Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Supernatural Poet

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Natural and Supernatural
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Natural and Supernatural

Coleridge, like Wordsworth, loved nature and together they enjoyed walking in the Lake District, in the heart of the natural surroundings. However, Coleridge also loved the supernatural. His fantastic and mysterious imagination was an infinite source of inspiration.

It was this poetic process of creation that laid the foundations for the haunting scenes of The Rime of The Ancient Mariner and the visionary surrealistic world of Kubla Khan.

Kubla Khan handwritten sketch
Coleridge’s handwritten draft of Kubla Khan

Coleridge did not find any solace in nature as Wordsworth did. It was not something he could go back to with his memory in order to find joy and consolation. There were no “emotions recollected in tranquillity”. His relationship with nature was more philosophical, seeing it through his philosophical poetic faith: “No man was ever yet a great poet, without at the same time being a profound philosopher.” The intensity of the poet’s vision and imagination is best reflected by the lines from Dejection An Ode:

O Lady! We receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does nature live;
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud.

ST Coleridge as a romantic poet

Love was in every sinew of the poet’s very existence. When he lived in Malta in 1804, he kept a notebook in which he wrote:

 “… While I am talking of War or Government or Chemistry there comes ever into my bodily eye some Tree beneath which we have rested, some rock where we have walked together, or on the perilous road edging, high above the Crummock Lake where we sate beneath the rock & those dear lips pressed on my forehead …”

Recollections of Love

These words reflect his typically dreamlike state of mind. He delves into a surrealistic dimension within his philosophical reverie and there creates love and love and more love. In his lesser-known poem, Recollections of Love, the poet expresses this reverie in a connotative sensual and physical way:

How warm this woodland wild Recess!
Love surely hath been breathing here;
And this sweet bed of heath, my dear!
Swells up, then sinks with faint caress,
As if to have you yet more near.

The poem ends beautifully by blending the sensually physical with his dreams and with his dreams within dreams:

You stood before me like a thought,
A dream remembered in a dream
But when those meek eyes first did seem
O Greta, dear domestic stream
To tell me, Love within you wrought–
Has not, since then, Love’s prompture deep, 
Has not Love’s whisper evermore 
Been ceaseless, as thy gentle roar? 
Sole voice, when other voices sleep, 
Dear under-song in clamor’s hour.

These words exemplify Coleridge’s essence; a poet of the natural, the supernatural, the surrealistic and of intrinsic love. Read the full poem.  

Supernaturalism in Coleridge’s poetry

Samuel Taylor Coleridge drawing
Samuel Taylor Coleridge from a drawing by G. R. Leslie R.A. © Public domain

I’d like to conclude this brief peek into the soul of Coleridge by referring to another love poem entitled Love. This poem is a ballad, a short narrative tale encapsulating two stories. One is a tale of a woeful Knight who pines and dies for his love, and the other is the story of the poet who is relating the story of the knight to Genevieve, in order to win her love. He uses the story of the knight to focus on his own battle for love. Typically here,  Coleridge swings from the dreamlike tale of a medieval knight to the real tangible love he is feeling for Genevieve.

The knight is refused by his lady and after struggling with his efforts to win her, he wanders off and goes mad.

But when I told the cruel scorn
That crazed that bold and lovely Knight,
And that he crossed the mountain-woods,
Nor rested day nor night;

Eventually, after saving her from a “murderous band”, his lady realises that the love he had felt for her was indeed deep and sincere.  As he lies on death’s door, she accepts him and although he regains his sanity, he sadly dies. The story is a sad and romantic one, but as I mentioned, it is a story to highlight another story, the poet’s real situation of love:

I told her how he pined: and ah!
The deep, the low, the pleading tone
With which I sang another’s love,
Interpreted my own.

The poet believed that the imaginary tale from afar would fill his Genevieve with empathy and pity for the suffering of that knight. Therefore, he hoped that Genevieve would feel the same love and pity for the poet himself, the teller of the tale. He attempted to secure her love by portraying this very sad story and the happy conclusion of the ballad is the climax of this achievement:

She wept with pity and delight,
She blushed with love, and virgin-shame;
And like the murmur of a dream,
I heard her breathe my name. Her bosom heaved—she stepped aside,
As conscious of my look she stepped—
Then suddenly, with timorous eye
She fled to me and wept.
She half enclosed me with her arms,
She pressed me with a meek embrace;
And bending back her head, looked up,
And gazed upon my face.
‘Twas partly love, and partly fear,
And partly ’twas a bashful art,
That I might rather feel, than see,
The swelling of her heart.
I calmed her fears, and she was calm,
And told her love with virgin pride;
And so I won my Genevieve,
My bright and beauteous Bride.

Full poem here

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an ethereal, yet very sensual human being and his poetry is testimony to this. The best way to conclude this short piece is with his the poet’s own words:

As I live and am a man, this is an unexaggerated tale – my dreams become the substances of my life.

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