The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Eolian Harp” is a lyric poem written in blank verse paragraphs of varying lengths. The title refers to a stringed instrument which produces music when placed in an open window so that the breeze may pass over it. The eolian harp was commonly used by poets in the Romantic period as a metaphor for the creative process.

The poem begins with the persona, who is clearly Samuel Taylor Coleridge himself, addressing his wife, Sara. They are sitting affectionately together outside their cottage in Clevedon, in the English county of Somersetshire. It is a quiet and peaceful evening scene. They look up at the evening star and the passing clouds; they can smell the pleasing scent from the nearby bean field, and they listen to the distant murmur of the sea.

In the second verse paragraph, the poet turns his attention to the eolian harp placed in the window of the cottage. Touched by the intermittent breeze, it is sending its music into the air. Coleridge compares the harp first to a girl “half yielding” as she is caressed by her lover; then, as the music grows stronger, he compares the harp to entrancing sounds coming from fairyland. The combination of silence and soft sound leads the poet into an intellectual reverie. He celebrates “The one Life within us and abroad,” a single spirit infusing everything in creation with joy. He feels that in such a world, in which the very air seems to be filled with music, it is impossible not to be...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Eolian Harp” is one of Coleridge’s first achievements in a new lyric form he developed, which is known as the conversation poem, or greater Romantic lyric. The form was later used by almost all the major English romantic poets, including Coleridge’s close friend William Wordsworth in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” (1798).

The conversation poem, so called because it embodies the relaxed and informal tones of the speaking voice, is usually addressed to a silent listener, in this case Coleridge’s wife Sara. It usually begins with a description of a quiet scene in nature, then turns inward, to the workings of the poet’s own mind. Typically, the poet will reflect on an emotional or intellectual problem and work his way to some kind of resolution before the poem rounds back to where it began, in the calm of the natural scene. The rhythm is one of systole and diastole.

“The Eolian Harp” underwent many revisions before it reached its final form. Lines 26-33 did not appear until 1817; however, it clearly follows the pattern of the typical conversation poem. From the scene outside the cottage, the poem moves progressively away from the everyday world to more refined levels of the poet’s mind and imagination. The movement begins with the music from the harp prompting a simile (the harp is “like some coy Maid”); another simile follows, when the music is compared to the sounds that “twilight Elfins make”...

(The entire section is 499 words.)