This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison: Summary & Analysis

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      The period June, 1797 to September 1798 may be called the annus mirabilis (wonderfully miraculous year) in the life of Coleridge who rose to the zenith of his poetical career in that short period, thanks to the close companionship of Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. Almost all his good poems are written then because Coleridge is free from domestic anxiety. In the case of Coleridge there is no gradual development of the poetic gifts as evolved by the actual circumstances of his personal life, with some retardation when they were unfavorable and some enrichment when they are favorable. There has been a sudden blossoming through one short season, to the perfect point and unfortunately, we find deterioration thereafter something akin to a young man's growing prematurely old. After this short period, Coleridge turns into a literary critic and a philosopher without much of the poetic gift.

      Wordsworth, Charles Lamb and others pays a visit to Coleridge and stayed with him for a couple of days. One day Sara, the wife of Coleridge accidentally spills boiling milk on his foot rendering him incapable of walking. The friends later went for a walk in the woods while Coleridge are compelled to stay behind in the Lime Tree Bower in his garden. These lines are written at that time. The poem is copied and sent to Southey with a covering letter on 9th July, 1797 explaining the circumstances of the composition of the poem. When written there has been some references to Wordsworth and his sister but this part is deleted later due to the estrangement of the two poets.


      The poet is unhappy, he compelled to stay behind under the lime tree bower while his friends are on a walking tour in the dell, a small secluded valley. He mentally pictures the excursion of his friends along the heath or the tract of wasteland and then to the dell which is thickly wooded. The poet is sorry that he is deprived of many beautiful natural scenes, the sweet memory of which would have comforted him in his old age when his eyes would become dim and practically blind. The friends are then imagined to be looking at the dark green weeds growing in a long line dripping and nodding beneath the edge of a clay-stone.

      Then the poet fancies his friends emerging into the open land viewing the fields and meadows with many small hillocks rising like the steeples of a church. They can see the sea also with perhaps a small ship whose sails make the sea look brighter. Of all the friends Charles (Lamb) will have been the happiest because he had been living in the congested city of London for a long time with a great longing to be in the company of nature. Here the poet refers to the domestic misfortunes of Charles Lamb whose sister has become insane and killed their mother. In order to look after her properly, Charles Lamb remained a bachelor throughout his life. Although he is sad, he has been patient throughout that period of evil, pain and strange calamity. The poet then wants the glorious sun to sink slowly behind the Western ridge; the purple-coloured heath-flowers to shine in the slanting rays of the setting sun, the clouds to burn more richly, the distant groves to be brightened by the yellow light and the blue ocean to be kindled up. The poet is sure that this splendid scene would delight Charles Lamb so much as to make him stand spell bound in the same manner as the poet himself has stood before, gazing round the wide landscape and feeling the pervading presence of the Almighty over the entire area.

      Then the poet feels delighted as though he himself are present there. Not that he has not observed certain things in the bower itself which has soothed him much. The transparent foliage appears pale in the blazing sun. Broad leaves shone brightly. The lovely shadows produces by the leaves and the branches above dappled the sunshine. They mark it with different spots. The walnut tree has a richer colour. The ivy overgrowing the elm tree has a brighter radiance. In the twilight, the dark branches of the elm tree has a brighter radiance. In the twilight, the dark branches of the elm trees gleames brightly. Sometimes a bat passes by whirling. The twittering of the swallow was no longer heard. The solitary bee humms amongst the bean flowers. The poet is convinced that Nature never leaves the pure hearted people. The beauty of Nature is manifest even in narrow plots of land and vacant waste tracts too. The beauty of Nature keeps the heart awake to Love and Beauty. The poet feels that even though we may be denied certain benefits despite our eager expectations, it is eventually conducive to our own good, because it has the power to elevate the soul when men can joyously contemplate the lovely joys they may not personally feel.

      In the concluding lines, the poet admirably sums up everything by referring to certain remarkable features. The poet apostrophises Charles Lamb and tells him that the last rook flying towards his nest is blessed by him. Probably Lamb himself might have stood gazing at it as it flew above. It must have made a croaking sound as it flows overhead. No sound which tells of life can be dissonant to him and so it must have a charm for him.


Development of Thought

      Coleridge's friend has left on a trip to the hills and roaring dell. He is denied the pleasure of accompanying them because of his inability to walk. This makes him sorry because the beautiful sights of nature he might have seen, could have been treasured within his mind for a long time even in his old age when his eyes will become dimmed to view them clearly.

      This personal loss does not prevent the poet from indulging in fanciful thoughts about the various things that will be seen and enjoyed by his friends. He feels as though he is bodily transported to that region. Nature cannot but accord joy to its votaries, the wise and the pure-hearted. Man may be denied certain benefits but that does not mean that through the help of Nature man cannot elevate his soul to appreciate love and beauty. Wordsworth's influence over Coleridge is clear in the lines 40-43. But to Coleridge nature is not a moral teacher. Still, a pantheistic belief is the necessary corollary of the appreciation of Nature and its extensive bounties.

Critical Appreciation

      Description of Nature: Several scenes from Nature are realistically describes in this poem. His description is such that all those objects appear to come before our mind's eye. The description of the ash tree with its few yellow leaves fluttering due to the waterfall, although the gale itself is unable to shake them is a wonderful example:

....that branchless ash
Unsunned and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne'er tremble in che gale, yet tremble still
Fanned by the waterfall

      The poet observes his surroundings so very minutely as to appreciate all the beauties of the nature in and around the lime-tree bower where, he has complained before, he has been kept a prisoner.

      Friendship with Lamb. Another noteworthy feature of the poem is the full description of the poet’s friendship and respect for Charles Lamb who stoically braved many domestic calamities. The friendship dated from their school days. Appropriately, Coleridge uses the term "gentle- hearted" for Lamb. It is deep affection for his friend that makes Coleridge call upon the objects of Nature to look more beautiful so that Lamb would be able to feast his eyes upon them. The closing lines of the poem emphasises Lamb's love of Nature and picturise him standing and gazing at the flight of a rook.

      The Poet's Variation of Moods. The poem presents a variation of moods. It begins on a note of regret, but goes on to express joy - the poet's joy at the idea of his friends feeling happy amidst natural beauty. The poet's joy also has a source in his appreciation of his immediate surroundings. Towards the end, the exuberant joy is sobered down to a meditative mood as the poet thinks of those occasions in life when a man finds himself "bereft of promised good". Thus the poem ends on a contemplative note: No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.

      A Conversation Poem. This poem belongs to the category of Coleridge's conversation poems. Coleridge handles blank verse successfully. There are vivid word pictures of natural sights, showing Coleridge's observation powers.

      Coleridge's Love of Nature. Coleridge's love of nature comes through in this poem. He cherishes the charms of Nature and the power of Nature to cheer and soothe our mind. In a pantheistic vein he speaks of the hues of Nature "veiling the almighty Spirit". Here Coleridge seems to be Wordsworthian in his belief of the Universal spirit pervading the objects of Nature.


      L. 26-32. Yes they wander on.....calamity: Coleridge imagines his friends wandering amidst natural sights, enjoying their close contact with Nature. Gentle-hearted Lamb, he feels, must be the happiest of them all, because after his long stay in crowded London, he will have been longing for the sights of Nature. He must be delighted to see them now. The poet makes a reference to the unhappy life that Lamb has been leading on account of domestic misfortunes. These misfortunes were, of course, the insanity of his sister and the death of their mother at his sister's hands. The poet admires Lamb's patience in facing his misfortunes.

      The lines bring out Coleridge's affection for his friend. They also snow his love of Nature. He feels that Nature has a fascination for all, offering a welcome sojourn from the fever and fret of a congested city life.

      L. 59-64. Henceforth.....and Beauty: These lines have an echo of Wordsworthian sentiment. "Nature never did betray a heart that loved her", said Wordsworth in his Tintern Abbey. Coleridge feels similarly that the sights of Nature have a great significance for those who are wise and pure of heart. To the discerning mind, even the narrowest piece of ground and the emptiest tract of land have features which stimulate the faculties of human beings.


      L. 27. methinks - it seems to me. L. 28. pined - longed intensely; L. 28-30. Thou pent — Lamb was in the city of London where he could not be in communion with nature for a long time. All along he had been yearning to be in the midst of natural beauty. L. 34. slant — oblique. L. 41. gross — not subtle. L. 41—43. Less gross....his presence — Nature has the pervading spiritual power of the Almighty. Here the pantheistic belief of the poet is clearly portrayed. L. 45 — 47. Nor in this....sooth'd me — The two negatives make the sentence affirmative in effect; i.e., I also have not failed to observe quite a few beautiful things that have comforted me. L. 52—55. and a deep....lighter hue — To usurp means to take the place of. Ivy is an evergreen plant that can grow on other three or on walls. The ivy has hidden the elm tree beneath its own leaves. It is not to be forgotten that in this poem the poet does not indulge in self-pity as in the poem Pains of Sleep although the poem paints some pictures of loneliness, imprisonment etc. The poet is not unhappy when nature denies him certain benefits. He tries to rejoice in the joy of others. Also, he makes a careful scrutiny of things around and finds many things that do give him real joy. "Nature never deserts the wise and pure" is the conviction of the poet. L. 53. ancient - very old. L. 54. fronting - appearing in front L. 65. to be bereft of - to be denied L. 72. dilated - enlarged L. 76. dissonant - discordant.

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