For the ordinary reader encountering Coleridge's Dejection: An Ode, the poet's dejection may seem irrelevant. The most explicit reason proffered for his dejection is that visitations of affliction have suspended what nature gave me at my birth,/ The shaping spirit of Imagination (Greenblatt, 1654). It may occur to the reader that this shaping spirit is not something nature gives to most people. Probably it will occur to the reader that he himself, for example, has not received that particular gift from nature.
But on the other hand, as the reader will feel, the experience of reading Coleridge's Ode confirms the opinion of critical tradition that this poem is great literature. Whatever connotations the phrase great literature brings to mind, one of them will probably be universalitythat is to say, reading Dejection exposes us to something basically human. The purpose of this essay is to get at that something. But in order to get at that something, we will take a meandering and appreciative (but ultimately focused) journey through some of the historical, social, linguistic, and aesthetic features of the poem.
[...] And in Coleridge's example, in the final stanza where he turns his self-focused dejection around into a prayer for the joyance of one he loves, we are shown the bridge from man as island to men as archipelago, we are shown the grace that grows up through the weeds of fallen life to make even sin a sacrament. Conclusion If this essay has accomplished anything, I hope that it has shown the need to go beyond (but not around) the usual reductionistic forms of criticism, to locate a poem in the most significant conversation that it enters. [...]
[...] According to Kathleen Norris, Coleridge opened this theme up again for his age—and he was followed in the discussion by figures as diverse as Thomas De Quincey, Percy Shelley, Gordon Byron, and John Keats, all of whom wrote about dejection or a peculiarly enervating “melancholy.” On the one hand, Coleridge's contribution to this conversation was a re-affirmation of the recommendation from Ecclesiastes. The last stanza of “Dejection” displays a turn toward simplicity and outwardness. On the other hand, Coleridge seems to have set off a poisonous theme for Romanticism by the very act of writing so beautiful a poem about such a condition of dejection. [...]
[...] But, on the other hand, compared to a purely conversational poem like Eolian “Dejection” demonstrates an elevated, ode-like style, particularly in its complex sentence structure and in the way that images, though drawn from the landscape, are used with a definite end in mind. (879-881) What does this classification indicate about how Coleridge might have meant the poem to be read? Although it has a phantom auditor, that auditor's place is not nearly so important as in Eolian Harp.” Also, between the first form of the poem (as Letter”) and its final metamorphosis into “Dejection: An the most personal allusions were deleted. [...]
[...] Similarly, because of the determinism forced upon him by Associationism, Coleridge had “entombed his hopes for love and poetry”—but following his Kantian conversion he was able to “fall in love for the first time” with Sara Hutchinson and experience no psychological disonance. Whether these changes in his relationships came about because of his intellectual conversion or his intellectual conversion because of these changes is difficult, however, to figure out. (Tyler, 424-425) Although one must mention this important philosophical dimension of the abundance of “Dejection: An the critical tradition has frequently over-emphasized it. [...]
[...] Then the wind pauses and begins to tell him another, even more horrible nightmare about a small child lost “upon a lonesome wild.” (1652-1655) The wind's tale about a child has been frequently assumed to be an allusion to Wordsworth's “Lucy Gray.” This is the tale: far from home, but she little child] hath lost her way:/ And now moans low in bitter grief and fear,/ And now screams loud, and hopes to make her mother hear.” (1654- 1655) But in his biography, Holmes deepens the allusion by connecting it with an event in Coleridge's youth. [...]
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