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him for that rare excellence in the same small band with Shakespeare and Beaumont and Fletcher in their lyrics, with Milton and Collins and Shelley and Tennyson."
Coleridge's earlier compositions have a declamatory air, and are occasionally awkward and turgid in style, — faults from which his maturer productions are entirely free; yet even these juvenile pieces are radiant with purest sunlight of poesy. Here is a gem worthy of the ripened poet; it is entitled " Time, Real and Imaginary " : —
"On the wide level of a mountain's head
A sister and a brother
That far outstripped the other;
For he, alas! is blind!
O'er rough and smooth with even step he passed,
In the "Religious Musings" and in the "Monody on the Death of Chatterton " may be found passages of great power. The ode entitled "France," written when the author was only twenty-six, Shelley regarded as the finest ode in the language. His " Rime of the Ancient Mariner," written about the same time, though not the best, is the most original and striking of his productions.
Wordsworth and Coleridge, at a time when their united funds were very low, agreed to defray the expense of a little • tour by writing together a poem to be sent to the "New Monthly Magazine." Much the greater part of the story was Coleridge's invention, but certain parts were suggested by Wordsworth. They began the composition together; but their respective manners proving so widely different,
the idea of making it a conjoint production was soon relinquished, and Coleridge proceeded alone. "The poem grew and grew," says Wordsworth, "till it became quite too important for our first object, which was limited to our expectation of five pounds." The germ of this story is from Skelvocke the navigator, who states that his second captain, being a melancholy man, was possessed by a fancy that some long season of foul weather was owing to an albatross which had steadily followed the ship, upon which he shot the bird, but without mending their condition. Coleridge makes the Ancient Mariner— " long and lank, and brown as is the ribbed sea-sand " — relate the imaginary consequences of this act of inhumanity to one of three wedding guests, whom he meets on his way to the marriage feast, and interrupting him in his progress to the banquet, "holds him with his glittering eye."
"The bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
He cannot choose but hear;
And listens like a three-years' child;
"The Ancient Mariner " is a poem by itself. Nothing like it has ever been done or attempted, or can be done. The versification is irregular, in the style of the old ballads; most of the action of the piece is unnatural. The poem is full of vivid and original imagination; and the narrative is invested with touches of exquisite tenderness and energetic description. A weird wonder and mystery flows around the reader, and holds him spell-bound. The supernatural machinery of the poem is managed with consummate skill and artistic effect. The beings who lend
their mysterious aid to carry out the horrible penance imposed on the Ancieut Mariner for shooting the bird of ill omen are to the last degree, as the Scotch say, " eldritch." Justice cannot be done to this weird and wonderful poem by quoting it piecemeal. The narrative is too intense in its interest to bear the slightest break in its thread. To appreciate it, the reader must come under its continuous spell, held like the wedding guest by the Mariner's glittering eye until he listens like a "three-years' child." Not so with the true and beautiful bit of ethics at the conclusion of his tale. This is as perfect as a whole, as exquisite and clear-cut, as a fine antique head done in cameo.
"Farewell, farewell; but this I tell
"He prayeth best who loveth best
In "Christabel" Coleridge further illustrates that connection which we may suppose to exist between the spiritual and the material world. This romantic poem is filled with wild imagery and the most remarkable modulation of verse. The versification is founded on Coleridge's own principle of irregular harmony, which consists in the accentuation of words instead of syllables. Scott and Byron were both charmed with it, and have imitated it.
Coleridge is said to have spent infinite labor and pains upon his metres, elaborating them to the last degree. '' Christabel " is an instance of the wonderful success he achieved in this department of his art. Parts of the poem are as filmy and delicate as the mist-wreaths of an Indian summer morning; every word is light and music.
The witch Geraldine, the principal personage in the poem, is an original and highly weird conception, —a partial metamorphosis of the human into the bestial nature; a woman with snake's blood in her veins. "There is," it has been observed, "a substratum of fact in this conception, since there are well-attested accounts of children having been nurtured by wolves until faint and scarcely discernible traces of the human being remained." That assimilation which is possible between opposite natures (that interfusion of a positive evil nature with a negative good one) is demonstrated in " Christabel,"— a psychological fact not unworthy the notice of both scientist and theologian.
"Christabel" is an unfinished work. Critics have variously accounted for its incompleteness. We may perhaps impute it to Coleridge's characteristic indolence. Another reasonable supposition is that the poet found it difficult to assign a motive for Geraldine's conduct, and for this reason abandoned the attempt to complete the poem. Whatever Coleridge's obstacles may have been, the author of "Proverbial Philosophy," nothing daunted, felt Afmself quite equal to the completion of "Christabel." Very obliging indeed it was of Mr. Tupper to finish Mr. Coleridge's poem for us. Dr. Holmes has facetiously observed that "he could not more essentially and entirely have finished himself." The bare attempt could be no less than sacrilege, and the performance is a miserable failure!
No writing could be more gauzily delicate than some parts of " Christabel." Here is an exquisite specimen of that word-painting in which Coleridge is unrivalled: —
"Sweet Christabel her feet doth bare,
And now they pass the Baron's room,
* The moon shines dim in the open air,
Some of Coleridge's minor poems have the same richness of coloring and perfection of finish. It would be difficult to find in our own or any other language a match for those exquisite verses entitled " Love."
A popular critic says of Coleridge's " Hymn in the Vale of Chiimouni": "It is a mere sham, made up like a cheap panorama from engravings, as Coleridge, from the testimony of his friend Wordsworth, was never there." If distance ready lends enchantment, this should not detract from the merit of the poem; we might, however, object to its gorgeous diffuseness; and though a lofty and brilliant production, it is not in Coleridge's best vein. In his later poetry Coleridge gains depth and earnestness and mingles more of the inspiration of the heart with that of the fancy; as in that "gem without a flaw," entitled "Love, Hope, and Patience in Education," and in that entitled " Youth and Age." The concluding lines remind one of the quaint pathos of Herrick.
"O Youth! for years so many and sweet