Reflections on Having Left A Place of Retirement by Coleridge

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      The poem was first published in the Monthly Magazine October 1796, under the title "Reflections on entering into Active Life. A poem, which affects to be not poetry." Towards the end of 1795 the Coleridge were living in the Clevedon Cottage; and the poem was composed immediately after they left the place in December 1795. It shows Coleridge's interest in and enjoyment of Nature even before he had come under the influence of Wordsworth.

      Coming, as this poem does, within the second period of Coleridge's poetic life, it is not marked by that fine outburst of poetic imagination which characterised the later poems of Coleridge. It is reminiscent of the style of the eighteenth century. Here and there it echoes with eighteenth-century sonorities and stock phrases found generally in the style of the early precursors of the Romantic Movement-Gray and Collins.

      The poem is a beautiful record of a passive mood of voluptuous ease enjoyed by the poet in the midst of a 'soft floating witchery of sound and scent' of nature. But this mood remains with the poet for a very short time only. The sight of toiling humanity in a neighboring city breaks up the spell. The poet condemns the life of ease, sloth and indolence and contemplation lived in the midst of beautiful surroundings of Nature. He is filled with an angelic ardour for the service of humanity. He, therefore, resolves to:

Go, and join head, heart, and hand
Active and inn, to light the bloodless fight
Of Science Freedom, and the Froth in Christ.


      In the first stanza the poet gives us a minute description of the lovely surroundings in the midst of which is situated their cottage. It is such a lovely and beautiful place that it might aptly be called "The Valley of Seclusion". On a certain day the poet see a commercial magnate of Bristol enjoying a listless stroll before his cottage. This wealthy merchant seemed to be pleased with the lovely scenery that stretched before him. He has dismissed from his mind all thoughts of gold-piling and is now drinking deep of the beauty of the landscape. He is right in thinking that the poet is really bless in living in that lovely spot. Often as the poet listens to the faint musical songs of the sky lark soaring high in the heavens, he said to his beloved, "Such is the divine music which we hear only when we are laid asleep in body and become a living soul." (Stanza 1.)

      The poet, then, gives a vivid and dramatic description of the marvellous landscape and seascape stretched out before him. In the foreground he sees the dreary mountain scattered over with sheep, grey clouds, rocks, sunny fields, naked banks, and winding rivers. In the background he sees the channel, the islands, white sails, dim, coasts, cloud-like hills and shoreless ocean. In the majesty and magnificence of this charming aspect of nature, the poet thinks, lies the very temple of God. At this time when the overpowering beauty of Nature pervades the whole frame, his heart is filled with an adoration for the Omnipresent, and the only desire that crosses his mind is to be merely alive. (Stanza 2)

      But the poet must leave his cottage. It is not right on his part to lead a life of ease and indolence and contemplation in the midst of the rich beauties of Nature and to indulge in the idle day-dreams of a poet while thousands of his fellow-men are toiling hard and bleeding for their livelihood. He envies the great philanthropists like Howard who have devoted their lives to the mission of relieving the pain and trouble of suffering humanity. The poet thinks that even those people who show cold and passionless charity towards the sufferers without really sympathising with them in their troubles are much better than he who simply "nurses in some delicious solitude his slothful loves and dainty sympathies." What is the use of his wasting time in visionary schemes for the good of the people? He must act at once and devote himself heart and soul to the service of mankind. (Stanza 3.)

      The poet says that he will recollect the cottage and the lovely surrounding scenery in moments of peaceful rest enjoyed after the honourable toil. He concludes with a pious wish that soon the Kingdom of Heaven will be established on this earth when all have enough of leisure to enjoy the beauties of Nature. (Stanza 4.)


Development of Thought

      The whole poem can be conveniently and is easily divided into four parts. The first part of the poem (Lines 1 to 26) shows the poet's delight in pure Nature, but essentially as a dwelling-place for man. The poet gives here a minute and detailed description of the various objects of nature he sees before him, without producing any unity of impression at the same time. This loose and disjoints manner of the delineation of Nature in all the aspects of her beauty of colour, fragrance and melody is a besetting weakness to be found in Coleridge's early Nature-poems. Lack of imaginative intensity, unity of impression and emotional rush and sweep characterize the whole body of Coleridge's early Nature poetry.

      In the second part, (Lines 26-42) the poet gives us a vivid and dramatic description of the marvellous landscapes lying idly about as seen from a mountain-top. In the foreground is a magic blend of light and shade and colour on bleak mountains, sunny fields and naked banks, grey clouds and winding rivers. In the background lie the islands and white sails, dim coast, and cloud like hills and shoreless ocean. In the majesty and magnificence of this charming and lovely scenery of Nature, the poet thinks, lies the very Temple of God, the Omnipresent. In such an atmosphere of heavenly beauty the poet has no other desire than to be merely alive.

      In the third part, the poet pleads for a life of activity of devotion to the cause of humanity in preference to the mere selfish joys of a contemplative life led in the midst of beautiful surroundings of nature. The poet feels that a life of active sympathies for the poor and the distressed is much better than a life full of pious intentions and dainty sympathies, but devoid of all practical measures for the relief of suffering humanity. The poet promises, therefore, to:

Go, and join head, heart, and hand
Active and firm, to fight the bloodless fight
Of Science, Freedom, and the Truth in Christ.

      In the fourth part, the poet says that at certain moments, in his imagination, after "honorable" toil, he will visit the lovely cottage with its beautiful surroundings. He concludes with a pious wish for the speedy establishment of the kingdom of Heaven on earth, when all will have sweet leisure for the enjoyment of the rich beauties of Nature.

Critical Appreciation and Interpretation

      The Poem Reflects Coleridge's Interest in and Enjoyment of Nature even Before he had Come Under the Spell of Wordsworth. The first part of the poem reflects Coleridge's delight in the various sights and sounds of Nature which he considers as the fittest and sublimest abode for the human soul. The second part of the poem is a more dramatic and less imaginative description of Nature. Here the poet discovers the temple of the Omniscient God in the bleak mountain, in the bushy rocks, in the winding rivers, in the grey clouds and in the bright lawns. The third part of the poem reflects the poet's abrupt change of mood, his philanthropic desire to serve his fellow beings, his reflections upon the so-called philanthropists of the world who serves humanity with 'an unmoved face' and above all, his personal consideration that the highest bliss of life lies in retirement in old age, into the very arms of Nature, which he regards as the kingdom of God. Incidentally, he expresses his dislike for the selfish joys of a contemplative life in beautiful surroundings of nature.

      The Poem is Written in Blank Verse in a Somewhat Miltonic Style of Verse-paragraphs. There are touches of feeling as well as of expression like those of Wordsworth and Keats, which form a striking contrast with some of his 18th-century conceits, which are distinctly traceable particularly in the third part of the poem. We note in it, on the one hand, lack of imaginative intensity, unity of impression, emotional rush and sweep and on the other occasional subtle touches of relief produces by the poet's keen desire for the enjoyment of Nature as well as for the service of humanity.

      Coleridge as a Man Highly Sensitive to Nature. Coleridge appears here as a poet highly sensitive to the beauties of Nature and to the keen delights of love. He is fond of seclusion and meditation. He cannot forget, the quiet cottage at Clevedon with its jasmine and myrtle even when he has left them behind.

      He is a man full of noble moments of earnest thinking. He is not satisfied with the life of ease and pleasure that he is leading at Clevedon, and wants to do something real for his fellow-men. He is inspired by the examples of other philanthropists. He hates his life of dreams.

      But in all this, he shows his truly romantic character. His dissatisfaction is romantic rather than practical. Keats and Shelley too, occasionally felt dissatisfied with their dreams. Coleridge leaves his happiness and quiet to follow a course of action that does not suit him.

      Lastly, we note the idealistic strain in him. He wants to fight the battle of science against ignorance and superstition, the battle of Christ against the Devil. He wishes for a time when all men will be virtuous and happy. His constant prayer to God is that he shall send His millennium soon to the earth.

      A Loose Blend of Descriptive and Meditative Verse Paragraphs. In the first few lines of the poem we notice the looseness of minute description and the want of unity of impression. As a matter of fact, this looseness and disjointed manner of delineation of Nature in all her forms, colours and sounds is a typical defect of Coleridge's early nature-poems. Of course, in the second part of the poem the description of Nature rises to a climax in passionate intensity and emotional unity. After a loose survey of the lowlands, Coleridge rises to the very summit of a hill where from he views all the splendor of landscape and seascape. There is a dramatic touch in the very manner of description because the reader feels with the poet as if he is actually standing on the top of a sublime mount and visualizing the whole prospect.

      There are meditative touches in the poem. Note the lines 22-26 "such sweet girl! The unobtrusive song...and the heart listens". The touch are all at once Wordsworthian, Shelleyan, and Miltonic because Coleridge talks of the viewless skylark's note of the unearthly minstrelsy and of the heart listening when all is hushed. Mark also the lines 39-44 which are deeply contemplative as well as most poetic in conception and imagery. The third part of the poem reflects the influence of Gray and Collins upon Coleridge. It shows how Coleridge fails to strike a fully romantic note and how the present poem like all his early poetry is full of commonplace metaphors, far-fetched images and eighteenth-century conceits.


      L. 1-9. Our cottage is beautiful but not very high. The rose is visible at the chamber window. We can hear the gentle sound of the seawater in the morning at noon and in the evening. The ever-green myrtle plants are smiling with their flowers outside the cottage, and across the cottage door the jasmine flowers grew in abundance. The surrounding lands looks green and overgrown with trees, and the view soothed the eye. It is a place which you might rightly regard as the valley of loneliness.

      L. 10-17. Once I see a rich merchant of Bristol loitering in the place and enjoying his Sunday. It seems to me that his hankering for riches are subdued at that moment and he knew better. For he stood there and looks with a mixed feeling of sadness and pleasure. He looks all around and see our cottage. Then he looks round again with yearning and said with a sigh that it is a happy place. He is right we are really fortunate to live there.

      L. 18-26. Often we have long listened patiently to the song of the skylark unseen or seen perhaps only for a moment when it soared on its wings shining in bright sunlight. And I have said to my darling softly, "My Love, the divine music of happiness is like this song of soaring skylark. It can be heard when the soul longs to hear it, when all discords sleep and we are in a mood to listen to it."

      L. 26-42. I see the most marvellous scene when I first go up the high mountain and reached the top with hard labour. I saw the bare dreary mountain where a few sheep roamed, the grey clouds the shadow of which fell on the sunny fields, the winding rivers, with bushy rocks hanging over them at some places and bare at other places, the lawns, forest, abbey, cottages, church spires of a distant city dimly seen. On the other side of the mountain are the channel, islands, ships sailing with white sails in coasts far away and finely seen, cloud-like hills and oceans the shores of which can not be seen. It seems all things with all aspects are represented there.

      Nature is so magnificent there that it seems that the very temple of God has been built there. The whole scene is so full of rich details that it seems to be the reflection of the whole world. No vain craving rose in his heart which is overflowing with joy and adoration for God. It is a happy hour and to be alive then is all that a man could wish for.

      L. 43-62. But I have to leave that calm valley, dear cottage and beautiful mountain. For when millions of men are working hard for their living it is not proper for me to waste my time, which God has given me to do some useful work, in idle dreams, ease and luxury, fighting shy of active life and delighting in too fine sentiments to be of any use of humanity. The tears of sympathy which fall from the eyes of a lover of humanity like Howard on the cheeks of one whom he relieves are sweet. A man who relieves me from a cold virtuous reasoning without being moves to pity does not help me fully. He does not sympathise with me like a brother and therefore cannot inspire strong feelings in me. Yet thanks are due to his cold virtuous reasoning when we consider the inactive visionary schemes of people who grieve for the unfortunate condition of men but who without giving any practical help to them meditate in luxurious solitude on their love and sympathy which are too fine and idle to be of any benefit to them. So I must leave this to fight whole-heartedly and actively the spiritual war for the cause of science, liberty and truth.

      L. 63-71. But after my share of work, when I shall rest and dream while I am still awake, I shall recall the dear cottage to my mind and go there in spirit. I shall vividly see the jasmine and the rose that touch my window, and the myrtles unmolested by the mild breeze coming from the sea. And I shall wish for the golden age when all may have such a cottage. It can be so, but the time has not yet come. O God, let it come soon. Make this world an ideal world. 


      L. 22-26. Such sweet Girl!.....Heart listens! These lines have been taken from the poem Reflections on Having Left A Place Of Retirement. At Clevedon, the poet and his beloved will often listen to the song of the skylark. At times they would see the glittering wings of the bird, and at times the bird will be invisible, but only his melody would be heard. The poet would explain to his beloved that the song of true happiness is like the song of that bird, that it is always quiet and peaceful. This song could be heard only when a man would listen to it with his heart in quietness. In other words, true happiness is to be found only in seclusion and in the heart not in the accumulation of wealth or fame or success.

      L. 38-40. It seem's like Omnipresence!.....vast circumference. These lines have been taken from the poem Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement. When Coleridge surveyed the vast scenes all around him from the top of the mountain, he is very much impressed. The scene reminded him irresistibly of God. He felt as if the vast scene is a Temple built by God for himself, for it appears to reflect the whole universe in its circumference. In other words, the landscape stretching up to the horizon on one side, and the seascape on the other, reminds the poet of the vastness of the universe, and of the Omnipresence of God. Only a scene like that could do it.

      L. 44-48. Was it right.....delicate for use? Coleridge is dissatisfied with the happy life of case and pleasure that he is living at Clevedon in the company of his newly-wedded wife. He is thus neglecting his duties. Man is given his life not because he should fritter it away in idle enjoyment, but because God expects him to do some good to the world. So the poet is dissatisfied with his quiet and easeful life. His heart dared not face the stern realities, and the poet is over-indulging his heart with fine feelings excited by the beauties of Nature of love or quiet contemplation. What did these feelings matter to the rest of the world? They are utterly useless. So the poet can not any longer justify his idyllic existence at Clevedon.

      L. 49-53. Sweet is the man! The poet is here pleading for whole-hearted kindness and charity. If a man simply does some mechanical act of charity without showing his compassion: that he himself is deeply moved by it, then he is a mere benefactor. He cannot evoke a warm gratefulness from the man who is receiving his help. The latter is not thrilled or ennobled by the help he receives. This is only charity half done. A true philanthropist appears not as a benefactor but as a brother to the poor and the distressed. He relieves their pain and want with emotions of love and pity. He is like John Howard who used to shed tears on the criminals whom he will help and try to reform.

      L. 54-59. Yet even this.....dainty sympathies! The poet is here speaking of his own inaction and sloth. He is full of pity for the sufferers, but his pity leads to no action. It only calls up certain dreaming faculties of his mind which go on weaving visions of reform and help. But these visions do not make the poet actually go to the sufferers and relieve them. These visions are only poetic in nature. The poet's faculties like only to indulge in wishful thinking, and in delicate feelings of love and sympathy in solitude. So the poet, comparing himself with those who help the sufferers without any warmth of feeling, concludes that the action of the latter, though not full-hearted, is much better than his inaction.

      L. 63-70. Yet oft Kingdom come! This has a Wordsworthian touch. Wordsworth used to move revisiting scenes and objects of Nature after his stay in the city and participation in the worldly activities. Coleridge opines here that he has no better wish in his heart than revisiting his old dear cottage and enjoying the loveliness of us natural surroundings. He wishes here that all people wish in their heart to revisit Nature after their "honourable toil". He emphasises that the entire mankind shall revisit Nature after the fulfillment of their worldly duties. But, he himself feels that his time has not come to do so because as yet he has not done anything to serve his fellowmen. In the end, he wishes that day is not far away when he will have finished his duties of life and returned to Nature for contemplation which in his opinion is the happiest life.

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