Coleridge on Easter

Wendy Cope somewhere reflects on being asked who her favourite poet is; she comments on thinking of her current lover, who is unquestionably her favourite poet – and whose poetry she finds to be of some merit, also.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge is my favourite poet.

I’ve written more than once on Coleridge’s theology, starting with my Masters’ dissertation – most recently (well, because of the history, the book was published a decade or near after the piece was first written, but…) contributing the chapter on STC to the Blackwell Companion to Nineteenth Century Theology. He downplays the theological significance of the historical details of the life of Jesus, because of a commitment to a neoplatonic system (and as a response to the scandal of particularity); the following two poems are not explicit celebrations of Easter, but they do rejoice in Christ’s victory over death in their own ways.

Human Life, On the Denial of Immortality (1815)

If dead, we cease to be; if total gloom
Swallow up life’s brief flash for aye, we fare
As summer-gusts, of sudden birth and doom,
Whose sound and motion not alone declare,
But are their whole of being ! If the breath
Be Life itself, and not its task and tent,
If even a soul like Milton’s can know death ;
O Man ! thou vessel purposeless, unmeant,
Yet drone-hive strange of phantom purposes !
Surplus of Nature’s dread activity,
Which, as she gazed on some nigh-finished vase,
Retreating slow, with meditative pause,
She formed with restless hands unconsciously.
Blank accident ! nothing’s anomaly !
If rootless thus, thus substanceless thy state,
Go, weigh thy dreams, and be thy hopes, thy fears,
The counter-weights !–Thy laughter and thy tears
Mean but themselves, each fittest to create
And to repay the other ! Why rejoices
Thy heart with hollow joy for hollow good ?
Why cowl thy face beneath the mourner’s hood ?
Why waste thy sighs, and thy lamenting voices,
Image of Image, Ghost of Ghostly Elf,
That such a thing as thou feel’st warm or cold ?
Yet what and whence thy gain, if thou withhold
These costless shadows of thy shadowy self ?
Be sad ! be glad ! be neither ! seek, or shun !
Thou hast no reason why ! Thou canst have none ;
Thy being’s being is contradiction.

My Baptismal Birth-day (1833)

(Original title: ‘Lines composed on a sick-bed, under severe bodily suffering, on my spiritual birthday, Oct. 28th)

God’s Child in Christ adopted,–Christ my all,–
What that earth boasts were not lost cheaply, rather
Than forfiet that blest name, by which I call
The Holy One, the Almighty God, my Fahter?–
Father! in Christ we live, and Christ in Thee–
Eternal Thou, and everlasting we.
The heir of heaven, henceforth I fear not death:
In Christ I live! in Christ I draw the breath
Of true life!–Let then earth, sea, and sky
Make war against me! On my front I show
Their mighty master’s seal. In vain they try
To end my life, that can but end its woe.–
Is that a death-bed where a Chrsitian lies?–
Yes! but not his–’tis Death itself there dies.
He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

1 Comment

  1. Rick Lloyd
    Jul 11, 2012

    soooooooooo glad to discover someone who likes “Human Life.” My little poetry group is discussing this poem in August. Briefly, I would say that the overall thrust of the poem is that if humans are solely material bodies our whole being is in contradiction to all that we know and experience in life. There are several lines that are difficult for me: “drone-hive strange of phantom purposes…” and “ghost of Ghostly Elf” could you share your perspective on these phrases please?

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