Essay On Coleridge Essay, Research Paper
Question: How does any writer on the course treat the figure of the social outcast or outsider?
For the purposes of this assignment I will be examining two of Coleridge s most notable poetic works; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan . From The Rime I will be examining the poets treatment of the Mariner himself and from Kubla Khan both Kubla Khan and the unnamed poetic presence that is makes its self know at end of the poem.
At first the Mariner may not immediately seem like a social outcast or outsider because in terms of the thematic nature of the poem more dramatic and relevant features of his character are more instantly notable. However, examination of the text shows otherwise;
Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea!
This small extract needs very little explanation. It is quite clear that Coleridge intends The Mariner to be a character who, may not have been out cast from society, but has certainly been placed into a situation of indisputable solitude.
And they all dead did lie,
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.
Here we have the poet, and indeed the Mariner himself, including the wayward seaman with the thousand slimy things . It is important to note that here they are not referred to as creatures or beings or any other description that would imply that they are of earthly origins. Instead they are referred to simply as things .
O Wedding Guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide wide sea:
So lonely twas, that god himself
Scarce seemed there to be.
Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread.
The combination of the strength of connotation of the words Alone , lonely , Scare , lonesome , fear and dread acts turn simple loneliness into a complicated psychological state. This is a state whereby fear and dread come from the experience of loneliness. In turn, this loneliness, is a result of the remorse the Mariner feels concerning the slaying of the Albatross. In his essay The Mariner and the Albatross , George Whalley comments:
Life-in Death meant to Coleridge a mixture of remorse and loneliness. Yet loneliness is perhaps too gentle and human a word; let us say aloneness . It is precisely this combination of remorse and aloneness with which the Mariner s experience is steeped.
The Mariner suffers aloneness , is plagued by remorse regarding an action he cannot undo and he is fearful. He is set aside from his shipmates, because they have died and he still lives and he is accompanied only by slimy things which share in his pitiful state of existence. One might call this state of existence Life-in-Death . It would seem fair to me to say then; that the Mariner is an outsider. He is a god fearing, holy man, and as such has been set aside from all he holds dear by one irrational act. To justify this point, I note that John Beer writes in his introduction to the poem;
The shooting of the albatross is only one blatant example of all the offences against life by which men cut themselves off from the central harmony of creation.
The Rime places its central figure in a position whereby he inadvertently commits a sin. The Albatross does after all seem to bring with it the fog that leads to the boat drifting. For this, the Mariner suffers a heavy penance and is pushed to brink of madness. In the midst of this an unconscious faculty of his humanity restores him in the eyes of god, and he is whisked from danger by divine intervention.
Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water snakes
O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.
The saint restores temporary life to his crew and he is sailed back to his country by supernatural motion where he is rescued and begins his final, and eternal penance. The moral of The Rime can, and has been interpreted in many different manners. Of these I will suggest two. Firstly the sequence of; sin, repentance and then rescue and eternal penance can quite simply be interpreted as religious fable, detailing the way in which a sinner can, at any time, achieve salvation. The Rime makes the point that the unfortunate Dr Faustus most certainly missed. Certainly the poem is heavy with religious symbolism; i.e. the sun, the moon and the serpents, the song of the divine beings who inhabit the sailors bodies and the luridly illustrated figures of Death and Life-in-Death .
Alternatively, if we remember that the Mariner was unaware when he blesses the serpents and achieves redemption, just as he was unaware of the consequences of carelessly slaying the albatross, then we might see the poem as extolling the virtue of a reverence for life, without need of a God, except as a symbolic figure.
The Mariner is most likely an allegorical figure, and very much a personal expression of the character of Coleridge himself. In the above referenced essay Whalley provides a wealth of evidence for this conclusion. In this light, Coleridge s treatment of the Mariner, seems to look very much like a treatment on himself and it would certainly be fair to say that Coleridge was very much the outsider. John Beer quotes John Sterling thus:
It is painful to observe in Coleridge, that, with all the kindness and glorious far-seeing intelligence of his eye, there is a glare in it, a light half unearthly, half morbid. It is the glittering eye of the Ancient Mariner.
The two main characters in Kubla Khan are isolated in different ways, but for the same reasons. Coleridge, like many of the people of his time, was deeply interested in the nature of the phenomenon of genius . He, like many, saw genius as a driving force, an imaginative power which was irresistible to both the possessor of the phenomenon and all who beheld it. John Beer reports that this in this romantic notion it was seen that;
in such powers an element which might pass beyond ordinary human faculties and guard against the ultimate sterility of an age of reason .
Beer also reports that:
Coleridge enlarged upon the nature of genius by drawing a comparison between the man of absolute genius s and the man of commanding genius .
Briefly stated this division defines the commanding genius as being cursed by his gift and the absolute genius as being blessed.
In Kubla Khan , Kubla Khan is the commanding genius . He commands that his dome, his expression of power, should be build, and subsequently it is:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
Despite his unmistakable power, the Khan is forced to build walls and towers to protect him, presumably from the savage place . This is his isolation. The thing which links this savage place and the site of his pleasure dome is the sacred river which will become the fountain and begins in the sunless sea in caverns that the Khan is excluded from, as they are measureless to man . This is a symptom of his isolation, and this limitation of his power is a feature of his curse. The river escapes his walls by flowing under them and erupts in the savage place, far from his control and Kubla Khan hears;
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The mid section of the poem climaxes with a moment of startling unity, as the Khan s dome is near flooded by the river;
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
The shadow of the dome of pleasure is the Khan s dome once fallen and therefore a shadow . The unity is illustrated thus:
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!
At line 42, the voice of the poet speaks;
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song
The poet is the absolute genius , who does not need to command, who has no need of walls and towers . He able, through the miracle of creative process, to recreate all that Kubla Khan achieved, without the limitations and in a way that embraces, and harnesses the power of the fountain and sacred river.
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!
For he on honey dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of paradise.
From Harold Bloom s essay Kubla Khan ;
He would rival Kubla s decreed dome, and also produce the imaginative miracle of the juxtaposed contraries, and without the equivocal aid of the paradoxical upheaval that simultaneously creates and threatens the destruction of the rare device .
The poet, though not cursed by the phenomenon of genius, is isolated in a different way. Those who Kubla Khan would command, are fearful of the poet, and superstitious of his power:
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
Despite his awesome power, the power of creation, here we get a slight sense of aloneness ; because of his power the poet is forced aside from others. This solitude is imposed upon him, he is in effect, cast out .
The poet s treatment of the two talented outsiders obviously differs, but is perhaps unified by the female figures in poem. Kubla Khan is haunted;
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
While the poet sees visions of:
A damsel with dulcimer
And on her dulcimer she played,
Sing of Mount Abora
The references to the musician and the woman with the demon-lover are certainly cryptic, but the musician is the less threatening of the two. The musician, it seems, provides the poet with the symphony and song which acts as inspiration to him. Kubla Khan s uncertain fate, and several violent or threatening images associated with it suggest that Coleridge s sympathy s, unsurprisingly rest with the poet. Despite this, Coleridge still condemns the poet to the same solitude as the Khan s.
In conclusion, psycho-analytical analysis would again suggest a very personal connection between Coleridge and the sentiments experienced and forced upon these three characters. Such a suggestion of autobiography has often been know to inflame poets and it has been suggested that Coleridge had occasion to dispute this. However in Edward E. Bostetter s essay The Nightmare World of The Ancient Mariner , where he argues to some extent, against the moral interpretation of The Rime , he makes the point that:
The desire that a poem should mean, not be, is understandably strong among poets themselves, in spite of their present-day protestations to the contrary. They have an uneasy fear that to admit that a poem is an expression of attitudes which may not be rationally defensible is to concede some fatal weakness which robs it of greatness.
In this vein I would suggest (in line with Whalley s conclusion) that Coleridge s treatment of the outsider characters in both these poems is strongly personal, and to some extent autobiographical. If the one was still to argue (considering Bostetter s point) that this is an inaccurate suggestion then I would direct them to Whalley s original article and examine the evidence on Coleridge s character presented there. Indeed, the moderist poet TS Elliot is reported (by John Beer) to have said:
for a few years Coleridge had been visited by the Muse ( I know of no poet to whom this hackneyed metaphor is better applicable) and thenceforth was a haunted man.