dwarf tree

A
COLERIDGE
COMPANION

©   John Spencer Hill


Click on a superscripted number to go to a footnote.  Once in the Notes, click the asterisk at the end
of the note to return to the point where you were in the text.   Bold numbers in square brackets
mark the beginning of a new page in the original printed edition of A Coleridge Companion
(London: Macmillan, 1983).

At the end of this document there are hypertext links out to other parts of the book,
as well as back to John Spencer Hill's Home Page.



CHAPTER 5
Dejection:   An Ode

Composition, Redactions and Publication History

[169]   Coleridge's health and spirits were matters of grave concern to his friends in the spring of 1802.   Five years earlier he had been happy and carefree, impetuous and bubbling over with good humour.   On his visit to Racedown in June 1797 (as Wordsworth long remembered) he had vaulted over a gate and bounded across an open field to greet William and Dorothy.   But now, in the spring of 1802, he was a sadly altered man.   Much of his natural ebullience had been sapped by a concatenation of personal troubles:   a debilitating succession of physical illnesses in the winter of 1801-2, a growing reliance upon opium, a conviction that he had lost his shaping power of imagination, the terrible realisation that he could not live with his wife or without his children, and his hopeless love for Sara Hutchinson.   All of these had exacted their toll; and all were known (or suspected) by his close friends in the Grasmere circle.   On a blustery Friday afternoon in mid-March he arrived at Dove Cottage during a heavy rainstorm:   "His eyes", Dorothy confided to her Journal, "were a little swollen with the wind.   I was much affected with the sight of him -- he seemed half-stupified" (JDW, p. 105).   That evening Coleridge and Wordsworth disputed about Ben Jonson and, after Coleridge had retired to bed, the Wordsworths stayed up until four o'clock in the morning discussing their friend's plight -- his domestic unhappiness and, perhaps, his use of opium.   "My spirits", Dorothy wrote, "were agitated very much."
      Coleridge remained at Grasmere for two days and, when he departed, the Wordsworths promised to pay a visit to Keswick the following week.   Over the next few days they talked and worried a good deal about him, and anguished when no letters arrived from [170] him.   They were occupied with other matters too, notably William's engagement to Mary Hutchinson and his resolve to visit Annette Vallon and their daughter Caroline in France before his marriage.   But there was still time for poetry.   On Friday 26 March, five days after Coleridge's return to Keswick, Wordsworth composed The Rainbow.   The following morning, at breakfast, he wrote part of the Ode:   Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood and then spent the rest of the morning digging into the garden the dung sent by Mr Olliff.   The afternoon and evening were given up to meditation and quiet conversation in the orchard behind Dove Cottage.   Wordsworth, it seems, did no more work on his ode that day.   In all probability his breakfast-table labours had resulted in a draft of the opening four stanzas of the Ode -- lines in which the poet, while still responsive to natural beauty, recognises that for him "there hath past away a glory from the earth".   The precise nature and extent of the loss was at this point unclear, the remedy unknown; and the draft ended with unanswered (probably then unanswerable) questions:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
There has been a change in his view of nature, and this change, it is true, has involved a concomitant loss; but while much has been taken, much abides.   The winds still visit him from the fields of sleep, and he is still able to respond to joy and beauty:   "I hear, I hear, with joy I hear".
      The next day (Sunday, 28 March) the Wordsworths went to Keswick to spend a week with the Coleridges at Greta Hall.   During this visit Wordsworth and Coleridge (sometimes accompanied by Dorothy Wordsworth and Sara Coleridge) went on a number of short walking-excursions in the vicinity of Keswick.   The two men spent a good deal of time together and at some point Wordsworth recited his recent compositions, including the beginning of his ode, to his friend.   Undoubtedly they discussed the source and character of the "loss" experienced by Wordsworth and so vividly described in his poem.   The mood of the fragmentary Ode spoke to Coleridge's condition:   he too felt that his creative power -- a power both to see and to record what he had seen -- had deserted him.
      But Coleridge's situation was more critical than was Wordsworth's, and it was more complex as well.   Wordsworth's loss was [171] temporary and could find relief in a "timely utterance" such as To the Cuckoo or The Rainbow (both composed in the same week as the first four stanzas of the Ode); moreover, Wordsworth's domestic life was happy and untroubled:   he was engaged to be married and was surrounded by three women -- his sister, his future wife and Sara Hutchinson (Coleridge's beloved Asra) -- who reverenced his genius and encouraged his poetic endeavours.   Coleridge, on the other hand, was experiencing an "intellectual exsiccation" (CL, ii 713) more severe and more permanent than Wordsworth's vague sense of imaginative loss; and, since, in pointed contrast to his friend, his domestic life was fraught with strife and tension, Coleridge did not have at Greta Hall any of the solicitude and intellectual companionship that characterised Wordsworth's life at Dove Cottage.   Mrs Coleridge did not understand her husband and she was unable -- not unwilling, but unable -- to give him the sympathy and encouragement that he so desperately needed:   "She would", Dorothy Wordsworth had declared in 1801, "have made a very good wife to many another man, but for Coleridge!   Her radical fault is want of sensibility and what can such a woman be to Coleridge?" (LW: EY, pp. 330-1).   The Coleridges' marital problems, moreover, while grounded in mutual dyspathy, were exacerbated by the near presence of the Wordsworths and the Hutchinsons.   Mrs Coleridge did not entirely approve of the unconventional life-style of the Wordsworths and, with some justice, she resented relationships (from which she was largely excluded) which consumed so much of her husband's time and attention.1   For Coleridge himself, however, the Grasmere circle was essential; the Wordsworths and the Hutchinson sisters furnished him with the hope, warmth, love, admiration, and understanding that he could not find at home.
      Yet Grasmere was a bane as well as a blessing.   Dove Cottage was an idyllic environment into which he could occasionally escape but which, since he was bound with fetters of steel to Greta Hall, he knew that he could neither possess nor wholly share.   And then, too, there were emotions that ran deeper than friendship, for Coleridge was deeply in love with Sara Hutchinson.   His love for her, however, although requited, was fated to remain unfulfilled for he would not contemplate divorce: "Carefully have I thought thro' the subject of marriage", he told Southey in October 1801,"& deeply am I convinced of it's indissolubleness" (CL, ii 767).   He no longer loved his wife, but neither could he leave her for another woman.   Tantalus himself was not more sorely tried.
  [172]     On Sunday, 4 April 1802, the Wordsworths were still at Keswick.   Their week's visit', however, was drawing to a close and they were preparing to leave the following day to spend a few days with the Clarksons at Eusemere near the foot of Ullswater.   That Sunday, as evening deepened into night over Derwentwater and the encamped army of tent-like mountains around Greta Hall, Coleridge sat alone in his study and began to compose a long verse-letter to Sara Hutchinson.2   His thoughts were full of her, of the pain he had caused her recently in a complaining letter of love for her and unhappiness with his wife.   He thought, too, of his declining poetic powers and his discussions with Wordsworth earlier in the week about the visionary glory that had passed away from his perception of the natural world.   He was haunted by his friend's uncompleted ode; its phrases tolled through his memory like a knell declaring his own departed powers.   His conversational verse-letter assumed the shape of an ode -- consciously or unconsciously it was an imitation of Wordsworth's poem and served as Coleridge's despairing answer to his friend's question:   "Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"
      The themes of lost imagination and lost love mingled in his mind.   As he wrote to Sara -- both the object and the victim of his passion -- he found himself analysing their relationship, his unhappy marriage, and his poetic failure.   Although subconsciously hampered by self-censureship and a measure of self-pity, he made an honest attempt to lay bare and articulate the causes of his dejection.   Love was certainly a major factor, but at the root of his problem was the harrowing contrast between himself and Wordsworth.   The verse-letter is, as Ernest de Selincourt (who discovered it in 1936) has said,
a psychological analysis, as acute as it is tragic, of his own mental and emotional state viewed throughout in conscious and deliberate contrast with that of his poet friend.   The lines bewailing his own domestic woes are conceived with the perfect affection and harmony of Dove Cottage vividly present in his mind; even the lines more definitely addressed to Sara are written with a sense -- and herein lies much of their pathos -- that though she returned his love, she yet belonged intrinsically, not to him, but to that happy company of friends, Mary and Dorothy and William, from which, despite their sympathy with him, his own misery seemed more and more to shut him out.3
  [173]     On Monday, 5 April, the Wordsworths set out for Eusemere.   Coleridge, without apparently mentioning the poem he had begun the previous evening, accompanied them along the Penrith road as far as Threlkeld before turning back to Keswick.   In all probability he spent the next week or so completing the verse-letter.   The Wordsworths did not learn of it until later in the month, when Coleridge arrived unexpectedly at Dove Cottage.   Looking pale but otherwise well, he reached Grasmere on Tuesday, 20 April.   Dorothy's journal entry for the following day reads,
William and I sauntered a little in the garden.    Coleridge came to us and repeated the verses he wrote to Sara.  I was affected with them and was on the whole, not being well, in miserable spirits.  The sunshine -- the green fields and the fair sky made me sadder; even the little happy sporting lambs seemed but sorrowful to me. (JDW, p. 113)
Dorothy's response indicates not only the depth of her concern for Coleridge but also her instinct that the verse-letter had, in part, been prompted by her brother's ode, for her reference to "the little happy sporting lambs" has its source in the third stanza of Wordsworth's Ode:   Intimations of Immortality:
Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
    And while the young lambs bound
        As to the tabor's sound,
To me alone there came a thought of grief . . . .
      Over the next four months (May-September 1802) Coleridge's verse-letter to Sara Hutchinson, gradually restructured, revised, and purged of intimate personal references, became Dejection:   An Ode.   With the aid of Coleridge's surviving letters from this period we can plot this development in some detail.   On 7 May he wrote to Thomas Poole saying, "I have neither been very well, nor very happy; but I have been far from idle"; he spoke of his plan to compose a long poem "next year" and then, after copying out two of Wordsworth's recent lyrics to avoid leaving too much of the sheet blank (since postage charges were paid by the recipient not the sender), he concluded, "I ought to say for my own sake that on the 4th of April last I wrote you a letter in verse; but I thought it dull & doleful -- & did not send it" (CL, ii 799, 801).   This is, of course, [174] a patent falsehood.   The verse-letter was addressed to Sara Hutchinson, not to Poole; but Coleridge was anxious to let his friend know that he had been thinking of him and he was anxious, too, to evade the charge of indolence.   In any case, the process of objectification and distancing had begun as early as the first week of May.
      In the original verse-letter the themes of lost imaginative power and lost love had been intricately interwoven as the major causes of Coleridge's dejection-crisis.  Few people outside the Grasmere circle, however, knew of his love for Sara Hutchinson or of his domestic unhappiness.  In writing to correspondents who knew little or nothing of these matters it was necessary, therefore, to suppress the more personal sections of the original poem.  The inevitable result was a marked change in emphasis:  when these elements were edited out, the poem became less accurate as an autobiographical record and became, indeed, an altogether different poem -- a poem "about" poetry and the intermission of Coleridge's imaginative power.  It may be added, too, that physical illness and Coleridge's intense metaphysical investigations (both given as contributory causes of dejection in the verse-letter) became more prominent factors in the later versions of the poem once the themes of love and domestic discord had been deleted.
      The metamorphosis of the verse-letter into Dejection:   An Ode can be traced in two letters of July 1802, one to William Sotheby (a new friend whom Coleridge was anxious to impress) and one to Robert Southey.   And still more light is shed on the evolution of the poem in Coleridge's important letter to Sotheby of 10 September 1802.
      On 19 July Coleridge wrote to tell Sotheby that he had undertaken a translation of Salomon Gessner's prose romance Der erste Schiffer, "partly, because I could not endure to appear irresolute & capricious to you", and partly, too,
because I wished to force myself out of metaphysical trains of Thought -- which, when I trusted myself to my own Ideas, came upon me uncalled -- & when I wished to write a poem, beat up Game of far other kind -- instead of a Covey of poetic Partridges with whirring wings of music, or wild Ducks shaping their rapid flight in forms always regular (a still better image of Verse) up came a metaphysical Bustard, urging it's slow, heavy, laborious, earth-skimming Flight, over dreary & level Wastes . . . .   [175] Sickness & some other & worse afflictions, first forced me into downright metaphysics / for I believe that by nature I have more of the Poet in me / In a poem written during that dejection to Wordsworth, & the greater part of a private nature -- I thus expressed the thought / (CL, ii 814-15)
-- and he goes on to quote (with some omissions) the lines about turning to "abstruse research" and about the suspension of his "shaping Spirit of Imagination".   "Thank Heaven!" he continues, "my better mind has returned to me -- and I trust, I shall go on rejoicing"; and, having "nothing better" with which to fill up the sheet, he transcribes large sections of the verse-letter (lines 1-51, 296-340), omitting the entire middle section dealing with Sara Hutchinson and his wife, altering all the personal references from Sara to Wordsworth, and explaining that the opening lines "allude to a stanza in the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence" (CL, ii 815).   "I have", he goes on after the transcription, "selected from the Poem which was a very long one, & truly written only for 'the solace of sweet Song', all that could be interesting or even pleasing to you -- except indeed, perhaps, I may annex as a fragment a few Lines on the Eolian Lute, it having been introduced in it's Dronings in the 1st Stanza" (CL, ii 818) -- whereupon he copied out lines 184-215 (with appropriate alterations) of the verse-letter composed in April.
      This letter to Sotheby is more revealing than it may at first sight appear to be, for in it we are given an opportunity to watch a poet at work recollecting an experience in tranquillity and transforming one kind of poetic statement into another.   With Coleridge, of course, there is always the. problem of deception -- either self-deception or misleading (not to say false) statements designed to speak to a correspondent's preconceptions.   Some of what he tells Sotheby (as, for instance, that the poem was originally addressed to Wordsworth) is demonstrably false.   Yet, such obvious disingenuousness aside, there is much that is revealed.
      Coleridge says, for instance, that the poem is addressed to Wordsworth.   Now, however wrong this may be as a factual statement, it has a clear poetic relevance and appropriateness, for the original verse-letter to Sara Hutchinson was prompted by and was, in some sense, Coleridge's answer to Wordsworth's Ode:   Intimations of Immortality.   As described to Sotheby, the poem is not a love-letter but a verse-epistle to a brother poet, and its tone is [176] much less intensely personal than it had been in the original draft; indeed, as David Pirie has pointed out,
In the original poem [Wordsworth] was the centre of a complex of interdependent human relationships, which were both precious and tragic to Coleridge.   In the new version [sent to Sotheby] he is abstracted into a "Calm stedfast Spirit, guided from above", and seems to have no more intimate relationship to Coleridge's unhappiness than Shakespeare.4
More important still, however, is the fact that the version sent to Sotheby and Coleridge's comments on it give a clear indication of his intentions.   He transcribes three sections of the original verse-letter:   (1) the section on the suspension of his imaginative power and his enmeshment in "abstruse research", in order to explain to Sotheby the nature of his dejection; (2) a long passage comprising the first fifty and the last forty-five lines of the original poem -- an extract which (he tells Sotheby) is all that is "of a sufficiently general nature to be interesting to you"; and (3) the storm and Aeolian-harp sequence, which is annexed specifically "as a fragment".   Two conclusions may be drawn from these facts.   First, Coleridge was engaged in transforming a poetic statement, the "greater part" of which was "of a private nature", into a poem "of a sufficiently general nature" to be interesting to a wider readership.   Second, although he had excised the purely private sections dealing with Sara Hutchinson and his marital troubles and had begun the task of recasting what remained, he had not yet determined how to integrate the unexpurgated sections into a unified and coherent poem.   In the letter to Sotheby the "poem" exists as three related, yet distinct, fragments; however, with some revision, it is precisely these three sections which are brought together to form Dejection:   An Ode, in which the passage on the suspension of imagination becomes stanza 6, the "fragment" on the storm and Aeolian harp becomes stanza 7, and the eighty-five lines deemed "sufficiently general" to be of interest to Sotheby become stanzas 1-5 and provide at least the starting-point for stanza 8.   Thus, by mid-July 1802, Coleridge had isolated the portions of the April verse-letter that he would use in constructing his ode, but he had not yet succeeded in welding the component parts into a unified whole.
      On 29 July 1802, ten days after the letter to Sotheby, Coleridge [177] wrote to Robert Southey, spawning plans like a herring.   He told Southey that he had written "more than half of a book on the use of the definite article in the Greek New Testament and that he was contemplating publishing a two-volume work entitled 'Concerning Poetry, & the characteristic Merits of the Poets, our Contemporaries' -- one Volume Essays, the second Selections" (CL, ii 829).   Then, turning to Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads -- a Preface which he quite legitimately terms "half a child of my own Brain" -- he advises Southey that he is, none the less, "far from going all lengths with Wordsworth":
On the contrary, I rather suspect that some where or other there is a radical Difference in our theoretical opinions respecting Poetry -- / this I shall endeavor to go to the Bottom of -- and acting the arbitrator between the old School & the New School hope to lay down some plain, & perspicuous, tho' not superficial, Canons of Criticism respecting Poetry. (CL, ii 830)
From literary critical theory Coleridge turns to poetry and his own claim to the title of poet.   He transcribes from the verse-letter the lines about suspension of imagination and the influence of abstruse research, prefaced with this statement:
As to myself, all my poetic Genius, if ever I really possessed any Genius, & it was not rather a mere general aptitude of Talent, & quickness in Imitation / is gone -- and I have been fool enough to suffer deeply in my mind, regretting the loss -- which I attribute to my long & exceedingly severe Metaphysical Investigations -- & these partly to ill-health, and partly to private afflictions which rendered any subject, immediately connected with Feeling, a source of pain & disquiet to me.   (CL, ii 831)
This statement and the transcription from the verse-letter are followed by an analysis of Coleridge's marriage which provides an insight into the domestic situation and dejection that had led four months earlier to the composition of the verse-letter to Sara Hutchinson.   At that time he had resolved upon a separation from his wife ("a very aweful Step").   The decision, however, had affected Coleridge's physical and mental health to such a degree and had so alarmed his wife that a reconciliation had been effected; both husband and wife had subsequently amended their behaviour -- a [178] "happy Revolution in our domestic affairs" which Coleridge hoped would be permanent.   Thus, although the "stern Match-maker" had perhaps never brought together "two minds so utterly contrariant in their primary and organical constitution", Coleridge was able to report to Southey that "now for a long time there has been more Love & Concord in my House, than I have known for years before" (CL, ii 832).
      July to September 1802 was for Coleridge a period of improved health and domestic calm.  During these months he spent a good deal of time thinking, not about metaphysics, but about literary theory.  While he would continue to write poems, he had come to believe that his true vocation (at least as far as literature was concerned) lay in poetic theory rather than in original composition.  A year earlier such a thought had been too painful for rational contemplation:  "Into a discoverer I have sunk from an inventor" (CN, i 950).  He had often spoken of abandoning poetry and of his loss of imaginative power (e.g. CL, i 623, 656, 658), but all these early statements somehow protest too much; it was not until the summer of 1802 that he could, with equanimity, face the prospect of poetry as an avocation rather than a vocation.  This is not to say that Coleridge ceased to be a poet in 1802, but merely that in mid-1802 he consciously turned his attention in literary matters from poetic practice to poetic theory.  The primary motivation for this change of emphasis seems to have been the publication of the third edition of Lyrical Ballads with its expanded Preface and an Appendix on poetic diction.  (Copies of this new edition, published in London in April 1802, did not reach the Wordsworths until the end of June.5)  Coleridge was uneasy about Wordsworth's pronouncements on the nature of poetry and the poet in the revised Preface of 1802 and he was startled, too, when reading some of his friend's recent verse, by "a daring Humbleness of Language & Versification, and a strict adherence to matter of fact, even to prolixity" (CL, ii 830).  He gave a good deal of thought to these matters and discussed them at length with Wordsworth -- but Wordsworth did not resolve his doubts.  "On the contrary," as he told Southey, "I rather suspect that some where or other there is a radical Difference in our theoretical opinions respecting Poetry."
      In July 1802, Coleridge had set out to get to the bottom of their theoretical differences.   The first-fruits of this labour were presented to William Sotheby in a letter dated 10 September 1802. [179] It is, perhaps, the most important letter about critical theory that Coleridge ever wrote.   Coleridge's "abstruse research" in British empiricism and German transcendentalism after his return from Germany had convinced him that neither a purely empirical epistemology (such as the systems of Locke or Hume) nor a rigidly associationist psychology (such as Hartley's) were tenable philosophic positions. He had come to believe that the human mind was active in cognition, that perception was a bilateral activity involving a blending of self and non-self, and that, therefore, "any system built on the passiveness of the mind must be false, as a system" (CL, ii 709).   Wordsworth, however, still accepted a mechanical theory of mind grounded on Hartley's doctrine of the association of ideas, and this theory lay at the heart of his critical Preface in Lyrical Ballads:   "The principal object then which I proposed to myself in these Poems was to make the incidents of common life interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature:   chiefly as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement" (PWW, i 122).   It was here, Coleridge began to see, that the fundamental divergence between his own and his friend's poetic theory was to be found.   For Wordsworth, in so far at least as his theory was concerned, the poetic process involved no more than presenting new and refined combinations of "ideas" already existing in the mind.   But such a theory did not, in Coleridge's view, explain what was best and most enduring in Wordsworth's poetic achievement.   On the contrary, Wordsworth's poetry was pre-eminently the product of a shaping and modifying power, a power that fused and blended past and present impressions with thought and feeling, not simply of an associative faculty governed by blind, mechanical laws.   At the same time, however, it was clear that some poetry was the product of association, though often this poetry was of a lower order.   Clearly, then, there were two faculties at work in the composition of poetry, one passive and associative, the other active and poietic.   Both find appropriate expression in poetry, but the latter is more characteristic of great poetry than is the former.   This is, essentially, what Coleridge told Sotheby in September 1802 in a letter in which, using Bowles rather than Wordsworth as his example, he formulated for the first time his distinction between fancy and imagination:
Nature has her proper interest; & he will know what it is, who believes & feels, that every Thing has a Life of it's own, & that we [180] are all one Life.   A Poet's Heart & Intellect should be combined, intimately combined & unified, with the great appearances in Nature -- & not merely held in solution & loose mixture with them, in the shape of formal Similies.  I do not mean to exclude these formal Similies -- there are moods of mind, in which they are natural -- pleasing moods of mind, & such as a Poet will often have, & sometimes express; but they are not his highest, & most appropriate moods.  They are "Sermoni propiora" which I once translated -- "Properer for a Sermon."  The truth is -- Bowles has indeed the sensibility of a poet; but he has not the Passion of a great Poet.  His latter Writings all want native Passion -- Milton here & there supplies him with an appearance of it -- but he has no native Passion, because he is not a Thinker -- & has probably weakened his Intellect by the haunting Fear of becoming extravagant / Young somewhere in one of his prose works remarks that there is as profound a Logic in the most daring & dithyrambic parts of Pindar, as in the Organon of Aristotle -- the remark is a valuable one / . . .  It must occur to every Reader that the Greeks in their religious poems address always the Numina Loci, the Genii, the Dryads, the Naiads, &c &c -- All natural Objects were dead -- mere hollow Statues -- but there was a Godkin or Goddessling included in each -- In the Hebrew Poetry you find nothing of this poor Stuff -- as poor in genuine Imagination, as it is mean in Intellect -- / At best, it is but Fancy, or the aggregating Faculty of the mind -- not Imagination, or the modifying, and co-adunating Faculty.  This the Hebrew Poets appear to me to have possessed beyond all others -- & next to them the English.  In the Hebrew Poets each Thing has a Life of it's own, & yet they are all one Life.  In God they move & live, & have their Being -- not had, as the cold System of Newtonian Theology represents / but have.   (CL, ii 864-6)
      This letter is usually overlooked in critical discussions of Dejection:   An Ode.   I do not know why this is so.   Surely it is significant that Coleridge, less than a month before the first publication of his Dejection ode, should have penned such an affirmation of the integrity and unity of all life, and that he should have insisted on the "profound Logic" of Pindar's odes when he was in the final stages of transforming his April verse-letter into an irregular ode in the tradition of English "Pindaricks".   One cannot so easily divorce his poetry from his poetic theory, especially in so important an [181] instance.   When we read Dejection:   An Ode, we should bear in mind Coleridge's comments about the unity of life, about the "native Passion" of great poetry and great poets, about the subtle logic of seemingly wild, disorganised odes -- and, as well, his distinction between fancy and imagination.   It is a poem of paradox, of great loss and partial restoration, and of crises in love, faith and imagination.   Although itself the very antithesis of all that "the cold System of Newtonian Theology" represents, it nevertheless records an experience, later recollected in tranquillity, when the poet had felt excluded from life and bereft of "passion" -- a time of severe depression when he had no inner strength to respond or interact with the natural beauty of earth and sea and sky.
      In September and October 1802 Coleridge published a number of epigrams and some longer poems in the Morning Post.   (The paper's owner-editor Daniel Stuart was a personal friend, and between 1798 and 1802 Coleridge had written a large volume of essays on contemporary political events for the paper.)   Many of these poetic contributions, published over the transparent pseudonym ESTÊSE,6 were slight and "never meant for any thing else but the peritura charta [ephemeral pages] of the M. Post" (CL, ii 857).   Some, however, were more substantial productions -- notably, Dejection:   An Ode, which appeared on 4 October 1802. The date is certainly an interesting one:   it was the day that Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson and it was, as well, the seventh anniversary of Coleridge's own ill-fated marriage to Sara Fricker.   It is often suggested that the date was deliberately chosen, but this seems unlikely.   Daniel Stuart, not Coleridge, decided when and what should appear in the paper, and there is no evidence to suggest that Coleridge asked that the poem be printed on that particular day.   It seems a case of pure coincidence.   The version of Dejection:   An Ode published in the Morning Post in October 1802 is essentially a restructured rendering of the version sent to Sotheby in the letter of July 19 and it is close to the textus receptus (1817) of the poem.7   The Morning Post version contains 139 lines, as compared with the 340 lines of the original verse-letter; the poem is now addressed, neither to Sara Hutchinson nor to Wordsworth, but to "Edmund" -- which is (as de Selincourt points out) "a transparent sobriquet for Wordsworth".8   It is a more formal work, prefaced by four lines from the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence and divided into seven numbered stanzas.9   Apart from the exclusion of seven lines about the effect of "abstruse research" (87-93) -- lines [182] which, three weeks later, Coleridge quoted to Wedgwood for their "Truth & not for [their] Poetry" (CL, ii 875) -- the poem is a recasting of the three "fragments" sent to Sotheby:   all the personal references of the April verse-letter have been deleted; the first four stanzas reproduce with variations of detail the bulk of the lines sent to Sotheby; the section on the suspension of imagination becomes stanza 5; the storm and Aeolian-harp section becomes stanza 6; and the last stanza -- and this is the most significant change -- expands from eight to twenty lines the blessing of Edmund-Wordsworth, who is seen to possess "joy" that is denied to Coleridge himself.
      After 1802 the poem was not published in its entirety until Sibylline Leaves (1817), although Coleridge quoted a long passage from it in the third of his essays On the Principles of Genial Criticism (BL, ii 240-1) and two lines of it in chapter 22 of Biographia Literaria (BL, ii 131).   Between 1802 and 1806, however, he frequently transcribed parts of the poem in his letters:   he wrote out the opening stanzas for the Beaumonts (after Dorothy Wordsworth in the same letter had copied her brother's Resolution and Independence) in August 1803, breaking off abruptly at the end of the fifth stanza with the words "I am so weary of this doleful Poem that I must leave off" (CL, ii 973); and in three letters between 1802 and 1806 he quoted the seven-line section on abstruse research (87-93) that he had omitted from the Morning Post version.10   There are no quotations from or references to the poem in the letters of 1807-17.
      Entitled Dejection:   An Ode, the poem was published (its second appearance in print) in Sibylline Leaves (1817), this version being the textus receptus.   While there are a large number of minor variations between the Morning Post and Sibylline Leaves versions, the major variants may be reduced to five.   First, the poem is addressed, not to Edmund-Wordsworth, but to an unnamed "Lady" who may or may not be Sara Hutchinson.   Second, the poem contains eight stanzas rather than seven:   this has been achieved by dividing stanza 4 of the 1802 version into two stanzas numbered 4 and 5.   Third, four lines (17-20) have been added to the end of the first stanza; these lines were probably written in 1803, for they first appear in the version of the poem which Coleridge transcribed for the Beaumonts in August of that year (see CL, ii 971).   Fourth, the seven lines on "abstruse research" (87-93), which Coleridge had omitted from the Morning Post version but [183] had so often quoted in letters of 1802-6, become the closing lines of stanza 6 in the 1817 text.   And, finally, the twenty-line concluding stanza of 1802 has been reduced to fourteen lines and has been refashioned so that what, in 1802, had been a description of Edmund's actual possession of "joy" has become a wish that the Lady may possess a similar joy, though the poet himself is still excluded from it.   With these five changes (and one minor alteration in wording)11 the 1817 version was reprinted in Coleridge's Poetical Works of 1828, 1829 and 1834.


Go to:   Next Section       Previous Section




Notes
[Click on asterisk (*) at the end of a note to return to the point you left in the text]
    [268]
  1. Coleridge spent a good deal of time at Dove Cottage; Mrs Coleridge, however, seldom visited the Wordsworths.   It may be added that, while the Wordsworths frequently came to Keswick, their visits were usually short and somewhat strained:   "we are never comfortable there", Dorothy remarked, "after the first 2 or 3 days" (WL: EY, p. 330). *
  2. While it is sometimes assumed that Coleridge composed the whole of this verse-letter between sunset and midnight of 4 April, there are two pieces of information that militate against the supposition that it was finished on the same day on which it was begun.   First, although the Wordsworths were still at Keswick on 4 April and although he accompanied them as far as Threlkeld (about four miles) on their walk to Eusemere the following day, Coleridge did not read or (as far as we know) even mention the poem to them until two and a half weeks later, when he recited "the verses he wrote to Sara" to them at Dove Cottage on Wednesday, 21 April (JDW, p. 113).   Second, the wind which figures so prominently in the poem's imagery does not seem to have sprung up for almost a week; Dorothy's Journal says nothing about the weather on 4 April, but her entries for 9-12 April have a good deal to say about the change in the weather and the sharp windy nights (JDW, p. 108).   A more probable conjecture, then, is that Coleridge began to compose the verse-letter on Sunday, 4 April, that he worked on it over the next week or so, and that he sent it to Sara Hutchinson sometime before Tuesday, 20 April, when he arrived at Grasmere and recited it to the Wordsworths on the following day. *
  3. E. de Selincourt, "Coleridge's Dejection:   An Ode", Essays and Studies, 22 (1936) 14. *
  4. David Pirie, "A Letter to [Asra]", in Bicentenary Wordsworth Studies in Memory of John Alban Finch, ed. J. Wordsworth (Ithaca, NY, and London, 1970) p. 329. *
  5. See JDW, p. 141 (22 June 1802):   "I wrote to Mary H. and put up a parcel for Coleridge.   The LB arrived."   Doubtless the parcel for Coleridge included a copy of Lyrical Ballads. *
  6. ESTÊSE is, as Coleridge said in A Character (1834), "Punic Greek for 'he hath stood'" (CPW, i 453).   Literally, estêse means "he has placed", not "he has stood", as Coleridge well knew; but he was interested in the pun on his own initials STC.   (See CL, ii 867.) *

    [269]
  7. For more detailed accounts of the stages through which the poem passed from April to October 1802, see Pirie, in Bicentenary Wordsworth Studies (above, note 4), pp. 325-35, and also C.S. Bouslog's statistical analysis of deletions from the April verse-letter in "Structure and Theme in Coleridge's Dejection:   An Ode", MLQ, 24 (1963) 48. *
  8. De Selincourt (above, note 3), 8. *
  9. The stanzas, while there are only seven of them (as compared with eight in the textus receptus of 1817), are numbered 1-5, then follow three rows of asterisks with the note "The Sixth and Seventh Stanzas omitted", and finally the last two stanzas (numbered 8 and 9).   "It is", as Pirie remarks, "hard to know what Coleridge meant by this claim [of two deleted stanzas].   No form of the poem contains two other stanzas at this point . . . .   The most likely explanation is that Coleridge was aware of creating a clumsy transition, and decided that a little deceit would make it more acceptable" (Bicentenary Wordsworth Studies, p. 333).   Pirie's explanation is, perhaps, as plausible as any that is possible; but one still wonders whether Coleridge did propose to add something at this point but never got around to doing it. *
  10. See the letter to Thomas Wedgwood of 20 October 1802 (CL, ii 875), and the letters to George Coleridge of 2 October 1803 and 30 November 1806 (CL, ii 1008, 1201). *
  11. In line 5 "clouds" (1817) is altered to "cloud" in the texts of 1828 and following. *


dwarf tree
Table of Contents

Go to...



Document Completed:   22/04/96