Page images
PDF
EPUB

COLERIDGE.

In all that constitutes artistic character the poetry of Coleridge is a contrast to that of Wordsworth. Coleridge, born in 1772, published the earliest of his poetry that is now remembered in 1796, in a small volume containing also some pieces by Charles Lamb, to which some by Charles Lloyd were added in a second edition the following year. It was not till 1800, after he had

produced and printed separately his Ode to the Departing Year (1796), his noble ode entitled France (1797), his Fears in Solitude (1798), and his translations of both parts of Schiller's Wallenstein, that he was first associated as a poet and author with Wordsworth, in the second volume of whose Lyrical Ballads, published in 1800, appeared, as the contributions of an anonymous friend, Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, Foster Mother's Tale, Nightingale, and Love. “I should not have requested this assistance,”. said Wordsworth, in his preface, “ had I not believed that the poems

of

my friend would, in a great measure, have the same tendency as my own, and that, though there would be found a difference, there would be found no discordance, in the colours of our style ; as our opinions on the subject of poetry do almost entirely coincide.” Coleridge's own account, however, is somewhat differ

In his Biographia Literaria, he tells us that, besides the Ancient Mariner, he was preparing for the conjoint publication, among

the Dark Ladie and the Christabel, in which he should have more nearly realized his ideal than he had done in his first attempt, when the volume was brought out with so much larger a portion of it the produce of Wordsworth’s industry than

, that his few compositions, “ instead of forming a balance, appeared rather an interpolation of heterogeneous matter”; and then he adds, in reference to the long preface in which Wordsworth had expounded his theory of poetry, “ With many parts of this preface in the sense attributed to them, and which the words undoubtedly seem to authorize, I never concurred; but, on the contrary, objected to them as erroneous in principle and contradictory (in appearance at least) both to other parts of the same preface, and to the author's own practice in the greater number of the poems themselves.”

Coleridge's poetry is remarkable for the perfection of its execu

ent.

other poems,

his own,

tion, for the exquisite art with which its divine spirit is endowed with formal expression. The subtly woven words, with all their sky colors, seem to grow out of the thought or emotion, as the flower from its stalk, or the flame from its feeding oil. The music of his verse, too, especially of what he has written in rhyme, is as sweet and as characteristic as anything in the language, placing him for that rare excellence in the same small band with Shaks, peare, and Beaumont and Fletcher (in their lyrics), and Milton, and Collins, and Shelley, and Tennyson. It was probably only quantity that was wanting to make Coleridge the greatest poet of his day. Certainly, at least, some things that he has written have not been surpassed, if they have been matched, by any of his contemporaries. And (as indeed has been the case with almost all great poets) he continued to write better and better the longer he wrote ; some of his happiest verses were the produce of his latest years. To quote part of what we have said in a paper published immediately after Coleridge's death : “ Not only, as we proceed from his earlier to his later compositions, does the execution become much more artistic and perfect, but the informing spirit is refined and purified, — the tenderness grows more delicate and deep, the fire brighter and keener, the sense of beauty more subtle and exquisite. Yet from the first there was in all he wrote the divine breath which essentially makes poetry what it is. There was the shaping spirit of imagination,' evidently of soaring pinion and full of strength, though as yet sometimes unskilfully directed, and encumbered in its flight by an affluence of power which it seemed hardly to know how to manage : hence an unselecting impetuosity in these early compositions, never indicating anything like poverty of thought, but producing occasionally considerable awkwardness and turgidity of style, and a declamatory air, from which no poetry was ever more free than that of Coleridge in its maturer form. Yet even among these juvenile productions are many passages, and some whole pieces, of perfect gracefulness, and radiant with the purest sunlight of poetry. There is, for example, the most beautiful delicacy of sentiment, as well as sweetness of versification and expression, in the following lines, simple as they are :

Maid of my love, sweet Genevieve !
In beauty's light you glide along;
Your eye is like the star of eve,
And sweet your voice as Seraph's song.

Yet not your heavenly beauty gives
This heart with passion soft to glow:
Within your soul a voice there lives!
It bids you hear the tale of woe.
When, sinking low, the sufferer wan
Beholds no hand outstretched to save,
Fair, as the bosom of the swan
That rises graceful o'er the wave,
I've seen your breast with pity heave;
And therefore love I you, sweet Genevieve!

And the following little picture, entitled Time, Real and Imaginary, is a gem worthy of the poet in the most thoughtful and philcsophic strength of his faculties:

On the wide level of a mountain's head
(I knew not where, but ?twas some fairy place),
Their pinions, ostrich-like, for sails outspread,
Two lovely children ran an endless race ;

A sister and a brother !

That far outstripped the other;
Yet ever runs she with reverted face,
And looks and listens for the boy behind :

For he, alas ! is blind!
O’er rough and smooth with even step he passed,

And knows not whether he be first or last. In a different manner, and more resembling that of these early poems in general, are many passages of great power in the Monody on the Death of Chatterton, and in the Religious Musings, the latter written in 1794, when the author was only in his twenty-third year. And among other remarkable pieces of a date not much later, might be mentioned the ode entitled France, written in 1797, which Shelley regarded as the finest ode in the language ; his Fire, Famine, and Slaughter, written, we believe, about the same time; his ode entitled Dejection ; his blank verse lines entitled The Nightingale ; his Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and his exquisite verses entitled Love, to which last, for their union of passion with delicacy, and of both with the sweetest, richest music, it would be difficult to find a match in our own or any language.

“ Of Coleridge's poetry, in its most matured form and in its best specimens, the most distinguishing characteristics are vividness of imagination and subtlety of thought, combined with unri

valled beauty and expressiveness of diction, and the most exquisite melody of verse. With the exception of a vein of melancholy and meditative tenderness, flowing rather from a contemplative survey of the mystery — the strangely mingled good and evil — of all things human, than connected with any individual interests, there is not in general much of passion in his compositions, and he is not well fitted, therefore, to become a very popular poet, or a favorite with the multitude. His love itself, warm and tender as it is, is still Platonic and spiritual in its tenderness, rather than a thing of flesh and blood. There is nothing in his poetry of the pulse of fire that throbs in that of Burns ; neither has he much of the homely every-day truth, the proverbial and universally applicable wisdom, of Wordsworth. Coleridge was, far more than either of these poets, 6 of imagination all compact.' The fault of his poetry is the same that belongs to that of Spenser; it is too purely or unalloyedly poetical. But rarely, on the other hand, has there existed an imagination in which so much originality and daring were associated and harmonized with so gentle and tremblingly delicate a sense of beauty. Some of his minor poems especially, for the richness of their coloring combined with the most perfect finish, can be compared only to the flowers which spring up into loveliness at the touch of great creating nature. The words, the rhyme, the whole flow of the music seem to be not so much the mere expression or sign of the thought as its blossoming or irradiation — of the bright essence the equally bright though sensible efflu

ence.” 1

The poem entitled Love is somewhat too long to be given entire ; and it is, besides, probably familiar to most of our readers ; but those of them to whom it is best known will not object to have a few of the verses again placed before them here:

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,

And feed his sacred flame.

Oft in my waking dreams do I
Live o'er again that happy hour,
When midway on the mount I lay,

Beside the ruined tower.
1 Printing Machine, No. 12, for 16th August, 1834.

61

VOL. II.

1

The moonshine, stealing o'er the scene, Had blended with the lights of eve; And she was there, my hope, my joy,

My own dear Genevieve!

She leaned against the armed man,
The statue of the armed knight;
She stood and listened to my lay,

Amid the lingering light.

Few sorrows hath she of her own,
My hope, my joy, my Genevieve !
She loves me best whene'er I sing

The songs that make her grieve.

I played a soft and doleful air,
I sang an old and moving story -
An old rude song, that suited well

That ruin wild and hoary.

She listened with a flitting blush,
With downcast eyes and modest grace ;
For well she knew I could not choose

But gaze upon her face.

I told her of the knight that wore Upon his shield a burning brand ; And that for ten long years he wooed

The Lady of the Land.

I told her how he pined; and ah!
The deep, the low, the pleading tone,
With which I sang another's love,

Interpreted my own.

All impulses of soul and sense
Had thrilled my guileless Genevieve ;
The music and the doleful tale,

The rich and balmy eve;

And hopes, and fears that kindle hope, An undistinguishable throng,

« PreviousContinue »