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• The thin grey cloud is spread on high,
or this, which has a touch of romantic'weirdness
Nought was green upon the oak
• There is not wind enough to twirl
or this, with a weirdness again, like that of some wild French etcher
Lo! the new-moon winter-bright!
He has the same imaginative apprehension of the silent and unseen processes of nature, its ‘ministries' of dew and frost, for instance; as when he writes in April
• A balmy night! and though the stars be dim,
Of such imaginative treatment of landscape there is no better instance than in the description of the Dell, in Fears in Solitude
• A green and silent spot amid the hills,
• But the dell,
• The gust that roared and died away To the distant tree'
• heard and only heard In this low dell, bowed not the delicate grass.'
This curious dwelling of the mind on one particular spot, till it seems to attain real expression and a sort of soul in it—a mood so characteristic of the ‘Lake School-occurs in an earnest political poem, written in April, 1798, during the alarm of an invasion ;' and that silent dell is the background against which the tumultuous fears of the poet are in strong relief, while the quiet sense of it, maintained all through them, gives a real poetic unity to the piece. Good political poetry-political poetry that shall be permanently moving--can, perhaps, only be written on motives which, for those whom they concern, have ceased to be open questions and are really beyond argument; and Coleridge's political poems are for the most part on open questions. For although it was a great part of his intellectual ambition to subject political questions to the action of the fundamental ideas of his philosophy, he was still an ardent partisan, first on one side, then on the other, of the actual politics of the end of the last and the beginning of the present century, where there is still room for much difference of opinion. Yet The Destiny of Nations, though formless as a whole, and unfinished, has many traces of his most elevated speculation, cast into that sort of imaginative philosophical expression, in which, in effect, the language itself is inseparable from, or a part of the thought. France, an Ode, begins with the famous apostrophe to Liberty :
• Ye Clouds! that far above me float and pause,
Whose pathless march no mortal may control!
Midway the smooth and perilous slope reclined,
Have made a solemn music of the wind !
How oft, pursuing fancies holy,
O ye loud Waves! and O ye Forests high !
And 0 ye Clouds that far above me soar'd !
The spirit of divinest liberty.' And the whole ode, though, in Coleridge's way, not quite equal to that exordium, is an example of strong national sentiment, partly in indignant reaction against his own earlier sympathy with the French republic, inspiring a composition which, in spite of some turgid lines, really justifies itself as poetry, and has that true unity of effect which the ode requires. Liberty, after all his hopes of young France, is only to be found in nature :
'Thou speedest on thy subtle pinions The guide of homeless winds, and playmate of the waves !' In his changes of political sentiment Coleridge was associated with the ‘Lake School ;' and there is yet one other very
different sort of sentiment in which he is one with that school, yet all himself, his sympathy, namely, with the animal world. That was a sentiment connected at once with the love of outward nature in himself and in the ‘Lake School,' and its assertion of the natural affections in their simplicity ; with the homeliness and pity, consequent upon that assertion. The Lines to a Young Ass, tethered,
"Where the close-eaten grass is scarcely seen,
While sweet around her waves the tempting green,' which had seemed merely whimsical in their day, indicate a vein of interest constant in Coleridge's poems, and at its height in his chief poems—in Christabel, where it has its effect, as it were antipathetically, in the vivid realisation of the serpentine element in Geraldine's nature; and in The Ancient Mariner, whose fate is interwoven with that of the wonderful bird, the curse for whose death begins to pass away at the Mariner's blessing of the watersnakes, and where the moral of the love of all creatures, as a sort of religious duty, is definitely expressed.
Christabel, though not printed till 1816, was written mainly in the year 1797. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was printed as a contribution to the Lyrical Ballads, in 1798. These two poems belong to the great year of Coleridge's poetic production,
his twenty-fifth year. In poetic quality, above all in that most poetic of all qualities, a keen sense of and delight in beauty, the infection of which lays hold upon the reader, they are quite out of proportion to all his other composition. The form in both is that of the ballad, with some of its terminology, and some also of its quaint conceits. They connect themselves with that revival of ballad literature, of which Percy's Relics, and, in another way, Macpherson's Ossian are monuments, and which afterwards so powerfully affected Scott.
• Young-eyed poesy
All destly masked as hoar antiquity,' The Ancient Mariner, as also in its measure Christabel, is a romantic' poem, impressing us by bold invention, and appealing to that taste for the supernatural, that longing for a shudder, to which the romantic' school in Germany, and its derivatives in England and France, directly ministered. In Coleridge personally, this taste had been encouraged by his odd and out-ofthe-way reading in the old-fashioned literature of the marvellousbooks like Purchas's Pilgrims, early voyages like Hakluyt's, old naturalists and visionary moralists like Thomas Burnet, from whom he quotes the motto of The Ancient Mariner-Facile credo, plures esse naturas invisibiles quam visibiles in rerum universitate, &c. Fancies of the strange things which may very well happen, even in broad daylight, to men shut up alone in ships far off on the sea, seem to have arisen in the human mind in all ages with a peculiar readiness, and often have about them, from the story of the theft of Dionysus downwards, the fascination of a certain dreamy grace, which distinguishes them from other kinds of marvellous inventions. This sort of fascination The Ancient Mariner brings to its highest degree; it is the delicacy, the dreamy grace in his presentation of the marvellous, which makes Coleridge's work so remarkable. The too palpable intruders from a spiritual world, in almost all ghost literature, in Scott and Shakespeare even, have a kind of coarseness or crudeness. Coleridge's power is in the very fineness with which, as with some really ghostly finger, he brings home to our inmost sense his inventions, daring as they are—the skeleton ship, the polar spirit, the inspiriting of the dead bodies of the ship's crew; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has the plausibility, the perfect adaptation to reason and the general aspect of life, which belongs to the marvellous when actually presented as part of a credible experience, in our dreams. Doubt
less the mere experience of the opium-eater, the habit he must almost necessarily fall into of noting the more elusive phenomena of dreams, had something to do with that ; in its essence, however, it is connected with a more purely intellectual circumstance in the development of Coleridge's poetic gift. Some one once asked William Blake, to whom Coleridge has many resemblances, when either is at his best, (that whole episode of the inspiriting of the ship's crew in The Ancient Mariner being comparable to Blake's well-known design of the morning stars singing together,) whether he had ever seen a ghost, and was surprised when the famous seer, who ought, one might think, to have seen so many, answered frankly, ‘Only once!' His 'spirits,' at once more delicate, and so much more real than any ghost--at once the burden and the privilege of his temperament like it, were an integral element in his every-day life. And the difference of mood expressed in that question and its answer, is indicative of a change of temper in regard to the supernatural, which has passed over the whole modern mind, and of which the true measure is the influence of the writings of Swedenborg : and what that change is we may see, if we compare the vision hy which Swedenborg was called, as he thought, to his work, with the ghost which called Hamlet ; or the spells of Marlowe's Faust with those of Goethe's. The modern mind, so minutely self-scrutinising, if it is to be affected at all by a sense of the supernatural, requires to be more finely touched than was possible in the older romantic presentment of it. The spectral object, so crude, so impossible, has become plausible, as the spot upon the brain that will show itself without,' and is understood to be but a condition of one's own mind, for which, according to the scepticism latent at least in so much of our modern philosophy, the so-called real things themselves are but spectra, after all.
It is this finer, more delicately marvellous supernaturalism, the fruit of his more delicate psychology, which Coleridge infuses into romantic narrative, itself also then a new, or revived thing in English literature ; and with a fineness of weird effect in The Ancient Mariner, unknown in those old, more simple, romantic legends and ballads. It is a flower of medieval, or later German romance, growing up in the peculiarly compounded atmosphere of modern psychological speculation, and putting forth in it wholly new qualities. The quaint prose commentary, which runs side by side with the verse of The Ancient Mariner, illustrates this