The Poem

“Dejection: An Ode” is an ode in eight stanzas that vary greatly in the number of lines, the length of line, and in thought and imagery. The title announces the subject of the poem, which becomes apparent in the first stanza. The poet is surveying the tranquil night sky in which the new moon can be seen. He recalls an old ballad, which predicted that when the new moon can be seen with the old moon “in its arms,” a storm may be brewing. He hopes this is true, because he is sunk in depression and remembers past occasions when the driving energy of a storm has enlivened his creative spirit.

In stanza 2, the poet elaborates on his dejected state of mind, which is deep and pervasive. Nothing seems able to lift it. Addressing a “Lady” (who is Coleridge’s friend Sara Hutchinson), he says that in this mood he has been gazing at the western sky all evening. Although he can see how beautiful the scene is, he cannot feel this beauty in his inner being.

This observation leads him, in the short stanza 3, to reflect philosophically on his situation. The source of his poetic power is failing him, and the knowledge of this weighs him down. He realizes that he could gaze out forever on the external scene but that it would be no use to him. The “passion and the life” that he seeks is not to be found outside the human mind, but within it.

In stanzas 4 and 5, the poet again addresses Sara directly, elaborating on his philosophy of...

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Forms and Devices

“Dejection: An Ode” is sometimes classified as one of Coleridge’s “conversation” poems, a group which includes “The Eolian Harp” (1796), “Frost at Midnight” (1798), and others. The opening line of the ode (“Well! if the bard was weather-wise”) strikes the informal tone of the speaking voice. As in the other conversation poems, the poet addresses an absent auditor, in this case Sara. Also like the other conversation poems, the ode possesses a tripartite, rondo structure. It starts with a description of a tranquil natural scene (as in “The Eolian Harp,” for example), juxtaposed and contrasted with the poet’s own mood (as in “Frost at Midnight”). A meditation follows, in which the poet grapples with emotional and intellectual questions, before the poem returns to the outer scene. The rhythm of the poem, at both inner and outer level, is one of calm, followed by storm, followed by calm.

There are also, however, many differences between the ode and the conversation poems. The informal tone of the ode’s first line is not maintained throughout, but gives way to the more lofty and dignified manner that traditionally characterizes the ode. Also, the poem is in rhymed verse, as opposed to the blank verse of the conversation poems. The incantatory power contained in the tetrameter and trimeter rhyming couplets in stanzas 1 and 7, for example, bear a greater resemblance to Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)...

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Brice, Benjamin. Coleridge and Skepticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Interesting on the poem’s compositional process and Coleridge’s poetic relationship to Wordsworth.

Christie, Will. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Literary Life. New York: Palgrave, 2006. The most authoritative and incisive biography of Coleridge; sheds light on the state of mind and circumstances of Coleridge at the time he wrote the poem.

Mellor, Anne K. English Romantic Irony. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980. Insightful analysis of the poem as, in different moments, both happy and sad. An important counterpoint to readings of the poem that emphasize the poet’s incapacity and paralysis.

Roe, Nicholas. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Sciences of Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Places the poem in the context of what Roe terms Coleridge’s “dejection years” and deftly explicates both its physical and its metaphysical aspects.

Schulz, Max. The Poetic Voices of Coleridge. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1963. Schulz’s dual emphasis on arrangement and instability is especially sensitive to the dialectic of these qualities evident in the poem.

West, Sally. Coleridge and Shelley: A Textual Engagement. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007. Especially good on the music and weather imagery on the poem, as well as its simultaneous conjuring of both emotion and detachment.