1797
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Vision of Repentance.

Poems by S. T. Coleridge, Second Edition. To which are now added Poems by Charles Lamb and Charles Lloyd.

Charles Lamb


A brief allegorical vision, printed as the concluding item of the "Supplement" to the second edition of Coleridge's Poems. The poet encounters a spectral figure by a lonely well, "something like Despair" (and something like Ophelia) who proves to be the weeping Psyche. The "Vision of Repentance," which contributes an original twist on the sequence of suicide poems imitating Spenser's Depair episode, is a fit memorial to the fierce enthusiasm and sense of discovery that early poetry early poetry aroused in Lamb and Coleridge.

Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The above you will please to print immediately before the blank verse fragments. Tell me if you like it. I fear the latter half is unequal to the former, in parts of which I think you will discover a delicacy of pencilling not quite un-Spenser-like. The latter half aims at the measure, but has failed to attain the poetry, of Milton in his Comus and Fletcher in that exquisite thing ycleped the Faithful Shepherdess, where they both use eight-syllable lines. But this latter half was finished in great haste, and as a task, not from that impulse which affects the name of inspiration" 15 April 1797; in Thomas Noon Talfourd, Literary Sketches and Letters ... of Charles Lamb (1849) 60.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Joseph Cottle: "The volume is a most beautiful one. You have determined that the three Bards shall walk up Parnassus, in their best bib and tucker" 1797; in Cottle, Reminiscences (1847) 112.

Robert Southey to John May: "Cottle brought with him the new edition of Coleridge's poems: they are dedicated to his brother George in one of the most beautiful poems I ever read.... It contains all the poems of Lloyd and Lamb, and I know no volume that can be compared to it" 11 July 1797; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 319.

Henry Nelson Coleridge: "Lamb's poems are comparatively few in number and inconsiderable in length; but in our deliberate judgment there are amongst them some pieces as near perfection in their kinds as anything in our literature, — specimens of exceeding artifice and felicity in rhythm, metre, and diction. His poetic vein was, we think, scanty, and perhaps he exhausted it; he was not what is called great, yet he was, if we may make such a distinction, eminent. He has a small, well-situated parterre on Parnassus, belonging exclusively to himself. He is not amongst the highest, but then he is alone and aloof from all others" "Last Essays of Elia" Quarterly Review 54 (July 1835) 69.

Thomas Noon Talfourd: "Lamb's share of the work consists of eight sonnets; four short fragments of blank verse, of which the Grandame is the principal; a poem, called the Tomb of Douglas; some verses to Charles Lloyd; and a Vision of Repentance; which are all published in the last edition of his poetical works, except one of the sonnets, which was addressed to Mrs. Siddons; and the Tomb of Douglas, which was justly omitted as commonplace and vapid. They only occupy twenty-eight duodecimo pages, within which space was comprised all that Lamb at this time had written which he deemed worth preserving" Letters of Charles Lamb (1837) 1:83-84.

Bryan Waller Procter on Gilray's caricature of Lamb and Charles Lloyd: "Godwin had been introduced to Lamb, by Coleridge, in 1800. The first interview is made memorable by Godwin's opening question: 'And pray, Mr. Lamb, are you toad or frog?' This inquiry, having reference to Gilray's offensive caricature, did not afford promise of a very cheerful intimacy. Lamb, however, who accorded great respect to Godwin's intellect, did not resent it, but received his approaches favorably, and indeed entertained him at breakfast the next morning" Charles Lamb: a Memoir (1866) 112.

E. V. Lucas: "It is late in the day to speak critically of this book, nor is this the place in which to do so. Coleridge's performances in the few years immediately following were such as to throw these early efforts and 'effusions' into obscurity, and Lamb and Lloyd were wofully serious. Lloyd, especially, paraded his grief; his motto, from Bowles, being: — 'I wrap me in the mantle of distress, | And tell my poor heart this is happiness.' Altogether, considering what was to happen, we must look upon it as a luckless little volume" Charles Lamb and the Lloyds (1899) 57.

Eric Partridge: "Charles Lamb was in his pre-1798 verse far more romantic than Joanna Baillie. He reproduced more purely the tone, atmosphere and manner of Bowles' Fourteen Sonnets than any other writer has done. In 1796 appeared four of his pieces in Coleridge's Poems on Various Subjects, and a year later he had a moderate share in another volume published by Coleridge. His sonnets reflected unmistakably the new spirit in literature, but they lacked any great force. A sunny day, a dainty caprice, a quiet scene, a gentle damsel made for Lamb a thing of sheer delight, which he expressed with all the airy glamour and delicate romance so characteristic of him. Not only were the majority of his pre-1798 poems wholly or largely Romantic in theme, sentiment, and technique, but they had a special feature that became almost an essential of Nineteenth-century Romanticism — the intimate revelation of the writer's personality" Eighteenth-Century English Romantic Poetry (1924) 54.



I saw a famous fountain in my dream,
Where shady pathways to a valley led;
A weeping willow lay upon that stream,
And all around the fountain brink were spread
Wide branching trees, with dark green leaf rich clad,
Forming a doubtful twilight desolate and sad.

The place was such, that whoso enter'd in
Disrobed was of every earthly thought,
And straight became as one that knew not sin,
Or to the world's first innocence was brought;
Enseem'd it now, he stood on holy ground,
In sweet and tender melancholy wrapt around.

A most strange calm stole o'er my soothed sprite;
Long time I stood, and longer had I staid,
When lo! I saw, saw by the sweet moonlight,
Which came in silence o'er that silent shade,
Where near the fountain SOMETHING like DESPAIR
Made of that weeping willow garlands for her hair.

And eke with painful fingers she inwove
Many an uncouth stem of savage thorn—
"The willow garland, that was for her Love,
And these her bleeding temples would adorn."
With sighs her heart nigh burst — salt tears fast fell,
As mournfully she bended o'er that sacred well.

To whom when I address myself to speak,
She lifted up her eyes, and nothing said;
The delicate red came mending o'er her cheek,
And gathering up her loose attire, she fled
To the dark covert of that woody shade
And in her goings seem'd a timid gentle maid.

Revolving in my mind what this should mean,
And why that lovely Lady plained so;
Perplex'd in thought at that mysterious scene,
And doubting if 'twere best to stay or go,
I cast mine eyes in wistful gaze around,
When from the shades came slow a small and plaintive sound;

"PSYCHE am I, who love to dwell
In these brown shades, this woody dell,
Where never busy mortal came,
Till now, to pry upon my shame."

"At thy feet what thou dost see
The Waters of Repentance be,
Which, night and day, I must augment
With tears, like a true penitent,
If haply so my day of grace
Be not yet past; and this lone place,
O'er-shadowy, dark, excludeth hence
All thoughts but grief and penitence.

"Why lost thou weep, thou gentle maid!
And wherefore in this barren shade
Thy hidden thoughts with sorrow feed?
Can thing so fair repentance need?"

"O! I have done a deed of shame,
And tainted is my virgin fame,
And stain'd the beauteous maiden white
In which my bridal robes were dight."

"And who the promis'd spouse declare,
And what those bridal garments were?"

"Severe and saintly righteousness
Compos'd the dear white bridal dress;
JESUS, the son of Heaven's high King
Bought with his blood the marriage ring.

"A wretched sinful creature, I
Deem'd lightly of that sacred tye,
Gave to a treacherous WORLD my heart,
And play'd the foolish wanton's part.

"Soon to these murky shades I came
To hide from the Sun's light my shame—
And still I haunt this woody dell,
And bathe me in that healing well,
Whose waters clear have influence
From sin's foul stains the soul to cleanse;
And night and day I them augment
With tears, like a true Penitent,
Until, due expiation made,
And fit atonement fully paid,
The Lord and Bridegroom me present
Where in sweet strains of high consent,
God's throne before, the Seraphim
Shall chaunt the extatic marriage hymn."

"Now Christ restore thee soon" — I said,
And thenceforth all my dream was fled.

[pp. 273-78]