separate from an undertaking upon which I can only have been a clog... We have returned by Dulverton to Alfoxenden. The Ancient Mariner grows and grows, till it becomes too important for our first object, which is limited to our expectation of five pounds; and we begin to think of a volume which is to consist, as Mr. Coleridge has told the world, of poems chiefly on supernatural subjects, has taken from common life, but looks at, as much as may be, through an imaginative medium.

      William Hazlitt: (Extract from The Spirit of the Age, 1825). Of all Mr. Coleridge's productions, The Ancient Mariner is only one that we can with confidence put into any person's hands, on whom we wish to impress a favorable idea of his extraordinary power. Let whatever other objections be made to it, it is unquestionably a work of genius of wild, irregular, overwhelming imagination, and has that rich, varied movement in the verse, which gives a distant idea of the lofty or chanceful tones of Mr. Coleridge's voice.

      Humphry House: An Interpretation of Ancient Mariner. The poem up to.... Part IV and the opening stanzas of Part V, has taken together with the ending, Part VII, is relatively easy to interpret as a tale of crime, punishment and reconciliation, with the recovery of love in the blessing of the water-snakes at its climax. But the reminder of Part V and the whole of Part VI do not seem at first sight to have quite the same coherence and point. It is here that readers may still find "unmeaning marvels" and an elaborate supernatural machinery which dissipates concentration. There are wonderful details in the verse, some of the finest descriptions of all; but they may seem to fall apart and to have too little bearing on each other and on the whole. Many publishes accounts of the poem do not adequately face the implication of the detail in these Parts. It is, therefore, best to summarise shortly what happens.

      The Mariner hears a roaring wind and sees the fires and lightning in the sky. But the ship moves on untouched by the wind, and the reanimate dead men work it: a troop of blessed spirits has entered into them. These spirits makes various music. The ship goes on, move from beneath by the spirit of the South Pole. Through the two voices the Mariner learns that it is (his Polar Spirit that requires vengeance for the Albatross's death, and that he will have more penance to do.

      In Part VI, the Voices says that the ocean is under the power of the moon.

      The ship is now moved northward by the angelic power while the Mariner is in his trance. He wakes to see the final curse in the eyes of the dead men. Then that spell is snapped, and he feels at last a sweet breeze on himself alone. He arrives at his home port, steep in cool night. Then, as the Gloss says: "The angelic spirits leave the dead bodies. And appear in their own forms of light". This acts as the signal which brings out the boat from land.

      In Part VII a dreadful rumbling sound comes under the water and the ship sinks.

      A quite normally accepted and simple interpretation of Parts V and VI treats them as a further necessary extension of the expiation theme. In the blessing of the water-snakes the Mariner has reconciled himself to the creatures, but it remains for him to reconcile himself also with the Creator: therefore he has to suffer once more (this time from the curse of the dead men's eyes) and to win the power of recognising the beauty of the angelic music.

      This is broadly acceptable, but it takes us very little distance in understanding the complicated machinery. Is there any serious import in the answers to such questions as these: What is the function of the Polar Spirit? In one aspect he appears as the friend and avenger of the "pious bird of good Omen", and yet he is made to work under obedience to the angelic troop, who are thus plainly, in the spiritual hierarchy, superior to him; and he is bought off by the promise that the Mariner's penance shall continue. It may have seemed better to have made the angelic troop themselves the protectors of the Albatross and make them require the further penance. Why shall the ship move first by the Polar Spirit and then by the angelic power? Again, what is the significance of the two winds in parts V and VI? Put the problem in another way: are the avenging by the tutelary spirits of the South Sea and the reanimation of the dead bodies to work the ship here just out of politeness, because Wordsworth have suggested them? The first main problem here is to decide whether there is any meaning in the two different kinds of supernatural being.

      Walter Pater: Che Ancient Mariner: A Romantic Poem (An abstract from Appreciations 1889). The Ancient Mariner, is a 'romantic' poem, impressing us by bold invention and appealing to that taste for the supernatural, that longing for 'le frisson, a shudder, to which the 'romantic' school in Germany, and its derivations in England and France, directly ministers. In Coleridge, personally, this taste have been encouraged by his odd and out-of-the-way reading in the old fashioned literature of the marvellous-books like Purchas' Pilgrims, early voyages like Hakluyt's, old naturalists and visionary moralists, like Thomas Burent.... Fancies of the strange things which may very well happen, even in broad daylight, to men shut up alone in ship for off on the sea, seems to have occurred to the human mind in all ages with a peculiar readiness, and often have about them, from the story of the stealing of Dionysius downwards the fascination of a certain dreamy grace, which distinguishes them from other kinds of marvellous inventions. This sort of fascination The Ancient Mariner brings to its highest degree: it is the delicacy, the dreamy grace, in his presentation of the marvellous, which makes Coleridge's work so remarkable. The too palpable intruders from a spiritual world in almost all ghost literature, in Scott and Shakespeare even, have a kind of crudity and coarseness. Coleridge's power is in the very fineness with which, as by some really ghostly finger, he brings home to our inmost sense his inventions, daring as they are the skeleton ship, the polar spirit, the inspiriting of the dead corpses of the ship’s crew. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has the plausibility the perfect adaptation to reason and the general aspect of life, which belongs to the marvellous, when actually present as part of a credible experience in our dreams.... The modern mind, so minutely self-scrutinizing, if it is to be affected at. all by a sense of the supernatural, needs the more; finely touched than is possible in the older, romantic presentment of it. The spectral object, so crude, so impossible, has become plausible, as:

The bolt upon the brain
That will show itself without;

      And is understood to be but a condition of one's own mind, for according to the scepticism, latent at least, in so much of our modern philosophy, the so-called real things are but spectral after all.

      It is this finer, more delicately marvellous supernaturalism, fruit of his own more delicate psychology, that Coleridge infuses into romantic adventure, itself also then a new or revived thing in English literature; and with a fineness of weird effect in the Ancient Mariner unknown in those older, more simple, romantic legends and ballads. It is a flower of medieval or later German romance, growing up in a peculiarly compounded atmosphere of modern psychological speculation, and putting forth in it wholly new qualities. The quaint prose commentary, which runs side by side with the verse of The Ancient Mariner, illustrates this a composition of quite different shade of beauty and merit from that of the verse which it accompanies, connecting this, the chief poem of Coleridge, with his philosophy, and emphasizing therein that psychological interest of which I have spoken, its curious soul-love.

      Completeness, the perfectly rounded wholeness and unity of the impression which it leaves on the mind of a reader who fairly gives himself to it - that, too, is one of the characteristics of a really excellent work, in the poetic as in every other kind of art, and by this completeness, The Ancient Mariner certainly gains upon Christabel.... It is Coleridge's one great complete work, the one really finished thing in a life of many beginnings.

      Harold Bloom: The Ancient Mariner and the Wandering Jew Tradition. Poetry and potentially its criticism alone of all human talk need not be reductive. Coleridge in The Ancient Mariner tells a story that relates itself clearly to a major Romantic archetype, the Wanderer, the man with the mark of Cain, or the mocker of Christ, who must expiate in the perpetual cycle of guilt and suffering, and whose torment is in excess of its usually obscure object and source ... In Coleridge, Shelley and Byron it becomes something more, a personal myth so consuming that we hardly know whether to seek it first in the life or in the work.

      The Ancient Mariner is in tradition of the stories of Cain and of the Wandering Jew, but it does not reduce to them. It is a late manifestation of the Gothic Revival, and its first version is clearly to be related to the ballad of The Wandering Jew in Percy's Reliques but its historical sources also tend to mislead us when we attempt to describe it in its own terms, which is the business of criticism. The Ancient Mariner, bright-eyed and compulsive, is a haunter of wedding feasts, and in a grim way he is the chanter of prothalamium. Yet he does not address himself to bride or groom but to a gallant who is bridegrooms next of kin. His story means most, he implies, when it is juxtaposed with the special joy of the wedding celebration, but it is not relevant to these being joined by a sacrament. Its proper audience is an unwilling one; its function is monitory. The message can only be relayed from a lurker at the threshold to a prospective sharer of the feast.

      The world of the Mariner's voyage is purely visionary..., without apparent premeditation or conscious motive, the narrator murders the Albatross.

      The murder is a gratuitous act, but then so is the initial appearance of the bird. There is a tradition of seemingly motiveless malevolence that goes from Shakespeare's Iago, Milton's Satan to the protagonist of Poe, Melville and Dostoevsky the tradition climaxes (in our times) in violence that yet confirms individual existence and so averts an absolute despair of self. Coleridge's Mariner belongs to this tradition whose dark ancestors include Cain, the Wandering Jew and Judas whose act of betrayal is portrayed as a desperate assertion of freedom by Wilde, Yeats, and D.H. Lawrence.

      This tradition's common denominator is that of a desperate assertion of the self and a craving for a heightened sense of identity. This is what the Mariner brings about for himself, in a death-in-life purgatorial fashion; for his companions, he brings only a terrible death and a mechanical life-in-death following his own partial redemption.

      Several influential modern readings of The Ancient Mariner have attempted to baptize the poem by importing into it the notion of Original Sin and the myth of the Fall. But the Mariner is neither disobedient in his dire action nor altered in nature by its first effects. There is nothing in him to suffer the depravity of the natural heart, nor is the slaying of an Albatross at all an adequate symbol of a lapse that demands expression in the language of theology. Coleridge felt the poem has been already too overtly moral.

      J.L. Lowes: The design of The Ancient Mariner. Behind The Ancient Mariner, he crowding masses of impressions, incredible in their richness and variety. That admits no doubt. But the poem is not the sum of the impressions, as a heap of diamond dust is the sum of its shining particles: nor is the poet merely a sensitized medium for their reception and transmission. Beneath the poem lies also innumerable blendings and fusings of impressions, brought about below the level, of conscious mental processes. That too is no longer open to question. But the poem is not the confluence of unconsciously merging images, as a pool of water forms from the coalescence of scattered drops: nor is the poet a somnambulist in a subliminal world. Neither the conscious impressions nor their unconscious interpenetrations constitute the poem. They are inseparable from it, but it is an entity which they do not create. On the contrary, every impression, every new creature rising from the potent waters of the Well, is what it now is through its participation in a whole, foreseen as a whole in each integral part a whole which is the working out of a controlling imaginative design. The incommunicable, unique essence of the poem is its form.

      And that form is the handiwork of choice, and a directing intelligence, and the sweat of a gorging brain. The design of The Ancient Mariner did not lie, like a landscape in a crystal, Pellucid and complete in Coleridge's mind from the beginning. It has been there potentially, together with a hundred hovering alternatives, in a melange of disparate and fortuitous suggestions. To drive through that farrago, 'straight forward as a Roman' balanced opposition of daemonic and angelic agencies, and the unfolding consequences of the initial act that involves more than the spontaneous welling up of images from secret depths. Beyond a doubt, that ceaseless play of swift associations which has been flashed is like flying shuffles through Coleridge's shaping brain, present and cooperating from the first.

      For the action has a beginning, and a middle and end. It is the first half of the poem the agency of an avenging daemon is in the ascendent; in the second, the prevailing power of an angel band. It is an overt act of the mariner which precipitates the daemonic vengeance; it is an inner impulse counter to the act which brings to pass the angelic intervention; and in the end it is 'the penance of life' which falls upon the rescued wanderer, a fated wanderer still. Exciting force, rising action, climax falling action, catastrophe - all are there. And through the transfer to the Mariner of legendary associations of the Wandering Jew, undying among the dead, Cruikshank's dream its figures metamorphosed into Death and Life-in-Death is built into the basic structure of the plot. And under the influence of another ship, is sailed by an angelic crew, the suggestion of the navigation of the Mariner's vessel by bodies of the dead is so transformed as to provide that cardinal antithesis of angelic and daemonic agencies on which the action of the poem turns. And finally, by a stroke of consummate art, ship and poem alike are brought back in the end to the secure, familiar, happy world from which they have set out. The supernatural machinery is a masterpiece of constructive skill. But only, I think, in the light of the genesis of its component parts can the triumph of the faculty which has shaped them into unity be fully understood.

      R.P. Warren: Two basic themes (Summarised by Humphry House). The whole discussion of this problem has been clarified and ennobled by Mr. Warren's long essay, which may be summarised. He maintains that the poet has "two basic themes both of them very rich and provocative." The primary theme, which is "the outcome of the fable taken at its face value as a story of crime and punishment and reconciliation,'' is the theme of sacramental vision, or the theme of 'One Life.' The secondary theme is "concerned with the context of values in which the fable is presented" and is "the theme of the imagination." The two themes are finally fused in the poem. He aims to establish the existence of this secondary theme by two lines of argument: first, that there are parts of the poem not otherwise easily intelligible, such as parts V and VI; and second, that the symbolism of the poem is richer and more coherent than the redemption, visionary, theme alone requires. Mr. Warren elaborates the contrast of the "Two lights" in great detail.

      He points out quite rightly and fully the "pervasive presence of moon and moonlight in Coleridge's work", especially in association with creativeness. In Sonnet to the Autumnal Moou, 1788, she is called the "Mother of widely-working visions,", and in Sougs of the Pixies 1796, "Mother of wildly-working dreams". Christabel and The Ancient Mariner are bathed in moonlight; the moon is over the deep romantic chasm of Kubla Khan; it is prominent in The Nightingale, Cain and Dejection.

      Mr. Warren maintains that the association is so recurrent and persistent in Coleridge's writing, between creation or the activity of the secondary imagination and the moon light, half-lights, dim lights, gloom, luminescent clouds and so on, that the association between them can justifiably be regarded as habitual: and that as it goes back even into his very early poems, it can without injustice be taken as established (even if not consciously) at the time of writing the Mariner. He quotes from the Biographia passage in which Coleridge recalled the origin of the Lyrical Ballads themselves: "The sudden charm, which accidents of light and shade, which moon-light or sun-set, diffused over a known and familiar landscape. These are the poetry of nature."

      The Albatross, besides being associated with human nature on the level of the primary theme, is also associated with the moon, mist, cloud and fog-smoke on the level of the secondary theme of the imagination:

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
While all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine. (L. 75-78)

      Furthermore, the bird is associated with the breeze, which Mr. Warren takes to be the "creative" wind, for which there are countless parallels in other poets.

      J. Colmer: The Theme of One Life in Ballad Form. In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Coleridge explores the theme of the one life in ballad form through 'incidents and agents in part at least, supernatural.' The colour, solidity, and movement of the descriptions and the hypnotic power of the narrative makes it possible for young readers to find complete satisfaction in the story alone. But within the narrative framework, a complex vision of life is developed. At a deeper level then the purely narrative, at which it has all the appeal of an old minstrel's song that 'holdeth children from play and old men from the chimney corner' it may be seen as a spiritual adventure, and the specific references to Christian doctrine invite us to some relationship between the Mariner's crime of killing the Albatross, his punishment and subsequent expiation and the fall of man. Nevertheless, a search for deeper moral significance is not at the expense of the rich complexity of the poem, and the idea that
it embodies a dramatic tension, between Coleridge's Christian belief and his fears that the universe is ruled by arbitrary laws might explain why many of the elements like the death of the crew cannot easily be brought within any simple moral interpretation. Whatever else it is, it is a poem centrally concerned with the one life and the redeeming power of imaginative love.

      S. A. Brook: Supernaturalism in The Ancient Mariner. In The Ancient Mariner the events are natural, but behind them lies a supernatural world. The thoughts which Nature's powers awake in a sensitive soul are believed by Coleridge to have corresponding existence which derives their being from nature. These bodiless beings may be felt by us as enemies or friends and in circumstances 'made emotional by loneliness, they may themselves be felt as actual presences by man. But this could only be in primeval, solitude where dwell things to dream of, not to tell, or in the midst of untravelled seas, or in the deep forests of romance. In these remote mysterious seas and woods Coleridge lays the scenery of The Ancient Mariner and of Christabel. It is supernatural, but of the ancient, common simple kind which belongs to all mankind. We feel the same thrill he desires to convey in Christabel if at night we are lost in forest:

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread

      The same expression of the possibility of marvel and, horror, of mysterious sins and their forgiveness, and of the chance of meeting some forgotten spiritual life which have been before man came on earth, which creeps over us as we read The Ancient Mariner, belongs to sea men who have been lost in unvisited spaces of ocean, vext with everlasting calm. I have never met a sailor whose ship has been among the lonely places of the sea, who do not know of their haunting, in the air that has sighed in the rigging, the voices of the creatures that are half of the water and half of the air above them. With wonderful but unconscious skill scenery is kept extraordinarily true to Nature. The single motive — He prayeth well who loveth well, both man and bird and beast" — is so slight that it does not take the whole out of the world of the dreaming phantasy, out of the mystery of the great and solitary sea; and yet, when it comes in at the end, it throws back its single impression on the whole and gives it lyric unity.

      S. Dutt: Dramatic Probability of Supernatural Elements. For the appreciation of the novel and original character of The Ancient Mariner as well as the intimate connection of 'suspension of disbelief' with 'dramatic probability,' it is necessary to explicate what are but implicit suggestions in Coleridge. Considers as a tale, Coleridge's poem is radically different from all previous tales of the supernatural, not on account of its richer or finer artistic qualities, but because of its inner dramatic stress. And its supernatural incidents acquire from this very dramatic stress a different quality corresponding to what Leigh Hunt calls 'conditional truth to nature.

      It is obvious that by presuming 'dramatic probability' or 'dramatic truth' in a supernatural tale, which is a tale of one's intimate experience, Coleridge implies the presence of an inner mental drama underlying and informing it On the consistent character of this drama depends the whole power of illusion of suspension of disbelief, for it is not difficult to see how the presence of it affects the supernatural elements of the tale. Involved in this inner drama, the supernatural incident necessarily appears shadowy and uncertain: its reality becomes largely relative and it scarcely lends itself to judgment on its own merits and apart from the situation imagined. The supernatural, shedding largely its supernatural marvel, raises only the kind of speculative wonder implied in Prof. Beers' intriguing queries about the Ancient Mariner's experiences, viz., "Did the mariner really see the spectral bark, hear spirits talking, or is it all but the phantasmagoria of the calenture which attacks the sailor on the tropic main, so that he seems to see green meadows and water-brooks on the level brine?"

      H.D. Traill: Realism in The Ancient Mariner. The Ancient Mariner, however is as real to the reader as the hero Bean de Chagrin. We are convinced of the curse upon one of the doomed wretches as upon the other; and the strange phantasmagoric haze which is thrown around the ship and the lonely voyager leaves their outline as clear as if we see them through the sunshine of the streets of Paris. Coleridge triumphs over his difficulties by sheer vividness of imagery and terse vigour of descriptive phrase: two qualities over which his previous poems did not prove him to possess by any means so complete a mastery. For among all the beauties of his earlier landscape, we can hardly reckon that of intense and convincing truth. He seems seldom before to have written as Wordsworth nearly always seems to write, "with his eye on the object"; and certainly he never before has displayed any remarkable power of completing his word-picture with a few touches. In The Ancient Mariner, his eye seems never to wander from his object, and again the scene starts out upon the canvas in two or three strokes of the brush. The skeleton ship, with the dicing demons on its deck; the setting sun peering "through its ribs, as if through a dungeon-grate"; the water-snakes under the moonbeams, with the "elfish light" falling off them "in hoary flakes" when they reared; the dead crew, who work the ship and "raise their limbs like lifeless tools" — everything seems to have been actually seen and we believe it all as the story of a truthful eye-witness. The details of the voyage, too, are all chronicle with such order and regularity, there is such a diary-like air about the whole things that we accept it almost as if it were a series of extract from the ship's 'log". Then again the execution: a great thing to be said of so long a poem; is marvellously equal throughout; the story never drags or flags for a moment, its felicities of diction are perpetual, and it is scarcely marred by a single weak line.

      A. Douglas: The Ancient Mariner A Symbolic Poem. The Mariner is ultimately saved from his fate worse than death by the gentle spirit who decrees that he shall win his way back to partial release through loving all things. And so through a role of gentleness and sentimentality does Coleridge pursue his way through life. He plays the role and preaches the gospel of benign love.....

      It (shooting the Albratross) is, significantly, an utterly unjustified act and.... it is followed by a remorse out of all proportion to the deed. It is clearly a fantasy symbolising guilt. The Mariner has killed the source of kindness, safety and guidance... The odd omission of any justification, provocation or motivation is best explained as a symbolic device suggesting their sub-rational, neurotic source. In view of the bird's mission and the pattern of emotional disturbance in Coleridge's childhood, it will seem that this fantasy of killing the Albatross is associated with some deeply burned guilt, either incestuous or Oedipal.

      With Coleridge a weak or waning moon is pretty clearly a powerful symbol for loss of mother love. The figure appears in Christabel:

The moon, is behind, and at the full;
And yes she looks both small and dull.

      But the most astonishing moon symbolism occurs in The Ancient Mariner. At the most awful moment in that poem, when the nightmare Life-in-Death has won the Mariner's soul, and the night is thick and dark then comes the Moon. The passage describing her coming has forever astonished and puzzled with its mystifying error in astronomy:

Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horned Moon, with one bright Star
Within the nether tip.

      The figures come at the end of a long stanza that reaches a climax of feeling in these lines. Can this impossible bit of astronomy be a Freudian slip? It seems inexplicable, yet if the moon holds reference here to motherhood, how wonderful that Coleridge shall put the star within the nether tip, "enfolded", so to speak. Is it possible that we have here the unconscious yearning of the narcissist in a magnificent bit of pure expressionism altering the very face of the heavens? Like a mother, the moon holds the little star within her arm. It is not so strange an idea in the mind of a poet dominated by the need of a universe essentially benevolent, essentially loving. Soft, gentle and benevolent presence in the sky, serenely she floats among the stars quietly shedding her light on all below: the lovely complement and partner of the strong male Sun.

      C. M. Bowra: The Ancient Mariner: A Myth of Guilt and Redemption. The Ancient Mariner..., is a myth of guilt and redemption, but of course it is also much more. Its symbolical purpose is but one element in a complex design. Though Coleridge has his own poetry of a guilty soul, it is not comparable in depth or in insight with the poetry of some other men who have given the full powers of their genius to writing about crime and the misery which it engenders. Nonetheless Coleridge's introduction of this theme into The Ancient Mariner gives to it a new dimension. What might otherwise be no more than an irresponsible fairy-tale is brought closer to life and to its fundamental issues. The myth of crime and punishment provides a structure for the supernatural events which rise from it but often make their appeal irrespective of it. Much of the magic of The Ancient Mariner comes from its blend of dark and serious issues with the delighted play of creative energy. Coleridge has good reasons for fashioning his poem in this way. In the first place, the combination of different themes is responded to his own complex vision of existence. For him life has both its dark and bright sides; its haunting responsibilities and ravishing moments of unsullied delight. He has seen that the two are closely interwoven and that, if he speak with the full force of his genius, he must introduce both into his poem. In the second place, he see life not analytically but creatively, and he knows that any work of creation must itself be an extension and an enchantment of life. He must preserve the mystery and the enchantment which he know in his finest poems, and for him these come alike from the beauty of the visible world and the uncharted corners of the human soul. The shadow cast by the Mariner's crime adds by contrast to the brilliance of the unearthly world in which it is committed, and the degree of his guilt and his remorse serves to stress the power of the angelic beings which watch over humankind. The result is a poem shot with iridescent light. It appears to us now in this way, now in that, and there is no final or single approach to it.

      In creating The Ancient Mariner in this way Coleridge has obeyed the peculiar and paradoxical nature of his genius. In him, the poet and the metaphysician are uneasily blended, and the creative spirit, which is capable of such rapturous flights, has worked most freely when it is free from metaphysical speculations.

      Graham Hough: The Ancient Mariner, A Rebirth Myth. The poem is more than an allegory of guilt and regeneration. In any ordinary sense the Mariner is very little guilty. But he has broken the bond between himself and the life of Nature and in consequence becomes spiritually dead. What happens to him when he blesses the water-snakes in the tropical calm is a psychic rebirth: a rebirth that must at times happen to all men and all cultures unless they are to dry up in living death. The whole poem is indeed a vivid presentation of the rebirth myth as it is conceived by Jung: the psychologist who has done most to explain these recurrent forms of imaginative literature. But such explanations of poetry are not convincing to everyone and are not easily demonstrable, so I will not labour the point. What we must explain is that it is not the final 'Moral', it is the living symbolization of this universal psychic experience that gives the poem its lasting power. It is as though Coleridge has tapped a deeper level of consciousness here than he is ever to reach again.

      Allan Grant: The Ancient Mariner, the Story of a Voyage into the Interior. At the same time the Mariner's tale is a story of a voyage into the interior. Not only the unfathomable depths of the sources of human action is to be discerned in the unprecedented shooting of the Albatross that causes him his suffering and the spontaneous blessing of the water-snakes that begins his restoration: the story also takes us beyond the human world altogether. Again it is a voyage of extreme contrasts, of suffering and of expiation, of the human and social world and an altogether alien cosmos with its own terrible, yet beautiful order. It is exactly right that the listener shall be a wedding guest and that the Mariner denies him his expectations of the nature enjoyment of the music, the celebration and the happiness of the feast. It is also right that the guest shall be afraid of the Mariner and feel that he is a being from another world; he is exactly that.

      George Whaley: The Ancient Mariner, A Personal Allegory. The Ancient Mariner in addition to its other unique qualities is both an unconscious projection of Coleridge's early sufferings and a vivid prophecy of his sufferings that were to follow. The poem is probably not originally intended to be a personal allegory: but that is what, in Coleridge's eyes, it became latter as the prophecy is slowly, inexorably, and lingeringly fulfilled.

      As far as I know The Ancient Mariner has never been interpreted as a personal allegory. To do so (and the evidence for it is weighty) not only gives a clue to the sources of the poem's intensity but also explains beyond cavil its moral implications. The Ancient Mariner is, however, of primary importance as a poem; and no specialised interest: moral, biographical or allegorical — can be allowed to assail the integrity to which, as a poem, it is entitled. But the interpretation I have suggested does bring the reader into intimate contact with Coleridge the man. Even to attempt to understand him will induce sympathy, and from sympathy, some understanding can grow.

      D. W. Harding: Depression and the Sense or Isolation. The human experience round which Coleridge centers the poem is surely the depression and the sense of isolation and unworthiness which the Mariner describes in part IV. The suffering he describes is of a kind which is perhaps not found except in slightly pathological conditions, but which, pathological or not has been felt by a great many people. He feels isolated to a degree that baffles expression and reduces him to the impotent, repetitive emphasis which becomes doggerel in school room reading:

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!

      At the same time, he is not just physically isolated, but is socially abandoned, even by those with the greatest obligations:

And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

      With this desertion the beauty of the ordinary world has been taken away:

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie.

      All that is left, and especially, centrally, oneself, is disgustingly worthless:

And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

      With the sense of worthlessness, there is also guilt. When he tried to pray:

A wicked whisper came and made
My heart as dry as dust.

      And enveloping whole experience is the sense of sapped energy, oppressive weariness:

For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.

      This, the central Experience, comes almost at the middle of the poem. It is the nadir of depression to which the earlier stanzas sink, the rest of the poem describes what is in part recovery and in part aftermath. You need not have been a Mariner in a supernatural Pacific in order to have felt this mood. Coleridge knew it well, and Dejection and The Pains of Sleep deal with closely related experiences.

      E. B. Gosse: The Ancient Mariner is the Romantic Urge to Explore the Eternal Soul. But in truth the Mariner tells us little of our relation to Wordsworthian nature, to wino, sun and moon. Our premise has been that his tale deals with no literal geographical voyage. Rather it is emblematic of the romantic urge to explore the eternal soul and the temporal emotions. The voyage was Coleridge's as it becomes the readers': plunged like, all men in the mist and gloom of life on this planet, he sought to comprehend the life-giving source which calls up that mist, to appreciate the luminosity that informed that gloom. The Ancient Mariner is the finest fruit of that labour.

      F. Marsh: Journey of Psychic Exploration. It is just as essential (as in The Waste Land) in reading The Ancient Mariner to wrestle with images to interpret the symbols.

      The Ancient Mariner, in addition to being the story of crime and expiation, takes us on a journey of psychic exploration where natural and symbolic coexist.

      The reception of the bird and the splitting of the ice are not coincidental. The connection, I suggest, is causal. The ice like the later lack of wind and rain is an image of the absence of creative vitality and spontaneous feeling. The bird images just such life and feeling. But as yet there is no real insight, no conscious understanding (the light is mist, cloud, fog-smoke), and the Mariner kills the bird.

      Critics have given this action every significance from symbolic, murder and fall of man to the "violation of a great sanctity at the animal, human and spiritual levels" and "the act of pride, the unbridled assertion of the self" Mr. George Whaley who... suggests that the Albatross "is the symbol of Coleridge's creative imagination, his eagle" is perhaps the most helpful. Since the bird images life stirring in the frozen depths, is in fact the life that broke the frost, the crime is as much a crime against the Mariner's own soul as against nature and the external order of the universe.

      To my mind the unmoving ship, beating sun, the rotting water create a more powerful image of the sick soul than even Eliot's rock with no water. Since all life once emerged from the sea, the sea should by nature abound with life; when the very sea rots, consciousness is indeed paralysed and ill.

      Humphry House: The Mariner is not a Spiritual Adventure. The poem's very richness at once tempts and defeats definiteness of interpretation. As we commit overselves to the development of one strand of meaning, we find that in the very act of doing so we are excluding something else of importance.

      An example of this difficulty occurs on the threshold of interpretation, in the opinion we form about the Mariner's relation to ordinary human beings and the relation of the voyage to ordinary human life. Dr. Tillyard, struck (as everybody must be struck) by the similarities in spirit between the poem and the seventeenth-century voyages:

We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea —

      As voyages of adventure and discovery, and using, to support his argument, the later Coleridge passage in the Biographia about the range of hills which must be crossed by an inquiring spirit, maintains that the Mariner himself is a mental and spiritual adventurer, 'an unusually enquiring spirit', that he together with the rest of the crew are, from the accepted social point of view, self-appointed outcasts and criminals; and that the sea-voyage indicates spiritual adventure, which they go out of their way to seek.

      How is this present in the poem? The beginning of the Mariner's own account of the voyage contains no hint that he think of the voyage as a high spiritual enterprise at variance with the current is limited social ideas, a conscious seeking of adventure. The ship starts off in an atmosphere of communal agreement and pleasure:

The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the light house top. (21-24)

      The voyage it seems, begin normally, commonly, happily, the crew at one both with the society and with each other. In the literature of sea-going the antecedents are rather to be found in such voyages as that described by Herodotus certainly is used by Coleridge when he write:

The sun now rose upon the right -

      The voyage in which the Phoenician seamen doubles the Cape without knowing that there is a Cape. Adventure come upon them unaware.

      The Mariner, says Wordsworth in rude complaint, 'does not act, but is continually acted upon'. There is surely an important element of truth in this though it does not in the least derogate from the poem's merit.

      There are only three points in the poem at which the Mariner may be said to 'act'; these are the shooting of the Albatross; the blessing the water-snakes; and the biting of his arm. Each of these actions has a very different character. The shooting of the Albatross comes quite suddenly and unexplained; superficially it is unmotivated and wanton. The Mariner himself never makes any explicit attempt to explain it; nor does the poem contain, from his point of view, any defense of it. We shall return to this. In the first phase of his recovery, in the crisis at the center of the poem, when he blesses the water-snakes, he does so unaware, and this word 'unaware', is deliberately repeated and occurs each time significantly emphatically, at the end of the line. That is to say, he do not really know what he is doing; he could find no adequate spring of action in himself, and retrospectively attributes his undeliberate blessing to a supernatural influence on him:

Sure my kind saint took pity on me

      He himself think he is more acted upon than acting. Against this must be set the one clear occasion in the poem on which the Mariner does deliberately act. In Part III, when all the crew, including himself, have been stricken dumb by the drought, it is he who sees the sail; it is he who, by prodigious effort, bites his arm, sucks the blood and finds voice to cry out. This is his one tremendous effort; it is a moment of terrible hope for him and for the whole crew. But the hope is blasted, not just negatively, but positively, appallingly blasted. The crew all die cursing him with their eyes and he alone survives.

      This is crucial to the whole poem's dramatic effect and by inference, also to its moral effect. On the one occasion when the Mariner does consciously, deliberately and with all his effort act, his action leads ironically to the climax of the disaster. The irony is enforced by the two lines that end this part:

And every soul, it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my cross-bow!

      The disastrous anticlimax of this action and this hope is made to throw back to the earlier, unexplained act of the shooting. One main element in the poem's theme is that the Mariner's experience involves a tangle of terror, incomprehensibility and frustration. He is certainly not a great courageous spiritual adventurer, though he has a great spiritual experience.

      E. E. Stoll: No Allegory or Symbolism in The Ancient Mariner. If .... allegory or symbolism had been intended, why does some hint of that not appear in the marginal glosses? Why, indeed, were these added? They are not at all necessary for the understanding of the poem, are not like Mr. T.S. Eliot's notes appended to The Waste Land. In prose, they speak still, though more explicitly and philosophically, the language of superstition; they only amplify and in explaining by no means explain away. Their purpose is but to heighten the illusion; they credibilize the marvels, providing an approach to them, a middle distance, which makes them appropriately more remote. In the poem itself, this principle of perspective is happily observed. The marvels occur on unknown, distant seas with the meridian of marvels and when the Mariner and his ship, equally bewitched, arrive, the effect of the mere sight of them, on the normal, everyday Hermit, Pilot, and pilot's Boy is startling, shocking. The effect of that in turn upon the Wedding-Guest and also the reader is convincing. And as important to the transition and the illusion is the effect upon the Mariner himself before that:

Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The light house top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this mine own countree?

      It is like the ending of The Midsummer Night's Dream, as day breaks and the lovers wonder whether the adventures of the night are a dream or not. Dreaming without awaking is not dreaming. In the figurative sense of the word "perspective", to be sure, the Wedding-Guest, in his momentary, palpitating interruptions of the narrative "Why look'st thou so?" "I fear thee Ancient Mariner" — represents the middle distance; and the marginal comment is the nearer distance, though still from us remote.

      And none of literary figures concerned with The Ancient Mariner, in its composition or in its appearance, seems to have detected allegory or symbolism in it.... The retribution is greater, simpler, less regardful of distinctions, than in life we should have it, but yet has something of a natural movement; punishment, repentance, a gush of love for other living things, prayer and relief, yet further penance for, as in ancient legend and somewhat as in life, "the train of cause and consequence knows no end" And, "given that world" as Lowes says, "one of tutelary spirits and a retribution that is endless, and of a leading figure who, like the wandering Jew and the flying Dutchman, is immortal" — has given that world, its inviolate keeping with itself becomes the sole condition of our acceptance for the movement, of its validity.

      For The Ancient Mariner is a structure, a perfectly ordered, a finely "complex design wrought out through the exquisite adjustment of innumerable details." It is not an opium dream like Kubla Khan; and that is the answer to the symbolists of psycho-analytic and biographic bent.

      M. Ware: Moral Purpose. The moral tag near the end of the poem has been variously dealt with, or more frequently dismissed as superfluous and intrusive Professor E.E. Stoll... Pronounces Coleridge's final remarks as an unimportant part of his poem: "they are in keeping with the medieval spirit, which is given to simple, open moralising." And Humphry House feels that the tag, when it is detached from the rest of the poem, constitutes simple 'almanac art'. When, however, the tag is considered in the context, House finds, "after the richness and terror of the poem, it is no more a banal moral apothegm, but a moral which has its meaning because it has been lived." The moral at the end of the poem is, as Professor Stoll contends, "open moralising," but moralising which has been systematically developed throughout. In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the central figure's ability to pray obviously indicates that a workable reconciliation to the 'Holy of Holies' has been effected. The poem is most frequently considered a comment upon man's obligation to love his fellow creatures and to observe the natural bonds which unite all creation. Such ideas are unquestionably inherent in it. But in Coleridge's sweeping moral conclusion, the word love is only of secondary importance Coleridge tells us quite plainly that the ability to pray follows love.

      E. Dowden: The Moral of The Ancient Mariner. The Mariner is punished for shooting an Albatross; the curse passes away when he blesses the water-snakes. Coleridge might have called his critic's (Mrs. Barbauld's) attention to the fact that the professed moral is serviceable at least as an artistic device. The beautiful stanza beginning:

He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;

      Sets forth his professed moral. Its real effect is admirably described by Mrs. Oliphant, when she says that the soothing words "bring our feet back to the common soil with a bewildered sweetness of relief and soft quiet" after the imaginative strain with which we follow the tale of the voyage through strange seas. If any reader requires a moral he can find it elsewhere; he can find it in that passage which tells how a sense of the incomparable beauty and the rapturous life of the world quickens and redeems the withered soul of the Mariner. "How do you know", asks Blake, "but every bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight closed by your senses five?" It is the opening of our senses and our hearts to the miracle of beauty and of life everywhere surrounding us that (if we must have a moral) is the highest spiritual fact wrought by the poem.

      B.R. McEIderry: The Moral Sentiment is Obtrusive. Keeping in mind Professor Lowes' impressive defense of the moral as a structural element it is hard to see how Coleridge could have made an Arabian Nights tale of his poem without producing a new work. However, he may in this context have fallen into a natural exaggeration (one would expect Mrs. Barbauld to produce a violent reaction!) or he might have meant here by "moral" the quotable formula at the end. Certainly the repetition of: at most the end of the poem does make the moral sentiment obtrusive...

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both mass and bird and beast

      It will be agreeable to believe that Coleridge did mean "some day" to revise this passage, for it is the one part in the poem that is definitely unsatisfactory to most readers. Professor Lowes argues eloquently, and I think, convincingly against Coleridge himself the validity of the moral as a structural element; he adds much to our understanding of how it is used. But has it ever been seriously contended that the idea of crime and punishment interfered with the poem's proper function? It is the obtrusiveness that disturbs, and this at only one point, the very end of the poem. Professor Lowes does not discuss this.... The formula is repeated for emphasis and the last lines of the poem impress it upon us that the Wedding-Guest has been a good pupil and has learned his lesson well. "A sadder and wise man / He rose the morrow morn." The return to the world of everyday, is bare and unrelieved. The finely dramatic effect of the sermon in the mouth of the Mariner himself, reading into his terrible experience a significance vital to him, is largely blotted out in the grey of the "morrow morn." The absence of poetic quality at so emphatic and strategic a point at the very end of the poem is, I believe many readers feel, a genuine flaw in the artistic unity of the work.


      Graham Hough: Meaning of the Dream-Poem. Kubla Khan has the same quality of enchantment (as that of The Ancient Mariner), but it is more puzzling, partly because it is a fragment but for another reason, too: it is a fragment of a private experience, not of a universal one. Its origin is well known. It is composed in an opium dream; and before it can all be written out "a person on business from Porlock" interrupts the poet at his task, and when he returns to it, as commonly happens with dreams, all is gone. An immediate inspiration is again in A Book of Voyages that Coleridge was reading just before he fell asleep; and Livingstone Lowes has shown that echoes from many other travels are found in short fifty lines. But here it will be harder to look for the controlling purpose: if there is one, it is in Coleridge's private biography, in a region that is not accessible to his own inspection, and is still less to ours. Only a poet with a mind like Coleridge's as sensitive as his town Aeolian harp, can catch the dream-images in all their strangeness and authenticity, and the abiding fascination of the poem is that it is a fragment of psychic life of a kind which in the nature of things is rarely communicable to the outside world. Writing of this kind, without the usual logical and conceptual frame-work is sometimes 'pure-poetry'; it is not readily susceptible to analysis perhaps of a psychological kind.

      However, this is not wholly impossible. The poem as it stands does present a meaning, consistent both with itself and with what we know of Coleridge's mind. The fact that a poem is not wholly or certainly explicable shall not discourage us from explaining it as well as we can. The opening lines suggest by a passage in Purchas's Pilgrimage that Coleridge is reading as he has entered his dream or reverie, describes an ideal landscape watered by a sacred river, of paradisal happiness, in which Kubla is such an all-powerful lord that he can create his pleasure-dome by mere decree. But in the succeeding lines (12-30) comes images of fear, enchantment, violent and uncontrollable energy, oblivion and death and foreboding of strife. The paradisal landscape is cleft by a chasm which is savage and fearsome, and from it a mighty fountain is forced, throwing up huge rocks: and the fountain turns out to be the sacred river itself bursting out after an underground sojourn like classical Alpheus from which its name Alph seems to be derived. It flows for a little in the open then disappears for good. And Kubla hears prophecies of war. The idyllic calm of the opening lines is threatened, and the movement of Alph seems to echo or symbolize this. Lines 31-6 add little, but bring us back to the pleasure-dome, shows it is reflected in the river, and bring it closely into contact both with the fountain (uncontrolled bounding energy) and — the caves (final annihilation).

      Then we come to the last eighteen lines, of which Lowes said "the pageant is as aimless as it is magnificent." And here is the most characteristic dream-feature of the poem: the sudden switch from Kubla and Xanadu landscape. The poet now speaks in his own person and has a vision of an Abyssinian maid singing of Mount Abora. Mount Abora is Milton's Mount Amara (so written in an earlier manuscript), and Mount Amara is a fabled paradise, as we can see by consulting Paradise Lost, (IV, 268-84). So the Abyssinian maid is singing of a paradisal landscape very like that of the opening lines; singing in fact of the same cluster of ideas under different name and guise. And if he, the poet could re-live in his imagination her song, he himself can build the magic pleasure-dome as Kubla has done, he himself can become what Kubla is, a figure of power, of mystery and enchantment.

      Explanation can be pushed much farther. This is enough to suggest that the poem, for all its dream-like air, is not unintelligible as Lowes suggests, and that what underlies it is the recurrent Coleridgean theme of poetic inspiration. Alph, the sacred river of the Muses, the poetic imagination itself, which is terrible as well as seductive, and threatened ultimately with conflict and extinction, as Coleridge later is too bitterly to know. Could he only recapture at will the vision of it, and the paradise through which it flows, all his dream-of poetry will get written and he will become the inspired magical prophet-bard which the quintessential romantic poet asks to be.

      J. B. Beer: Rich Complexity. Coleridge's own assertion is that the poem is unfinished is probably sincere, for his notebook contains various notes on Kubla Khan and the Tartars which are no doubt collected with a continuation in mind. One can contain a poem in the middle, however, as well as at the end; and it is likely that this is his plan. Certainly, it is difficult to see how the poem can be carried on after the last stanza: the argument is there brought to an end with overwhelming finality.

      The argument of the poem as a whole might conceivably provide the basis of expansion at other points in the poem: its general drift is not very far removed from that of Religious Musings for example, a much longer poem. Nevertheless, it is clear that such an attempt on Coleridge's part would have been mistaken and probably impossible. The images of the poem are so tightly drawn together and so closely interlocked that any addition will upset its balance.

      The chief characteristic of the poem, indeed, is its extraordinary compression: and if one is to make any objection to the poem it must be on these lines. As with the 'moral' of The Ancient Mariner, the trouble is not that the poem has no meaning, but that it has too much. The reader can hardly be expected to bring to mind all the complicated involutions of sense which it contains in the time that it takes him to read fifty lines of poetry. On the contrary, his attention is far likely to be caught throughout by the fascination of the sensuous imagery in its own right. Nevertheless, if Kubla Khan is a petrified forest, it is also an enchanted forest. At every point, it glows directly and at every point also, it reflects the intense subterranean energy of a mind which can not rest in its endeavor to apprehend all experience and reduce it to one harmony. It will always remain possible to enjoy it as a simple stream of images, and to ignore the opportunity which it affords of exploring the intricacies of Coleridge's visionary world. To fascinate by these intricacies, one has first to share something of Coleridge's excitement at the potentialities of the basic images involved. Once we begin to sense this excitement however, and its climax is modelled itself into a single pattern, a paradigm that is also a focus of his major speculations in art and life, we may see that in this context more than any other poem is what Coleridge himself is the first to call it: "a vision in a dream".

      Elizabeth Schneider: Oscillating Images. The central statement, through the first half of the poem, is one of the bright affirmation. The talk and activity are of building, the pleasure-dome and a delightful Paradise materialize. But even as the words give they take away with half-Miltonic negatives. Pleasure itself is rhymed with one of them - measureless; deprivation haunts the language. The negations recur in sunless, ceaseless, lifeless, a second measureless. The demon-lover is not a Paradise; he is as if brought in to cast his shadow. Images of awe and mystery underlie Paradise in the subterranean river and ocean, and the ancestral threat of war is heard far off. The whole poem oscillates between giving and taking away, bright affirmation and sunless negation, light flowing music that nevertheless stands still and rings the portentous sound of dome time after time.

      The spirit of the poem, moreover, is cool and rather non-human. One feels no real warmth even in the sunny garden. And though the verse is nominally well-peopled, Kubla, the wailing woman, and the Abyssinian maid are not really there, and their half-presence leaves the place less human than if the theme are a poetic scene of nature alone. Even the poet, who is half-present in the end, is dehumanized behind his mask of hair and eyes and magic circle and is only present as mirrored in the exclamations of nebulous beholders, or rather, he will be mirrored if he has built his dome and if there has been beholders. Nor is there any human or personal feeling in the poem; the poet's "deep delight," impersonal enough even if it is there, exists only to be denied.

      "Here in these interwoven oscillations dwells the magic, the "dream", and the air of mysterious meaning of Kubla Khan. I question whether this effect is all deliberately thought out by Coleridge, though it may have been. It is possibly half-inherent in his subject. Paradise is usually lost and always threatened, in Genesis and Milton, in the Paradise garden of Irem of Aloadin of Abyssinian princes. The historical Kubla did not apparently lose his in the end, but it too has threatened with war and dissension and portents. The Paradise of Coleridge's poem was not exactly lost either. What has lost, the closing lines tell us, is the vision of an unbuilt Paradise, an unwritten poem. His Paradise in that sense is truly enough a dream. What remains is the spirit of "oscillation", perfectly poeticized, and possibly ironically commemorative of the author.


      Charles Tomlinson: Meaning of Christabel. As far as the poem goes (it is a 'fragment') it is complete. The climax of:

And turning from his own sweet maid
The aged knight, Sir Leo line,
Led forth the Lady Geraldine.

      leaves Christabel in that condition of pathological isolation which the Mariner also feels and which Coleridge must himself have known. It follows upon the carefully ordered series of psychological knocks to which Christabel has been subjected and beneath which her innocence is crushed. Mr. Humphry House says of the poem in his excellent book on Coleridge that it is 'fragmentary and finally unsatisfying' and that its mystery remains both incomplete and clueless. If one feels a certain incompleteness about the poem, it is because we are left with Christabel's pathological isolation which is never, unlike that of the Ancient Mariner, to be resolved (Indeed, of the Mariner's it will perhaps be more true to say that it is only partially resolved). The 'story' of course, is never completed and the element concerning the broken friendship between Sir Leoline and the father of Geraldine, relevant as they are to the poem's theme of the division of the inmost being end of the most intimate relationship, are never knit up into a more organic significance. Christabel offers, however, despite its abrupt conclusion in psychological status, a completeness concerning what does happen, if only we pay attention to the premonitory nature of the symbols at the opening and see the poetic interest as centering on the uncertain balance which is represented here between health and disease, good and evil, and the end as a tragedy in which neurosis, not death, strikes the final blow. One has in Christabel, in allegorical form, that same concern which is tormented the self-analyst of the notebooks and the reader of John Webster's Folio on The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft: 'the mind's failure to guide the will'. For Christabel, bewitched, suffers simultaneously with the disintegration of personality the disintegration of the will.

      Raymond Wilson: The Striking Metre of Christabel. Perhaps the most striking feature of the poem is its metre, which is manipulated by Coleridge with extraordinary sensitiveness. In claiming that the metrical principle of Christabel is new, Coleridge is doing less than justice to pre-Augustan lyric forms, but there can be no doubt that a free rhythmical movement, is based on counting are stressed syllables to the line, with a variable number of unstressed syllables, must have seemed revolutionary to readers still conditioned to the restricted measures of the heroic couplet:

The night is chill; the forest bare;
Is it the wind that moaneth bleak?
To move away the ringlet curl
From the lovely lady's cheek —
There is no wind enough to twirl
The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
I landing so light, and hanging so high
On the topmost twig that looks up all the sky...

      In passages like this, the rhythms are as exquisitely modulated as the language is direct and pure, and in its description of glimmering wood and shadowy castle the first part of Christabel has moments of great beauty. Even in part one, however, the poetry inclines towards stiltedness when it deals with action and characters. The passages just quoted continues:

Hush, beating heart of Christabel!
Jesu, Maria, shield her well!
She folded her arms beneath her cloak
And stole to the other side of the oak.
What sees she there?

      Apart from the formal address to the heart and the archaic religious formula, the picture of Christabel, arms is folded beneath her cloak, has a theatrical 'period' which is heightened by the melodramatic use of the historic-present in 'What sees she there?'


      Raymond Wilson: Dejection has all the vividness of the earlier Conversation Poems, and in the self-analysis that Coleridge gives of his failure — a post-mortem by a merely alive medically, Coleridge on the poet that has died inside him thought and feeling are integrated more surely and powerfully than in any other of his poems. On a miniature scale, the poem resembles a tragedy. From a calm but menacing beginning it works to a tragic climax and subsides into something not unlike 'calm of mind, all passion spent'. A true tragic climax cannot, however, exist at the level of hysteria, and Dejection, superbly successful as it is in creating both the despair of loss and (paradoxically) the wonder of what is lost, breaks down at the very point where it ought to reach its greatest strength. Its pathos is more convincing than its tragic power, for at the moment when Coleridge becomes conscious of his restored power to feel, the poetry turns self-conscious and bardic in its declamation, not embodiment, of tragic emotion:

Thou mighty poet, even to frenzy bold!
What tell'st thou now about?

      The tone is forced; not surprisingly, since the motion it expresses is not a natural, but an agonise is release.


      Raymond Wilson: In Frost at Midnight, one of his finest poems, Coleridge harmonizes the physical world about him with his own mood. The inmates of the cottage have retired for the night and only his 'cradled infant', Hartley, sleeps at his side. He is contained in the 'hush of nature', which mutes 'the goings on of life' and makes them inaudible as dreams'. From the very first lines of the poems the silent operation of the frost is indistinguishable from the stealth of his own mind working in contemplation.

      The Frost performs its secret ministry and as it does so his mind ministers to its own 'abstruser musings'. As his eyes come to rest on the fragile life of a soot-flake on the grate, he recognises, even explicitly, that it is intimately associated with his mind's activity:

Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing,
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling spirit
By its own moods interprets, everywhere
Echo or mirror seeking of itself

      As the flame plays with a furtive life of its own, so the poem develops in an interplay of memory and thought emerging from the shifting back into a psychically external environment, until the mind comes full circle to rest in the almost traced contemplation of:

Silent icicles
Quietly shining to the quiet moon.

      It is interesting to relate Coleridge's practice here to what Keats in his letters call 'negative capability'. A poet having 'negative capability' surrenders himself completely to the objects of nature which he portrays and by taking part in their existence, gives them a sensuous reality in poetry.

      Richard Gravil: In Reflections Coleridge is reflecting on the scene he presents, summarising his experience in somewhat general terms. The presence of Sara is stated in the presentation of the past, but is not active in the poem. The detail of the cottage is not particularly sharp, and the setting is rather abstractly presented as 'the Valley of seclusion'. Bristol is poetically called 'Bristowa'; the merchant is 'a son of commerce', an allegorical figure whose 'thirst for gold' (which may be a totally unfair judgment on the stranger) needs to be calmed by nature. The skylark is made the subject of a formal, moralising simile (19-28). The mount is also allegorically used, and is unrealistically described. Remnants of poetic cliche and rhetoric appears in the third paragraph on rose-leaf beds, pampering the coward heart', 'the sluggared Pity's vision waving tribe', 'the bloodless fight Of Science, Freedom and the truth in Christ'.

      There is at the end of the poem the 'return' to the opening subject, which is common to the structure of all the conversation poems. But the reiteration of five words from the opening lines (Cot, Jasmin, Rose, Myrtle and sea) is purely formal. Only the sea has figured at all in the meditation. We are unlikely to feel that the repetition expresses more than nostalgia.

      Frost at Midnight begins with an image of present activity and proceeds to specify very precisely the atmosphere in which the meditation is taking place and by day which it is heightened. The co-presence of the sleeping baby and the 'ministry' of the frost is felt throughout the poem. The thoughts in the poem — whether about frost, or the moon, or the sooty film — are not ready-made and merely 'hung' on the peg of an appropriate image. The frosty calm is vexing the poet's meditation. The sooty film mirrors the poet's unquiet soul, and provides a direction for its thoughts. Paragraph two is caused by the imagery of paragraph one. The "eternal language, which thy God/Utters" (60-61) has already been demonstrated by such communicative images. Finally, radiance of the moon — the timeless element in that night landscape.

      The poem is marked by its subtlety in following the course of the poet's thought, which is at once intimate and yet concerned with vastness of time and space: past, present and future; earth and heaven. From the soot on the grate to the quiet moon, we are kept conscious of the moulding, shaping elements of nature and their 'sympathies' with each other and with man. The images are invested with clarity and separateness, but they are also unified in a felt harmony.


      Richard Gravil on Christabel. Quite literally, Coleridge transfers to this poem much of his own domestic experience; the relationship between Sir Leoline and Christabel partly reflects his own relationship with his children at this time. Like Hartley, Christabel is child of nature, and like Coleridge's children, she experiences partial rejection in consequence of her father's state of mind. Presumably, the complete poem would have been largely about the hial of innocence. As it stands, the fragment shows an innocent Christabel is caught between Geraldine's veiled wickedness and Sir Leoline's lack of insight. The child's only ally in the fragment is the poet, whose dream has the ring of truth. We do not know to what extent love, in the person of Christabel's betrothed knight, would have proved triumphant in the completed poem.

      Beneath the fantastic surface, then, the poem deals with human universals. On the surface, too, Coleridge displays a skillful blend of symbolism and psychology. The veiled moon (of line 19) looks 'both small and dull — an indication of troubled and obscured vision which is taken up later in the poem when Christabel's eyes (so innocent and blue) imitate Geraldine's serpent-like glance ('a snake's small eye blinks dull and shy'). In her enchantment, Christabel becomes what she fears — her hiss of indrawn breath, also, is both naturalistic and symbolic of the spell she is under.

      The poem exhibits a conflict between some kind of embodied evil, and the girl's natural and religious grace. Geraldine is perhaps possessed by evil, rather than evil in herself. The portrait is ambiguous. We do not know whether she is to be pitied or feared, whether she will be redeemed or defeated by the forces of good. All that we have is a fascinating depiction of evil, mysterious and erotic, insinuating itself beneath Christabel's spiritual guard.

      Richard Gravil on Conversation Poems. This Lime-Tree Bower, Frost at Midnight and The Nightingale are the finest examples of a form Coleridge invented: the 'conversation poem', or 'poems of friendship'. The Eolian Harp also belongs to this group, and Reflections, To William Wordsworth, Fears in Solitude, the verse Letter to Sarah Hutchinson and ever. The Pains of Sleep share some of the characteristics of the form. The critic G.M. Harper is first to apply the term 'conversation poem', which Coleridge uses only in The Nightingale, in this wider sense. Other critics prefer to include these poems in a broader group which M.H. Abrams calls 'the greater Romantic lyrics'. The Conversation Poem is a development of lyric poetry, which terms we must define. Originally a lyric poem is intended to be sung, and is usually written in stanzas (groups of lines with a fixed pattern of rhyme and metre). Formally it may resemble ballad poetry, except that ballads tend to be longer. Moreover, the ballad is essentially a narrative poem-telling a story, usually objectively and in the third person — whereas the lyric is a personal utterance, expressing mood, feeling or reflection...

      The development of a freer conversational cadence is not the only characteristic of the conversation poems. They are written in the style of intimate talk to an understanding auditor and in most cases we know who the imagined addressee is. The poems are addressed to his wife (early in their marriage), to William and Dorothy Wordsworth, to Charles Lamb, to his son Hartley, and to Sarah Hutchinson. This is far from being a formal gesture. Coleridge has a great gift for friendship and a great need for it. He wrote in a letter, 'Man is truly altered by the coexistence of other men: his faculties cannot be developed in himself alone, and only by himself'. His friends inspires powerful emotions in him, and grateful meditation on such emotions is part of his strategy for deepening his own self-awareness. That is not to say that the poems are self-centred, for one of their most striking characteristics is the generous, loving spirit we feel in them all.

      In discussing lyric poetry, we sometimes speak of a lyric persona, when it seems improper to identify the speaker with the poet. In these poems, however, the speaker is undoubtedly Coleridge himself: this
un-ambivalent identity is one of the distinguishing features of the Conversation Poems. Furthermore, we know the precise biographical context of the poems, sometimes because we are explicitly told what the context is, and sometimes because it is easily inferred. The poems are usually about Coleridge in a particular state of mind, at a particular time. So speaker, auditor, and biographical context are made unusually explicit.

      Furthermore, we have in each poem a precise specification of space and time. Sometimes the place and date of composition are stated: this habit is shared by all the Romantic poets, as in Shelley's stanzas written a few miles in Dejection, near Naples, Wordsworth's Lines written a few mites above Tintern Abbey: on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour, July 13,1798. More characteristic of Coleridge is the care with which he specifies the time of day, the atmosphere, his exact surroundings, so that each poem has an easily visualised setting. It is not that he wants a picturesque frame for his meditation. Rather, the peculiar quality of these poems is that the landscape, or fireside, or nocturnal sounds, or garden sights, stimulate the meditation that takes place and helps to influence the direction his thoughts take. When a dramatic change occurs in the course of the poem it may be caused by some train of association in the poets mind, or by a freak of memory, or by something outside him altogether; inner and outer are partners in the process. Remember that Coleridge thought of art as 'the reconciler of nature and man'. In these poems, he comes closest to fulfilling his poetic aim of 'infusing the thoughts and passions of man into everything which is the object of his contemplation' and reconciling 'what is nature with that which is exclusively human'.

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