The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” is a moderately long (seventy-six lines) poem divided into three verse paragraphs. Its speaker is clearly the poet himself. The poem is “Addressed to Charles Lamb, of the India House, London,” and in line 27 and the final nine lines, the poet openly addresses his friend. Nevertheless, the poem opens as a private meditation and continues in that vein for most of its length; Lamb is addressed only infrequently, and then as an absent friend. Though Samuel Taylor Coleridge termed this a “conversation poem,” it may be described as a long lyrical and dramatic meditation.

Coleridge prefaces his poem with a note which sets the scene. In the summer of 1797, he was visited at his cottage by friends. His cottage was at Nether Stowey in Somerset, England; his friends were Lamb as well as William and Dorothy Wordsworth. The poet “met with an accident,” which prevented him from walking with his friends. (His wife accidentally spilled boiling milk on his foot; his friends left him to walk in the nearby Quantock Hills to get a view of the Bristol channel.) Coleridge continues: “One evening, when they had left him for a few hours, he composed the following lines in the garden-bower.” The reader pictures Coleridge immobilized in his backyard, shaded by large, beautiful lime trees (a species also called lindens).

At first, Coleridge is irritated at being left behind; his garden seems a prison. He resents not...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” is written in blank verse; its verse paragraphs informally divide the speaker’s thought processes into three sections of approximately equal length. The progression is dramatic and seems at first to follow the process of association, not the rules of logic. The speaker begins by expressing irritation, then feels sympathy for his friend Lamb, then is both happy that he is enjoying his own situation and hopeful that Lamb can feel what he feels.

That Coleridge classified this as a conversation poem suggests that its language is close to the language of everyday speech. It begins colloquially: “Well, they are gone.” The sentences that follow are like those of conversation: There are no startling inversions; clauses and lists seem to develop informally. The poet is most interested with evoking the scene. Only occasionally does he locate the reader firmly in his sentence by supplying a verb: “wander” (line 8) and “behold” (line 17). This paragraph’s most impressive effects derive from its vivid visual images: “The roaring dell, o’erwooded, narrow, deep,/ And only speckled by the mid-day sun,” and the “branchless ash,/ Unsunned and damp.”

The second paragraph develops the poem’s themes more seriously. When the poet gives over feeling sorry for himself and begins to understand his friend’s happiness, his language becomes more thoughtful and less colloquial. Clauses are shorter, and...

(The entire section is 475 words.)