Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1112
Quotes by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"The Foster-Mother's Tale" tells the story of a boy found abandoned in the woods:
And so the babe grew up a pretty boy,
A pretty boy, but most unteachable—
And never learnt a prayer, nor told a bead.
The boy's aversion to authority causes him to be imprisoned; on his escape, he travels to the new world alone, where he
set sail by silent moonlight
Up a great river, great as any sea,
And ne'er was heard of more: but 'tis supposed,
He lived and died among the savage men.
In "The Dungeon," Coleridge contrasts imprisonment with the healing power of nature. The prisoner stagnates in
friendless solitude, groaning and tears.
And savage faces, at the clanking hour,
Seen through the steams and vapour of his dungeon,
By the lamp's dismal twilight!
On the other hand, nature (addressed as "thou") replaces cruelty with a kind of natural expansion of the soul:
Thou pourest on him thy soft influences.
Thy sunny hues, fair forms, and breathing sheets,
Thy melodies of woods, and winds, and waters,
Till he relent, and can no more endure
To be a jarring and a dissonant thing . . .
In "The Nightingale," Coleridge takes exception to the poetic appropriation of the nightingale's song as a signifier of melancholy. As with the previous two poems, nature is essentially a force for good—something that children, who have yet to be contaminated by civilization, can intuit. The poem ends with the poet thinking about his infant son, vowing that he should learn that even in the melancholy of the nightingale there is joy:
But if that Heaven
Should give me life, his childhood shall grow up
Familiar with these songs, that with the night
He may associate joy.
"Love" is a story about how the poet woos his lover, Genevieve, by singing a song about a mad knight who is nursed to health by the lady he saves from outlaws. "Love" introduces the theme of the power of poetry, although it is not clear what Coleridge's attitude to that "power" is. The poet's performance has a great effect on Genevieve:
She wept with pity and delight,
She blush'd with love, and virgin-shame;
And like the murmur of a dream,
I heard her breathe my name.
However, there is a difference between the effect of the nightingale's song and the artifice of the poet's performance here. The poem raises the question of the relationship between nature and poetry, or about the truth-telling capacity of poetry.
One of Coleridge's most famous poems is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in which the speaker, the ancient mariner, appears at a wedding and tells the story of his voyage. Almost every part of this poem is quotable, but the central action of the poem is the Mariner's crime against nature in killing the albatross. When it first appears, it comes as if from God:
At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the Fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian Soul,
We hail'd it in God's name.
But inexplicably, the Mariner impulsively kills it:
"God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends that plague thee thus—
Why look'st thou so?"—with my cross-bow
I shot the Albatross.
This act of cruelty has severe consequences for the mariner and his shipmates:
And I had done an hellish thing
And it would work e'm woe:
For all averr'd, I had kill'd the Bird
That made the Breeze to blow.
The lesson of the poem, at least in the Mariner's view, is that it is our sacred duty to love nature, lest we suffer the fate of the mariner:
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small:
For the dear God, who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Quotes by William Wordsworth
"Lines Written at a Small Distance from My House, and Sent by My Little Boy to the Person to Whom They Are Addressed" again discusses a theme common throughout Lyrical Ballads: that is, nature's primacy over logic and other hallmarks of human civilization. The poem is addressed to "My Sister" (presumably Wordsworth's own sister, Dorothy) and implores her to enjoy "the first mild day of March," a date which the speaker calls the true first day of the year:
No joyless forms shall regulate
Our living Calendar:
We from to-day, my friend, will date
The opening of the year.
In addition to disparaging the "joyless" organization of civilization's calendar, the poem's speaker criticizes the primacy of Enlightenment-era thought, which traditionally values logic and reason over feeling and so-called idle contemplation. He writes,
One moment now may give us more
Than fifty years of reason;
Our minds shall drink at every pore
The spirit of the season.
Wordsworth's poem "Lines Written in Early Spring" again picks up the theme that nature and its pleasures are far superior to the structures and civilizations humans have created. After describing his belief that there is an evident "thrill of pleasure" in birds' and trees' movements, the speaker says,
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
In keeping with his idea of "Nature's holy plan," Wordsworth's poem "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" moves further into meditation of the nature-oriented, pantheistic view of God that ultimately came to characterize Romantic poets:
—And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
Because this spirit lives "in the mind of man" as well as throughout nature, Wordsworth's vision is at core an optimistic one: that, despite the ineffectiveness of our reason and logic at getting at life's deeper questions, we are still part of the larger spiritual whole that is nature. And nature, in turn, can still help us live well and surpass trivial human concerns if we care for and attend to it:
Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.