Take the lakes. . . Coleridge and Southey


In our latest column, we explored the poetry of William Wordsworth and wandered through his beloved Lake District of England. Today we meet two more of his Lake District friends, the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) and Robert Southey (1774-1843). In fact, when you add John Ruskin, Thomas de Quincey and other literary figures, it becomes clear that this lake-filled part of the world has been an unparalleled refuge and source of inspiration for England’s greatest writers and artists. creative. There must be something in the water!

Portraits of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey

Coleridge was born in Devonshire and read voraciously as a child. He attended Cambridge until growing financial problems caused him to drop out of college and secretly join the Light Dragoons. With the imaginative kick that poets seem to enjoy, he took the name Silas Tomkyn Comberbache. (STC) In the end, his brothers arranged his release on grounds of “insanity” and led him back to what would be a life of poetry and high intellectual achievement, albeit often restless and opium-oriented .

In 1798, Coleridge and Wordsworth, who had befriended when they met three years earlier, collaborated on a volume of poetry called “Lyrical Ballads”. Of the twenty-three poems, nineteen were by Wordsworth and only four by Coleridge; but the first play, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, by Coleridge, helped set the tone for what is now known as the Romantic movement in English literature. (See video)

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, no breath or movement;
As inactive as a painted ship
On a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere
And all the boards shrunk;
Water, water, everywhere
Nor a drop to drink.

Another of the oft-quoted poems from Coleridge’s pen:

In Xanadu, does Kubla Khan
A majestic pleasure dome decree:
Where flowed Alph, the sacred river
Through caves without measure for man
To a sunless sea.

Coleridge sometimes delved into the supernatural, and his poem “Christabel”, excerpted here, is known to have influenced Edgar Allan Poe.

It’s the middle of the night by the castle clock,
And the owls have awakened the crowing of the rooster;
You what ! You— whoo!
And listen again! the crowing rooster,
Like his sleepy crew.

Sir Leoline, the rich baron,
Has a toothless mastiff female dog;
From his kennel under the rock
She answers the clock,
Four for the quarters and twelve for the hour;
Never and yes, by shine and shower,
Sixteen short howls, not too loud;
Some say she sees my lady’s shroud.

Is the night cool and dark?
The night is cool, but not dark.
The thin gray cloud spreads above,
It covers but does not hide the sky.
The moon is behind, and full;
And yet she looks both small and dull.
The night is cold, the cloud is grey:
It’s a month before May,
And spring comes slowly that way.
Those last two lines sound so much like Robert Frost!

Side note: Coleridge wanted to marry the sister of Wordsworth’s wife, but she showed little interest. Moreover, he was already married to the sister of Southey’s wife. Oh the poets!

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Greta Hall, Keswick.  Known as the home of poets.
Greta Hall, Keswick. Known as the home of poets. Coleridge lived here for three years and Southey for forty. Among the visitors were Byron, Keats and Shelley.

* * *

Now let’s move on to Robert Southey, who is not well remembered today, but he was popular in his day and served as Poet Laureate for thirty years. A prolific author of prose and poetry, he was also a scholar, historian and essayist. Born in Bristol, after visiting his friend Coleridge in the Lake District, he decided to stay there for the rest of his life.

One of Southey’s most popular poems is a rhyming tour de force describing a Lake District waterfall at Lodore, still a major tourist attraction.

“How does water
Went down to Lodore?
My little boy asked me
So, once;
And in addition he charged me
To tell him in rhyme.
Soon, at the word,
First there was a girl,
And then came another,
On the second and third
Their brother’s request,
And hear how the water
Go down to Lodore,
With its rush and its roar,
They had seen it before.
So I told them in rhyme,
For rhymes I had shop;
And it was in my calling
For their leisure
This is how I should sing;
Because I was a winner
To them and to the king.

In this abridged version, see how the rhymes become increasingly complex, louder and faster to deliver.

It flows through the reeds,
And it continues,
Through meadows and clearings,
In the sun and in the shade,

Until, in this fast race
on which he leans,
He reaches the place
Of its steep descent.

strong cataract
Then dive along,

Rising and leaping,
swelling and sweeping,
Springing and frolicking,
Turning and twisting,

And dripping and jumping,
And rattling and pounding,
And trembling and trembling,

And shimmering and sintered,
And whitening and brightening,
And trembling and trembling,
And hurrying and rushing,

Dividing and slippery and slippery,
And falling and brawling and sprawl,
And watering and glittering and crumpling,
And growling and growling and tumbling,

Moving and prancing and watching and dancing,
And shining and dripping and smoking and radiant,
And rushing and blushing and brushing and springing,
And dashing and blinking and splashing and crashing;

And in conclusion:

Suddenly and everywhere, with a great uproar,
And so the water goes down to Lodore.

The Lodore Cataract near Derwentwater in the Lake District

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In one of the strangest occurrences among the Lake Poets, Coleridge and Southey in their youth concocted a plan to establish a utopian colony (pantisocracy) on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, a site recommended to them for its beauty and its safety against hostile enemies. Indians. With underfunding and no farming or carpentry skills, the project died. Coleridge later said it was “as harmless as it was extravagant a plan”. Too bad, we could have had a line of Penn Poets.

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Finally, I would like to offer a personal nod to our two star poets. To Robert Southey for coming up with the most spectacular rhyme display since the invention of the first rhyming dictionary (1570, possibly used by Spenser).

And to Samuel Taylor Coleridge for tickling this composer’s fancy by writing the epigram:

Swans sing before they die – that wasn’t a bad thing
If some people die before they sing.

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VIDEO. It has always fascinated me that although Coleridge and Southey were in love and inspired by the Lake District, their most important poems were not about the lakes but about the oceans. After three brief campaign poems by Coleridge, members of the First Poetry Quartet perform Southey’s “The Inchcape Rock” followed by Paul Hecht performing an excerpt from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.



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