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Coleridge and the Poetic Imagination:The Link Between True Life and True Poetry

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  1. Coleridge explored idealized familial relationships in Frost at Midnight.
  2. Born in 1772, the youngest of Reverend John Coleridge's ten children.
  3. Coleridge analyzes the Lyrical Ballads, his collaborative effort with Wordsworth.
  4. Coleridge attempts to intimate to his reader the sweetness and joy of familial harmony.
  5. Frost at Midnight goes through a similar rupture in emotion.
  6. Like Christabel, this sailor is denied all connection to humanity.
  7. Coleridge cannot, nor does he want to, extricate his personal beliefs and insecurities from his poetry.

There is no single theme that pervades every one of Coleridge's many poems, but a body of motifs relating to familial relationships and friendship imbue both his conversation poems, such as Frost at Midnight and The Eolian Harp, and his ?mystery? poems, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Kahn, and Christabel. As Kelvin Everest asserts in his study of the conversation poems, Coleridge's Secret Ministry, this body of motifs is representative of Coleridge's work as a whole, and gives insight into the personal motivation, stemming from his own experiences, for exploring so extensively the poet-reader and the family-society relationships: The conversation poems represent Coleridge's most clearly articulated statement of a theme that is present in all his poetry. It is in fact more accurate to speak of a number of related themes and images; friendship, family, marriage, the retired, the self-sufficient ?dell' or ?vale' or ?nook' providing an intimately known home in nature.

[...] Although she cannot warn Sir Leoline, Christabel is assaulted by a vision of Geraldine's true form: A vision fell Upon the soul of Christabel - The vision of fear, the touch and pain! She shrunk and shuddered, and saw again (Ah woe is me! Was it for thee, Thou gentle maid, such sights to see?) Again she saw that bosom old Again she felt that bosom cold And drew in her breath with a hissing sound. (439-47) This image of the serpent-like demon that is Geraldine is not simply a Gothic creation; Coleridge sees demon women everywhere, and they make such appearances, tormenting the innocents of his poems, all too frequently. [...]

[...] The final stanza, about the ?damsel with a dulcimer is Coleridge's lamentation that he lost the thread of Kubla Khan before finishing it, and were he able, he would build with words and air the poetic equivalent of the pleasure-dome, and his audience would recognize his genius, that on honey-dew hath fed / and drank the milk of paradise The imaginative effort of writing poetry is, to Coleridge, the same process as building a vast temple or cultivating a government, the transformation of pure idea into tangible, brilliant existence. [...]

[...] Coleridge's opium vision, Kubla Khan, addresses a slightly different topic, recalling his ideas about creation and imagination from Biographia Literaria, but even here, in the wildest dreams of an altered mind, he cannot escape the horrors of perverted familial and romantic relationships. As far off as Xanadu, in the ?deep romantic chasm whence comes the sacred river Coleridge hears the dreadful sound of a ?woman wailing for her demon-lover The image of the Alph emerging from the chasm is certainly a loaded one, one of procreation and sexual virility, strangely contrasted with the imagined woman wailing, solitary, across the landscape. [...]

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