Samuel Taylor Coleridge




Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to those who know and understand his poems well, exists in three modes, as Philosopher, Poet, Friend. If the truth were told, we should all be obliged to admit that the Philosopher escapes us. It is the opinion of many that Coleridge as Poet is almost equally an evanescent shadow; and though the many are in this quite mistaken, they have some excuse for thinking thus, because his fulfillment falls far short of his promise. Due to Coleridge’s complex styles of writing, the concept and meaning of his poems can be taken in more ways than one and are often criticized by the individual reader, but the true meaning only lies inside his head.
The failure to appreciate how extremely great the fulfillment exists, the causes of this injustice to Coleridge the Poet are the splendor of the three poems of his which everybody knows and admires, and also the habit of regarding him as a mere satellite of Wordsworth, or at least as Wordsworth’s weaker brother. These are his Poems of Friendship. They cannot be even vaguely understood unless the reader knows what persons Coleridge has in mind. They are, for the most part, poems in which reference is made with fine particularity to certain places. They were composed as the expression of feelings which were occasioned by quite definite events. Between the lines, when we know their meaning, we catch glimpses of those delightful people who formed the golden inner circle of his friends in the days of his young manhood. They may all be termed, as Coleridge himself names one or two of them, Conversation Poems, for even when they are soliloquies the sociable man who wrote them could not even think without supposing a listener. They require and reward considerable knowledge of his life and especially the life of his heart.
This is not so certainly the case with his three famous Mystery Poems, in which the spellbound reader sees visions and hears music which float in from a magic realm and float out again into unfathomable space. Their perfection not of this world nor founded on history of circumstances. No knowledge of their origin or mechanism can increase their beauty or enrich their charm. To attempt to account for them, to write footnotes about them, if it were hoped thereby to make them more powerful in their effect upon the imagination, would be ridiculous and pedantic, however fruitful of knowledge and interest the exercise might be.
While the Philosopher has wandered away into a vague limbo of unfinished projects and the Poet of "Cristabel" and its companion stars can only gaze in mute wonder upon the constellation he fixed in the heavens, the Poet of the Friendly Pieces lingers among us and can be questioned. We owe it to him and to ourselves to appreciate them. It is unfair to his genius that he should be represented in most anthologies of English verse only be the Mystery Poems, and that those who read the Poems of Friendship should be generally be ignorant of their meaning. It is unfair to ourselves that we should refuse the companionship of the most open-hearted of men, a generous spirit, willing to reveal to us the riches of his mind, a man whom all can understand and no one can help loving. There is not so much kindness, humor, wisdom, and frankness offered to most of us in the ordinary intercourse of life that we can afford to decline the outstretched hand of Coleridge.
Poetry draws mankind together, breaks down barriers, relieves loneliness, shows us ourselves in others and others in ourselves. It is the friendly art. It ignores time and space. National, racial, and secular differences fall at its touch, which is the touch of kinship, and when we feel this we laugh shamefacedly at our pretensions, timidity’s, and reserves. Everything in antiquity is antiquated except its art and especially its poetry. That is scarcely less fresh than when it fell first from living lips. The religion of the ancients is to us superstition, their science childishness, but their poetry is as valid and vital as our own.
It is the nature of all great poetry to open and bring together the hearts of men. And few poets