1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

George Barrell Cheever, in Studies in Poetry ... A copious Collection of Elegant Extracts (1830) 279-80.



Coleridge has published comparatively but little poetry, yet many of his pieces exhibit a poetical genius not inferior even to Milton's. The intense vividness of his fancy is oftentimes astonishing; and there is an eloquent majesty of thought and a lofty elevation of moral feeling in all his productions, which imparts to them a noble mein of intellectual grandeur. There is no piece in the English language which is so truly sublime as his hymn before sunrise in the vale of Chamouny. When he speaks of the torrents that rush down the sides of the mountain, his sentences are so strong that they seem to the mind like something material, as if they were hewn out from the eternal adamant itself. But it is not his language, it is the spirit with which he has transfused it, the stupendous conceptions he has made it convey, which thrill through, and dilate the soul of the reader.

Besides this unrivalled power of sublimity, he has exhibited the qualities of tenderness and pathos in an almost equal degree. He is also unsurpassed in his descriptions of the loveliness of nature, especially in some of her most striking scenes.

He looks upon the universe with the enthusiastic fondness of a poet, but likewise with the eye of a philosopher and a Christian; and the thoughts with which he connects its appearances are of that eloquence which seems almost too deep and sacred for utterance. It is ennobling to the mind to converse with his exalted conceptions.

The rhyme of the Ancient Mariner combines in an extraordinary degree great wildness of fancy, richness of imagery and description, and gentleness of feeling; and the moral of that beautiful piece, though simple, is rendered truly sublime. Coleridge's writings, both prose and poetry, are peculiarly refined and elevated in their moral character, and rich in philosophy which seems to have been baptised "In the pure fountain of eternal love."

Besides all this, the thoughts of domestic affection and intimate friendship — home, the husband, father, companion — have never been expressed with more endearing tenderness and delicious imagery than in some of his productions. His language is chaste, rich, and beautiful beyond description; and he adapts its character with remarkable facility to all the varieties of his subjects, be they pathetic, fanciful, or sublime.