Coleridge’s Use of Precise Observations of the Natural World to Convey Wider Thematic Ideas in His Poetry

May 3, 2019 by Essay Writer

Coleridge, in common with other romantic artists such as Wordsworth and Keats revolted against the artificial eighteenth century philosophy of a dislocation between man and nature. Coleridge developed an extremely analytical, passionate and spiritual interest in nature and the idea of ‘the one life’. His belief that nature is “the eternal language which… God utters” fuels a vast, and unquestionably, eclectic collection of precisely observed images and themes which almost always focus on the natural world and are used to explore wider issues in his poetry.The hypnotic rhythm of the Circassian Love-Chaunt created by a mixture of two regular rhyme schemes used intermittently throughout the poem helps to capture the sense of equilibrium, tranquillity and beauty Coleridge believed could be found in nature. Equally the repetition of the word “Lewti” five times in the opening two stanza’s as well as the repetition of natural imagery such as the “rock” and the “stream” adds a sense of a natural monotonous charm to the poem suggesting an air of peacefulness and restfulness. The muted colours in the poem suggested by clouds of the “palest hue” as well as the “grey” and “flushed” landscape surrounding the clouds heighten the sense of tranquillity. Conversely, these muted images are directly contrasted with bolder images such as the “rich and amber light” of the moon shining through the cloud. There are almost an identical number of references to both the muted and the vibrant images in Lewti which creates a feeling of equilibrium in the poem further emphasising the natural balance and beauty of nature. In Sonnet to a River Otter the persona remembers in a rather paradoxical way “what happy and what mournful hours” he had by a brook. Once again there is a feeling of equilibrium and balance created by contrasting images. However, the suggestion of beauty in something much more mundane, such as the “native brook” as opposed to Lewti who is an Arabian princess gives the impression that we are not just looking at the subjects but a more universal idea of a unifying beauty throughout the entire natural world. It is precisely this underlying interest in the beauty and natural equilibrium (which many eighteenth century industrialists threatened to ruin) that lies at the heart of poems such as Lewti. The paradoxical statement by the “ancient mariner” that there is “water, water every where, / nor any drop to drink” adds to the sense of a paradoxical natural world and the “beauty and the happiness” of the “slimy things” the mariner notices whilst at sea creates a similar paradoxical image. The inclusion of the word agony to describe the soul of the mariner is once again paradoxical as the word can mean both mental anguish and pleasure. This double meaning in describing the “soul” of the mariner symbolises the fact that the balance in nature is at the heart of the natural world as the soul is an important part of the mariner. Coleridge chooses to focus in a precise and detailed way on one subject, which becomes symbolic of a wider natural world. Through his use of equally balanced contrasts, both in terms of imagery and style, he is able to suggest a natural world that although often conflicting is always in perfect equilibrium.Equally, through his precise observations of the natural world, Coleridge was able to explore the Eternity of nature. Kubla Khan’s language hints at this timelessness with quasi-superlative language that describes the caverns as “measureless” and the forests as “ancient”. The importance of these images is heightened by the fact they are mentioned within the first stanza. Furthermore, by mentioning specific antiquated names such as Xanadu and Kubla Khan, which are fairly obscure, Coleridge is able to suggest that human creation is not like the infinity of nature. By keeping the natural subjects in the poem unspecified and stereotypical, “green hill”, “caves of ice” we feel a sense of timelessness in nature.Furthermore, there is a hypnotic regularity in the entire poem and in particular the first stanza. Coleridge alliterates the last two words of each of the first five lines, “Kubla Khan”, “dome decree”, “sunless sea” giving the poem a bombastic, yet regular rhythm. Short exclamations such as “but oh!” and “a savage place!” coupled with excessively long exclamations created through enjambment “as holy and enchanted as e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted by a woman wailing for her demon lover!” Consolidate this feeling of ‘ebbing and flowing’ which is reminiscent of time ticking irregularly away and creates a sense of the infinite. Similarly, the Ancient Mariner reflects this timelessness through the regularity of the way in which he tells his story. He speaks within a rhyme scheme that becomes an almost comical ‘nursery rhyme’ in places due to the regularity and inexorable rhythm of the couplets. The use of the word “ancient” consolidates this idea of eternity as it is a word usually used for inanimate and often only natural subjects as does the vastness of the ocean he is marooned on. Furthermore his attention to detail in his story suggests he has told it many times and detailed observation such as his description of the albatross, “at first it seemed a little speck, /And then it seemed to mist” helps us realise this isn’t just one story about the nemesis of the natural world being told at one precise moment in time but a timeless story of nature and the natural world.Furthermore, the Mariner’s unkempt yet charismatic appearance suggested to the reader through a repeated focus on his “glittering”, “bright” eyes and his appearance as a “greybeard loon” and particularly his “long grey beard”, suggests subtly that he has become a ‘spokesman for nature.’ The Mariner’s timelessness in direct contrast to the deaths of all the other crew members helps suggest the eternity of nature he has become symbolic of.The eternity of nature is actually looked at in a rather paradoxical way because by focusing briefly on events or single images that are symbolic of a wider natural world Coleridge creates a sense of the infinite shown through specific examples. This is perhaps also another example of Coleridge suggesting the paradoxes within the natural world by suggesting something infinite with a specific event or image.Once again, in a slightly paradoxical sense, the poetry focuses on an idea of ‘religion in nature’, a view held by many romantic poets, notably Wordsworth. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner takes many religious images and ‘naturalises’ them. In part the third the mariner says “I beheld/ A something in the sky”, which has subtle connotations of the star the three wise men followed. However, the “something” is in fact an albatross and like the star in the bible story the albatross is a key symbol in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. “LIFE-IN-DEATH” and “DEATH” “were casting dice” for the souls of the crew and once again this mirrors with a natural (or arguably supernatural) twist the soldiers who diced for Jesus’ clothes after his death on the cross.Ultimately the ancient mariner becomes less arrogant and shifts his perspectives, having repented for his sins and this has echoes of the Christian message except through his killing of the albatross the mariner’s crime is directly against nature rather than a perceived ‘God’. However, the suggestion of religion in nature becomes slightly less attractive when we see that ultimately the mariner is not forgiven for his sins unlike the Christian message of a forgiving God.In the examination of religion in nature, the poems also focus closely on the power and nemesis of the natural world. The Mariner and his entire crew are tortured by the mistake of the mariner to kill the albatross. The poem hinges around the line “I shot the ALBATROSS” which is made to seem significant by the fact the line is shorter than the other lines in the stanza, ends “part the first” and contains the word “albatross” in capital letters. Similarly the “pleasure dome” in Kubla Khan, which through its description as “stately” appears very grandiose, is dwarfed by the biblical, apocalyptic language that describes the natural world the dome is surrounded by, “romantic chasm”, “ancestral voices”. Furthermore, the description in the poem is extremely sensual and covers all the senses. The sensuous description of the natural images gives them an all-consuming and extremely powerful presence echoing the suggestion by Coleridge of the power in nature. The “sunless sea” and the “gardens bright” are both striking visual images, our ears are filled by the sound of the “woman wailing and the “damsel” who is “singing of mount Abora”. “The incense-bearing tree” awakens our sense of smell. Equally the suggestion of the “earth breathing” and the fact the persona has “drunk the milk of paradise” ensures that our we both feel and taste the powerful language used to describe the natural world where Kubla Khan built “a stately pleasure dome.”Coleridge’s poetry relies entirely on a detailed analysis of nature in order to present and further examine his bigger ideas such as ‘religion in nature’. More specifically however, Coleridge relies on a ‘zoom effect’ to scan the general scenery and then focus in on one small natural subject at a time, which in turn becomes symbolic of nature as a whole.

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