Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 345

One theme of "The Eolian Harp" is gratitude. One needs no knowledge of Coleridge's philosophy to understand this lyrical poem as an outpouring of joy at life and the universe. The speaker is young, newly married, in love with his wife and with life, and finds the world a beautiful place. He pours his overwhelming sense of gratitude, optimism, and joy into his verse:

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Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere—
Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so filled

A second theme is love of nature. Like a good Romantic poet, Coleridge celebrates the natural world. This poem abounds with joyous nature imagery, and nature reflects the beauty and order of the cosmos. There is a sweet sadness and loveliness in the imagery of the departing day:

our Cot [cottage] o’ergrown
With white-flowered Jasmin, and the broad-leaved Myrtle
(Meet emblems thy of Innocence and Love!)
And watch the clouds, that late were rich with light,
Slow saddening round, and mark the star of eve
Serenely brilliant (such would Wisdom be)
Shine opposite!
The speaker also recalls the brilliant beauty of noonday:
Whilst through my half-closed eyelids I behold
The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the main
The simple pleasures of nature bring solace when observed and remembered; this is an important theme of Romantic poetry.

A third theme of the poem is to question the nature of the universe. The speaker has a flight of fancy in which he wonders if all of "animated nature" is conscious and alive with thought as humans are. What if the various parts of nature are "organic harps" that are "At once the Soul of each, and God of all?" Is nature consciously alive? Is nature God? The speaker, in the final stanza, comes back to a conventional understanding of a Christian God rather than "vain Philosophy" and remembers he is a sinful and forgiven man. Nevertheless, he records his flight of fancy, suggesting it could possibly be true, opening us as readers to ponder the nature of the universe.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489

“The Eolian Harp” expresses Coleridge’s belief in a natural philosophy that emphasizes the connectedness of all things, both inner and outer: “O! the one Life within us and abroad,” as he puts it in this poem. Coleridge believed that any separation between subject and object, the knower and the known, was ultimately false, and he was always searching for the ways in which the laws that govern the operation of the human mind could also be discerned in the workings of the external world. Like Wordsworth, he thought this could best be achieved when the mind was quiet—hence the emphasis in the poem on his own “indolence.” (Wordsworth called such a state “wise passiveness.”) Settling down into its own silence, the mind could then perceive the underlying principle of joy and harmony which runs through the whole of creation, the “Rhythm in all thought, and joyance every where” suggested to the poet by the music of the harp.

Later in Coleridge’s career he became dissatisfied with the image of the eolian harp because it suggested that the mind was passive in perception, merely waiting to receive input from the sensory world. Coleridge rejected this view, which is associated with the English philosopher John Locke, replacing it with the idea of the mind as a fountain or a radiating light which actively projects life into all that it perceives. This view finds clear expression in Coleridge’s poem Dejection: An Ode (1802).

Throughout Coleridge’s life, as he sought to create an organic philosophy to replace the prevailing mechanistic worldview, he was acutely aware of the tension between this dynamic, quasi-mystical philosophy and orthodox Christian belief. The poet and mystic inside him was often at war with the rationalist theologian and Christian minister. (Shortly after he wrote “The Eolian Harp,” Coleridge temporarily became a Unitarian preacher.) This tension is clearly discernible in the poem. For many readers the final verse paragraph, in which Coleridge, prompted by the disapproving eye of his wife, rejects the speculative philosophy that his reveries have produced, is an unsatisfactory and awkward conclusion. The poet and thinker are hobbled by the intrusion of religious dogma. This may be a valid point, but perhaps Coleridge (and Sara, who in this poem symbolizes an aspect of his own mind), have been too harshly judged. The poet’s metaphysical speculations may have struck him as being unbalanced, in the sense that they were too much the product of the intellect, divorced from truths that could be directly known through the heart. The point is made emphatically in the assertion that God can only be praised “with Faith that inly feels,” the italicization clearly pointing to the perceived deficiencies of “vain Philosophy.” Coleridge once remarked in this connection that “deep thinking is attainable only by a man of deep feelinga metaphysical solution that does not tell you something in the heart is grieviously to be suspected as apocryphal.”

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