Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

(1798) ‘The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere’

Coleridge read Percy’s Reliques and was ‘deeply interested in the Englishand Scottish popular ballads’ (Lowes, The Road to Xanadu). The influence of these ballads comes through in the meter, word choice, and spelling in ‘The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere’, especially in the first version in Lyrical Ballads (1798). In ‘Rime’ as in ‘Spens’, the moon is a powerful image evoking the power and unpredictailiby of nature. The moon serves as an omen in both works and is frequently the object of supernatural beliefs among the mariners who experience hardships at sea under its glow.
Links: Internet Archive; Poets.org; GoogleBooks; RPO

[Excerpt from Part II]

We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dew did drip–
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horn’ed Moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

[Excerpt from Part V]
And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge;
And the rain poured down from one black cloud;
The Moon was at its edge.

The thick black cloud was cleft, and still
The Moon was at its side:
Like waters shot from some high crag,
The lightning fell with never a jag,
A river steep and wide.

The loud wind never reached the ship,
Yet now the ship moved on!
Beneath the lightning and the Moon
The dead men gave a groan.

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise…

(ca 1802) ‘Dejection: An Ode’

Using ‘Spens’ as an epigraph, Coleridge exhibits both the influence of the ballad and its moon imagery on his work.

Selected Criticism:

Fiona Stafford, ‘The Grand Old Ballad in Coleridge’s “Dejection”‘. Starting Lines in Scottish, Irish, and English Poetry: from Burns to Heany. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). pp. 91-141.

R.A. Benthall, ‘New Moons, Old Ballads, and Prophetic Dialogues in Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode”‘. Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Boston University: Winter, 1998), pp. 591-614. JSTOR

John Livingston Lowes, The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1927), pp. 172-333.

Charles Wharton Stork, ‘The Influence of the Popular Ballad on Wordsworth and Coleridge’, PMLA, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Modern Language Association: 1914), pp. 299-326. JSTOR

Links: Internet Archive; GoogleBooks; PoemHunter

[Excerpt from Dejection: An Ode]

Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon,
With the old Moon in her arms ;
And I fear, I fear, My Master dear !
We shall have a deadly storm.

Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence
———————————————

I
Well! If the Bard was weather-wise, who made
The grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spence,
This night, so tranquil now, will not go hence
Unroused by winds, that ply a busier trade
Than those which mould yon cloud in lazy flakes,
Or the dull sobbing draft, that moans and rakes
Upon the strings of this ├ćolian lute,
Which better far were mute.
For lo! the New-moon winter-bright!
And overspread with phantom light,
(With swimming phantom light o’erspread
But rimmed and circled by a silver thread)
I see the old Moon in her lap, foretelling
The coming-on of rain and squally blast.
And oh ! that even now the gust were swelling,
And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast !
Those sounds which oft have raised me, whilst they awed,
And sent my soul abroad,
Might now perhaps their wonted impulse give,
Might startle this dull pain, and make it move and live!

 

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