Samuel Taylor Coleridge Biography His Life and Literature

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Biography His Life and Literature

His Life and Literature[Samuel Taylor Coleridge Biography]

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a pioneer in nineteenth century Romantic English poetry, was born at Ottery, St. Mary in 1772. He was the youngest child of his father Reverend John Coleridge, Vicar and school-master of St. Mary of Devonshire. Coleridge was first educated at Christ’s Hospital, where he met Lamb and grew intimate with him. He later went to Jesus College, Cambridge. He, however, left the University in 1794, without obtaining any degree.

Coleridge’s literary career began quite early. He started writing verses while in the university. Some of his early verses appeared in the Morning Chronicle during 179395. In 1794, he wrote, jointly with Southey, with whom he had already developed intimacy, The Fall of Robespierre. He also attempted to start a newspaper, under the title The Watchman, in 1794. But that could not prove successful.

Coleridge came to be acquainted with Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy early in 1795. That was a turning point of his literary career. The two young poets- Wordsworth and Coleridge worked together and produced Lyrical Ballads in 1798. The volume contains some of Coleridge’s finest poems including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. His two other celebrated works-Christabel and Kubla Khan-were written possibly during 1797.

Like Wordsworth, Coleridge had the ardour of republican enthusiasm during the French Revolution. Like his friend, he was disillusioned, too, by the aftermath of the Revolution and the tyrannical excesses of the revolutionists. His poem France, an Ode, written in 1798, indicated that change in his attitude.

Coleridge toured Germany in 1798-99, and learnt the German language. He translated Schiller’s Piccolomini and Wallenstein during his stay there. Gradually his health declined and he became an opium-addict to sooth the acute neurologia from which he had been suffering. His two remarkable works of literary criticism, Biographia Literaria and Aids to Reflections, appeared in 1817 and 1825 respectively.

The last phase of Coleridge’s life was mainly spent with his friends and relations owing to his poor health and addiction to drugs. He went to Germany once more in 1928 with Wordsworth.

Coleridge died in 1834 in his sleep.

Coleridge’s literary works include his poems—The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, Christabel (in two parts), France an Ode, Dejection : an Ode, Love, Youth and Age, Frost at Midnight and a number of other shorter lyrics.

His prose writings are, too, well celebrated and include his Lectures on different poets (1811), Biographia Literaria (1817) and Aids to Reflection (1825).

Coleridge as a Poet

Coleridge, characterised as the high priest of romanticism by Saintsbury, was a pioneer, along with his friend Wordsworth, in the dawn of romanticism on the English poetry of social, satirical and critical poetry of the age of prose and reason. The essence of the romantic spirit is well perceived in his poetry.

Coleridge, like Wordsworth, was a lover of liberty and the French Revolution, at its initial stage, had a great hold on him, as on Wordsworth. He had a speculative idealism of the Revolution and found in it a political moral for his people and age. Unfortunately, like Wordsworth, he was frustrated, rather disillusioned with it, as the war of liberty was turned into a war of aggression. His celebrated Ode on France is a clear and categorical confession of his entire connection with the French Revolution through its different stages and his sad disenchantment about it.

[ Supernatural in Coleridge’s Poetry]

Coleridge’s significance in romantic poetry lies in his treatment of the superntural world. He is found to have created the supernatural out of the natural in a way that is unique. He strikes terror psychologically , without the representation of any gross scene of physical horror. His great poems, like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan, bear out his power to create a supernatural or mystical enchantment with a highly romantic suggestiveness.

Coleridge’s treatment of the supernatural indicates the mystical aspect of romantic art. But this is not all. It also bears out his highly romantic imagination that excels in his imagination of the situation, away from the immediate earthly reality. It is when he narrates the strange experience of an ancient mariner in an unknown region of the Pacific, when he delineates the dream-land of Kubla Khan, or when he peeps into the remote medieval age in Christabel, that his imagination reaches the height of excellence. He succeeds in projecting a human interest on extraordinary and romantic themes, ‘giving a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith’. Coleridge’s conception of the supernatural really casts a sort of enchantment that creates a psychological state of wonder and fear. The elements of gross and material horror are absolutely absent in him. The element of marvel is not obtruded, but slowly distilled into the entire environment. The touch is psychological, not physical.

[ Treatment of Nature]

Coleridge’s poetry bears out, too, his romantic interest in Nature. He is, however, no philosopher or idealist of Nature, like Wordsworth or Shelley. He is rather an imagist, like Keats, of natural elements or scenes. What is more, his supernatural comes out of the natural and never appears anything but natural. In fact, Nature and the Supernatural are not apart , and co-exist in him for the poetic enchantment.

(Medievalism ]

Again, Coleridge’s supernatural has a close kinship with his medievalism. Among the romantic poets, he, along with Scott and Keats, remains the ardent painter of the medieval world. An intense interest in the medieval time, noted for its mystery and enchantment, serves to give an additional interest as well as an artistic curiosity to the supernatural aspects of the po ms, like Christabel. In fact, medievalism lies in the core of his poetry and constitutes his very poetic creed. But here, again, Coleridge is not merely a romanticist, but a keen spectator, with a historical imagination. There is a precise, factual, accurate representation of the medieval world, with its external objects as well as its spirit and faith. Indeed, scientific exactness, rather than romantic exaggeration, marks Coleridge’s medievalism.

[ Position as a Poet ]

As a poet, Coleridge’s place is indisputably very high in the shrine of poetic fame. His command over imagery, his simple diction and his melodious charms in versification exhibit his special poetic power and secure for him special praises. Out of the simplest material and ordinary words, he is found to weave a web of living imagery and touching music. By slight and deft touches, he creates pictures, the details of which are quickly filled in by a responsive imagination. What is more, he is an epicure in sounds, and his poems are marked with a sonorous, faultless music, which is as sweet as the singing of the blessed spirit, as heard by the ancient mariner upon the ship of terror:

“And now, it was like all instruments, Now like a lonely flute, And now it is an angel’s song,

That makes the Heavens be mute.” With that supreme art which ever seems artless, he weaves such a texture of sound, colour and detail as to defy all attempts at an adequate analysis of his poetry.

Treatment of the Supernatural by Coleridge

[ In his great poems ]

Of the romantic poets of the first half of the 19th century who have handled the supernatural vision, Coleridge stands out prominently. In fact, his vision of the supernatural may well be described as the arch-stone on which his poetry stands. His great poems, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan, testify to his power to represent the mystic world of the supernatural in a most natural way and to create an environmental effect that suspends disbelief for the time being.

Coleridge’s importance in the romantic poetry of the early 19th century, in fact, is found to lie mainly in his superb delineation of the supernatural, with a perfectly natural ease. His theme embraces the world of mystery and the atmosphere created is surcharged with suspense and strangeness. Yet, his presentation keeps every sense of disbelief in suspense and rouses the curiosity, necessary to the poetic faith. What is important here, is not the matter that he presents, but the manner in which he presents and produces the effect which overpowers all rational calculations and considerations in a pall of mystery and suspense. His unique creation of the supernatural out of the natural is marked well in his great poems.

[ Christabel ]

In Christabel Part I, the poet’s theme is the attempt of an evil spirit Geraldine to possess the soul of an innocent lady Christabel. The sudden appearance and the

strange beauty of that unknown lady, Geraldine, her queer conduct, both outside inside the castle of Christabel, and her strange utterances, after entering Christabel’s bed-chamber, are full of supernatural suggestions. Again, the suggested conflict between the evil spirit of Geraldine and the good spirit of Christabel’s mother is somewhat mystical and awe-inspiring, but this is simply suggested and not shown.

[ Kubla Khan ]

The theme of Kubla Khan, a story suggested by some old legend, of course, has not the ghostliness of other poems, but the mystic suggestiveness and the sensation of fear and suspense remain here all through operative. The poem has no less the quality of enchantment and seems more puzzling with the only difference that it is a less universal and more personal experience. Composed under the effect of an opium dream, its psychological effect is more impressive, though this is not marked significantly in the other two famous Coleridgean works-Christabel and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

[ The Ancient Mariner ]

In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the ghostly tale is never made to cross the limit of credibility. The old mariner’s experience is definitely strange, and may even appear to a rational mind, quite absurd. At the same time, the poet has created the environment and the psychological sensation in such a manner as to make the mariner’s whole experience, though definitely peculiar, credible and convincing.

[ Coleridge’s art]

Indeed, in the depiction of the supernatural, Coleridge’s art is really rare, yet, as already indicated, he is no author of cheap thrillers and possesses his own machinery that is distinctly different from what is found in the Gothic romances of the late 18th century. Coleridge does not relate anything horrible physically or beyond the credibility of human thinking. He makes his supernatural real and convincing and allows it to grow out of the natural. What he succeeds in creating is not the scenes of physical sensationalism or ghostly fearfulness, but the environmental effect and psychological suspense and thrill.

In fact, Coleridge weaves an atmosphere of mystery and fear, without showing anything horrible or dreadful. He succeeds in presenting thereby a horror-stricken atmosphere-a state in which the mind wavers in doubt and mystery.

[ Coleridgean machinery ]

Coleridge’s machinery also includes his selection of time and place. His place of action is hardly known to a modern reader. The tale of Christabel belongs to the mystic romantic medieval world, whereas Kubla Khan has the background of some shadowy, somewhat unknown land. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner relates no specific place, age, or personality. Coleridge’s enchantment remains here thoroughly shrouded in the mystery of the unknown, unfamiliar, far-off place on an unchartered sea.


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