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Coleridge’s Poetry

Main Ideas

Motifs

Main Ideas Motifs

Conversation Poems

Coleridge wanted to mimic the patterns and cadences of everyday speech in his poetry. Many of his poems openly address a single figure—the speaker’s wife, son, friend, and so on—who listens silently to the simple, straightforward language of the speaker. Unlike the descriptive, long, digressive poems of Coleridge’s classicist predecessors, Coleridge’s so-called conversation poems are short, self-contained, and often without a discernable poetic form. Colloquial, spontaneous, and friendly, Coleridge’s conversation poetry is also highly personal, frequently incorporating events and details of his domestic life in an effort to widen the scope of possible poetic content. Although he sometimes wrote in blank verse, unrhymed iambic pentameter, he adapted this metrical form to suit a more colloquial rhythm. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge believed that everyday language and speech rhythms would help broaden poetry’s audience to include the middle and lower classes, who might have felt excluded or put off by the form and content of neoclassicists, such as Alexander Pope, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and John Dryden.

Delight in the Natural World

Like the other romantics, Coleridge worshiped nature and recognized poetry’s capacity to describe the beauty of the natural world. Nearly all of Coleridge’s poems express a respect for and delight in natural beauty. Close observation, great attention to detail, and precise descriptions of color aptly demonstrate Coleridge’s respect and delight. Some poems, such as “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” “Youth and Age” (1834), and “Frost at Midnight,” mourn the speakers’ physical isolation from the outside world. Others, including “The Eolian Harp,” use images of nature to explore philosophical and analytical ideas. Still other poems, including “The Nightingale” (ca. 1798), simply praise nature’s beauty. Even poems that don’t directly deal with nature, including “Kubla Khan” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” derive some symbols and images from nature. Nevertheless, Coleridge guarded against the pathetic fallacy, or the attribution of human feeling to the natural world. To Coleridge, nature contained an innate, constant joyousness wholly separate from the ups and downs of human experience.

Prayer

Although Coleridge’s prose reveals more of his religious philosophizing than his poetry, God, Christianity, and the act of prayer appear in some form in nearly all of his poems. The son of an Anglican vicar, Coleridge vacillated from supporting to criticizing Christian tenets and the Church of England. Despite his criticisms, Coleridge remained defiantly supportive of prayer, praising it in his notebooks and repeatedly referencing it in his poems. He once told the novelist Thomas de Quincey that prayer demanded such close attention that it was the one of the hardest actions of which human hearts were capable. The conclusion to Part 1 of Christabel portrays Christabel in prayer, “a lovely sight to see” (279). In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the mariner is stripped of his ability to speak as part of his extreme punishment and, consequently, left incapable of praying. “The Pains of Sleep” (1803) contrasts the speaker at restful prayer, in which he prays silently, with the speaker at passionate prayer, in which he battles imaginary demons to pray aloud. In the sad poem, “Epitaph” (1833), Coleridge composes an epitaph for himself, which urges people to pray for him after he dies. Rather than recommend a manner or method of prayer, Coleridge’s poems reflect a wide variety, which emphasizes his belief in the importance of individuality.

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