Influence of French Revolution on Coleridge Poetry

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      Coleridge, like Wordsworth, is filled with Revolutionary ardour, when the French Revolution burst upon France with its cry of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. He greets the fall of the Bastille as a promise of the time when:

Liberty, the soul of life, Shall reign,
Shall throb in every pulse, shall flow thro'every vein.

      All his youthful enthusiasm is roused (Coleridge was then 17) and he feels deeply in his blood the passion of the moment—a revolutionary passion which challenged established beliefs, and even conceived wild projects to serve the cause of Freedom. His mind is filled with Utopian dreams; with Southey and some others he has planned the scheme of Pantisocracy — a sort of communistic society on the banks of the Susquehenna in America, where he hoped to realise his dreams of equality.

      Soon after, his enthusiasm cooled. The aggressive designs of France in her attack on Switzerland totally destroyed his belief that she was the champion of liberty. His feelings about the Revolution — his earlier enthusiasm and his later disillusionment are expressed in two odes — to the Departing Year (1796) and Prance: An Ode (1797); "they form the transition between his first hopes and his later conservative despair."

      The Ode to the Departing Year is an emphatic denunciation of the blood of hell - the kings who had combined against France. It calls on the Spirit of the Earth to avenge the wrongs of the poor and to speak in thunder to England, who has leagued herself against liberty, and joined "the wild yelling of Famine and Blood." The revolutionary character of the poem is noticed in the sentiment of the poet who, like Wordsworth, was on the side of France against his own country.

      When France attacked Switzerland, the disillusionment of Coleridge was complete. In the Ode to France, he recollects what he had first felt about the Revolution some years earlier; he has wished that England has been fighting against liberty, might have been defeated by France:

Yet still my voice unaltered sang defeat
To all that braved the tyrant-quelling lance.
And shame too long delayed and vain retreat...

      The Reign of Terror in Paris does not extinguish his hopes; he has thought that the evils are brought by the reign of blood and terror, are unavoidable, in view of the vast change for the better in human life: the sun of liberty has been rising behind the storms of the Terror:

"And soon," I said, "shall wisdom teach her lore
In the low huts of them that toil and groan
And conquering, by her happiness alone
Shall France compel the nations to be free,
Till love and joy look round, and call the earth their own"

      But the attack on Switzerland by France shook his faith in the has Revolution; he is disappointed and has fell back upon the sense of liberty in his own soul. The world has failed him and he takes refuge in the solitudes of nature. The conclusion of the ode on France is in a lofty strain. He asks the forgiveness of Freedom for having identified her with France, and asserts her to be unquenchable even if she must be driven for her resort to the elements themselves:

Thou speedest thy subtle pinions,
The Guide of homeless winds, and playmates of waves.

      The poet sends out his being to the sea and air and possesses all things "with intensest love".

      This magnificent poem has been pronounced by Shelley as the finest ode in the English language. It is the last and the greatest poem produced by Coleridge under the influence of revolutionary enthusiasm.

      The last vestige of his faith in the revolution is destroyed when England was threatened with invasion. "France was no longer the apostle of freedom but the apostle of despotism". Coleridge has once dissolved the tie of patriotism in the interest of the wider love of man; but now he has laid aside his wild hopes of love for mankind and has fell back on his old patriotism:

O my mother isle
How shouldst thou prove aught also but dear holy
To me, who from thy lakes and mountain rills
Thy clouds, thy quiet dales, thy rocks and seas
Have drunk in all my intellectual life
All, sweet sensations, all ennobling thought 

      Coleridge has lapsed into conservatism (as did Wordsworth) when the Revolution has failed him; but the change, in the case of Coleridge is much more rapid than in Wordsworth, for Coleridge is less firm and less temperate than Wordsworth. His enthusiasm has been warmer and it has died more quickly. With the passing of his enthusiasm, his will and poetic energy has also passed away. "Almost all his best poetic energy also passed with the Revolution: afterward everything is incomplete. The weakness of will was doubled by disease, and trebled by opium, and his poetic life, even his philosophic work, was a splendid failure", says S.A. Brooke.

      Coleridge, however, never lost his admiration and love for the ideals that the French Revolution stood for. He always holds dear the liberty of man, love for one another, and an egalitarian society in which there would have been no exploitation of the poor.

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