Nature Elements in S. T. Coleridge Poetry

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      Love of Nature: a Romantic trait. One of the main characteristics of the Romantic movement is the awakening of a sense of mystery in nature. The poets of the Romantic school not only loves Nature for her external beauty and grandeur, but sight deeper truths underlying her physical manifestations. They describe their emotional reactions to nature rather than her external aspects. Hence it is that each Romantic poet has his own conception of nature.

      Minute Observation of Nature. Though the nature poetry of Coleridge has an individual note, he is undoubtedly influenced by Wordsworth, it is after his acquaintance with Wordsworth that his descriptions of his natural scenes shows an intensity of affection and accuracy of perception, which has been absent in his early works. But his nature-poetry has a subtlety and delicacy rarely found in Wordsworth, and "he reaps a richer harvest through the senses than Wordsworth". "His senses", says Cazamian, "invest his impressions of nature with an extraordinary freshness and splendour, and at the same time with a shrewd and minute precision which reveals the analytical mind." Wordsworth's idealisation of the commonplace no doubt impresses Coleridge; "Wordsworth had shown the wonder of ordinary sights and sounds; it remained for Coleridge to exhibit their mystery."

The upper air burst into life
And a hundred fire-flags shone
To and fro they were hurried about
And to and fro and in and out
The wan stars danced between.

      The landscape of Kubla Khan is visualised with clarity:

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills
Where blossomed many an incense bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

      The deep romantic chasm slanting down a green hill across a cedarn cover and the mighty fountain being momently forced from it had been described vividly.

      Sense of Colour. Coleridge has the eye of the artist, and his sensuous perception is hardly less keen than that of Keats. But his poetry, shows evidence of his keenness of perception, is not sensuous, for nature is always seen by him through the human atmosphere. "The shaping spirit of imagination" works upon the outward forms, and everything is seen in a "fair luminous mist"; it is then that we have the highest poetry of Coleridge. But when the shaping power of imagination declines, he cries in despair:

I see them all so excellently fair,
I see, not feel, how beautiful they are
.......   .........   ..........   .........   .........
It were a vain endeavour
Though I should gaze for ever
On that green light that lingers in the west:
I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within...

      Coleridge possesses the faculty of minute and subtle observation, and paints the outward forms of nature with a degree of delicacy to which neither Wordsworth himself nor perhaps any other worshipper of nature, Keats excepts, ever quite attains. It is in a highly sensitive apprehension of the external aspects of nature, says Pater, "that Coleridge identifies himself most closely with one of the Lake school, a tendency, instinctive, and no more matter of theory in him as in Wordsworth. That record of the

green light
Which lingers in the west

      and again of

the western sky
And its peculiar tint of yellow green....

      Is a characteristic example of a singular watchfulness of the minute effect and expression of natural scenery prevailing over all he writes." The Ancient Mariner too is full of images of light and luminous colour in sky and sea. Ice as green as emerald sends a dismal sheen. Life-in-Death has red lips and yellow locks and her skin is as white as leprosy. The water-snakes are beautiful because of their colours and the play of light.

And when they reared, the elfish light.
Fell off in hoary flakes.

      Coleridge has a sense of colour comparable to that of Keats in poetry and of Turner in painting. But with his extraordinary sense of colour and form he never lavishes it at every turn; he merely suggests with a rare sense of poetic finesse:

The thin grey cloud is spread on high...
The one red leaf, the last of its clan
The level sunshine glimmers with green light...

      "With him colour is melted in atmosphere which shines through like fire through a crystal. It is liquid colour, the dew on flowers or a mist of rain! in bright sunshine", as Symons point out.

      Nature Invested with Mystery. Coleridge envelops Nature with a sense of awe and mystery to suit the supernatural element in his poems. In Kubla Khan we have a naturally beautiful place invests with a mysterious and awe-inspiring aspect:

A savage place as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover.

      In Christabel we have the natural events, scenes and sounds of night being used to create a sense of mystery and a haunting atmosphere. The Ancient Mariner too abounds in the phenomena of nature has being invested with a supernatural aura. As Cazamian points out, "the very center of Coleridge's art lies in his faculty of evoking the mystery of things, and making it actual, widespread, and obsessing." Nor is Vaughan wrong when he says: "Nothing, in short, that he found in the outer world attained its rightful value from him until, 'by sublimation strange' it had passed into the realm of shadows which Schiller conceived to be the true region both of poetry and of action."

      Nature and Human Beings: A Harmonious Relationship. Nature to Coleridge is a background to highlight the moods of his characters. If the Mariner describes the sun as peeping through the ribs of the phantom-ship:

As if through a dungeon gate...
With broad and burning face..,

      It is because the Mariner himself is experiencing a kind of imprisonment. In Christabel the single red leaf hanging on the oak tree exemplifies Christabel's isolation and her precarious situation. The description of Nature in Dejection: An Ode also draws a colouring from the poet's own moods.

      God’s Spirit in Nature: Pantheism. Coleridge is not a nature poet as Wordsworth is, but with Wordsworth he has a part in bringing to English poetry a genuine love of nature and spiritual insight into her processes. He loves nature for her own sake, and his love took almost the form of a reverent worship, for he sees behind all the phenomena of nature the veil presence of God:

Father of Earth and Heaven
All-conscious presence of Universe
Nature's vast ever-acting energy
In Will, in Peed, impulse of All in All

      Coleridge's deep delight in the common aspects of nature finds a beautiful expression in the poem This Lime Tree Bower My Prison. Once Lamb and other friends of Coleridge goes out for a walk in the countryside but Coleridge can not accompany them owing to an unfortunate accident. Sitting alone in his garden, he imagines the delights which his friends will enjoy but which he can not share. The poem describes the details of the scene through which his friends would pass, is a charming specimen of natural description combines with human interest. The truth of the description is the beauty of the poem, and the influence that passes from nature to the soul of the poet is very much like that which Wordsworth describes in his poetry:

Henceforth I shall know
That Nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure:
No plot so narrow, be but nature there
No waste so vacant, but may well employ -
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty!

      Coleridge's nature poetry rises to grandeur when he describes the sunrise over Mont Blanc in his Hymn before Sunrise in the Vale of Chamouni. Wordsworth is confined his nature poetry to the manifestations of nature in the Lake District; it is left to Coleridge and Shelley to depict the more violent and magnificent aspects of nature. The poetic energy of Coleridge fully rises to the occasion in the presence of that magnificent spectacle of sunrise over the snow peak of the Alps. He surveys the glorious scene and feels his own soul expanding under its mighty influence.

      Coleridge's fundamental conception of nature is that every object of nature —from a simple flower to the mighty mountain — is pervaded by the presence of God. His attitude towards nature passes through two phases. In his younger days, he conceives that there are multitudes of spirits, by whose operation nature grew, and who informs all the organic and inorganic forms of nature. They are all in the service of God, and it is God, the all-conscious spirit, who informs all forms of nature. The whole universe thus resides in God. Nature is alive in God, and each of her forms is informed by a distinct spirit, has a distinct life of its own. This idea forms the basis of The Ancient Mariner, where the guilty man is first punished by the avenging spirits, and then is redeemed by the seraph band."

      The Mind Creating Nature: German Influence. The poet passes to the second phase of his conception of nature when he conceives that it is our own thought that makes nature appear as it is to us. This view is partly the result of his study of the transcendental philosophy of Germany. The existence of the external world is not actual, but phenomenal. It is in our thought that we give forms to external objects, and thinking of these we build up the world of nature ourselves. Nature thus lives in us, and when we receive impression from nature, we do not receive something distinct from us but our own thoughts, is reflected from the external world. This idea is expressed both in The Eolian Harp and in the Dejection and Ode. In The Eolian Harp, Coleridge's imagination is aroused by the music of a harp when it is touched by the wind. Similarly, when the thought of man touches the external world of nature, it breaks into harmony:

And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o'ver them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze
At once the soul of each, and God of all.

      "We each in our thinking", explains Brooke, "make the outward world for ourselves; but our thinking in this sphere is in its source the one Thought of God in which, infinitely varied through a myriad secondary forms of thought, the universe consists."

      This idea again is beautifully expressed in the Dejection and Ode when the poet says:

O Lady! we receive but what we give
And in our life does Nature live.

      When one feels in one's soul the 'one intellectual breeze', which makes the harmony of the universe, one is spiritually conscious of the Divine Presence; "whosoever knows this as the truth, rejoices in it, and from him goes forth over the whole appearance which the world takes to him, a light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud that makes glorious all things, — a sweet and potent voice, the echo of God in his own soul that turns the universe into music."

      Conclusion. Coleridge shows a delicate touch in the painting of nature, specially the fleeting charms of Nature. He can produce broad and general effects of Nature as skilfully as subtle and precise delineations. He is capable of investing a sense of mystery on the common and ordinary aspects of Nature. While in the earlier poems, Coleridge describes Nature as separate from human beings, under the influence of Wordsworth, he develops a pantheistic attitude. Later his attitude towards Nature under-goes further change. He comes under the influence of German thinkers to believe that Nature takes on its form from our own thoughts.

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