Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Other literary forms

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The original verse dramas of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (KOHL-rihj, also KOH-luh-rihj)—The Fall of Robespierre (pb. 1794, with Robert Southey), Remorse (pr., pb. 1813, originally Osorio), and Zapolya (pb. 1817)—are of particular interest to readers of his poetry, as is Wallenstein (1800), his translation of two dramas by Friedrich Schiller. His major prose includes the contents of two periodicals, The Watchman (1796) and The Friend (1809-1810, 1818), two lay Sermons, “The Statesman’s Manual” (1816) and “A Lay Sermon” (1817), the Biographia Literaria (1817), “Treatise on Method,” originally published in The Encyclopaedia Metropolitana (1818), and a series of metaphysical aphorisms, Aids to Reflection (1825). His lectures on politics, religion, literature, and philosophy have been collected in various editions, as have other short essays, unpublished manuscripts, letters, records of conversations, notebooks, and marginalia. These prose works share common interests with his poetry and suggest the philosophical context in which it should be read. Coleridge’s literary criticism is particularly relevant to his poetry.

Achievements

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It is ironic that Samuel Taylor Coleridge has come to be known to the general reader primarily as a poet, for poetry was not his own primary interest and the poems with which his name is most strongly linked—The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Kubla Khan,” and Christabel—were products of a few months in a long literary career. He did not suffer a decline in poetic creativity; he simply turned his attention to political, metaphysical, and theological issues that were best treated in prose. That Coleridge is counted among the major poets of British Romanticism is, for this reason, all the more remarkable. For most poets, the handful of commonly anthologized poems is a scant representation of their output; for Coleridge, it is, in many instances, the sum of his accomplishment. His minor verse is often conventional and uninspired. His major poems, in contrast, speak with singular emotional and intellectual intensity in a surprising range of forms—from the symbolic fantasy of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (which first appeared in Lyrical Ballads) to the autobiographical sincerity of the conversation poems—exerting an influence on subsequent poets far beyond what Coleridge himself anticipated.

Discussion Topics

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Were Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s health problems and remedies in any way beneficial for his literary work?

Consider the Lyrical Ballads as a landmark work of English Romanticism.

Consider the Lyrical Ballads as a source of subsequent conflict and confusion for its two authors.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner stands as a particularly long-running required poem for relatively young students. What qualities of the poem enable it to remain a more successful educational venture than some of the other curricular standbys from its time and from the nineteenth century?

In what ways was Biographica Literaria an original work of literary criticism?

How can Coleridge’s “conversation poems” be so justified? Was it a matter of the poet having a conversation with himself?

What habits or circumstances sometimes prevented Coleridge from completing poems successfully?

Bibliography

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Alexander, Caroline. The Way to Xanadu. New York: Knopf, 1994. The author relates her travels to the places that inspired Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and describes the texts that inspired Coleridge.

Ashton, Rosemary. The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Critical Biography. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996. Examines Coleridge’s complex personality, from poet, critic, and thinker to feckless husband and guilt-ridden opium addict. Coleridge’s life is placed within the context of both British and German Romanticism.

Blades, John. Wordsworth and Coleridge: “Lyrical Ballads.” New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Detailed analysis of the poems in the literary and historical contexts in which Lyrical Ballads was first conceived and created. Documents the revisions made for the second edition and traces the literary criticism of the work in the following decades.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. New York: Chelsea House, 2009. A collection of essays that provide literary criticism of the works of Coleridge.

Christie, William. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Literary Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Part biography, part literary criticism, this text provides readers with an in-depth account of Coleridge’s personal life and his progression as a writer. Christie helps readers understand Coleridge’s works by placing them into the context of his life and providing their publication history. Drawing on the author’s notebooks and letters, Christie presents his own interpretation of Coleridge’s writing, and discusses other critics’ texts, as well.

Holmes, Richard. Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772-1804. New York: Viking Press, 1990. The first volume of a two-volume biography. Covers Coleridge’s life up to his departure for Malta in 1804. This splendid book is virtually everything a biography should be: well researched, lively, full of insight, and sympathetic to its subject without ignoring other points of view. Fully captures Coleridge’s brilliant, flawed, fascinating personality.

_______. Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1804-1834. London: HarperCollins, 1998. In this second, concluding volume of his biography of Coleridge, Holmes traces the tragedies and triumphs of the poet’s later career.

Perry, Seamus. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. This biography of Coleridge traces his life from its early beginnings through the end of his life. Examines his friendships with Southey and Wordsworth and his numerous careers.

Sisman, Adam. The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge. New York: Viking, 2007. An intimate examination of their friendship and its deterioration.

Vigus, James, and Jane Wright, eds. Coleridge’s Afterlives. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Thirteen essays that examine the influence of Coleridge’s writings on imagination, narrative structure, and other topics.

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Critical Essays