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Dejection and the eighth deadly sin: A Christian-critical engagement with Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode”

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  1. Introduction
  2. The context and history of 'Dejection: An Ode'
  3. Coleridge's emotional history
  4. The intellectual conversion
  5. Analzying the text
  6. Dejection and Acedia
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

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 universality?that 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,[8] 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. [...]


[...] Appendix: Principles of a Christian-Critical Method The Christian-Critical method approaches the task of literary criticism by asking, does a Christian view of reality, the human person, and the significant relationships between humans, each other, the world, and God affect our appraising of and responding to texts?? Though extremely undeveloped at this point, I would suggest the following as the beginning of an answer: 1. Christians must approach texts as products of and occasions for religious experience. Because the Christian view of reality holds that all human activity is either activity in obedience or disobedience to God's law, we must view both the writing and the reading of texts as religiously significant Christians must approach texts as multi-processional, and not pretend to have them short of their full abundance. [...]

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