Coleridge's Poems

Coleridge's Poems Study Guide

In 1798, Coleridge and longtime friend William Wordsworth anonymously published Lyrical Ballads, a work which officially began the Romantic movement in English poetry. Though not the first of Colerdige's published works, Lyrical Ballads established Coleridge among the foremost poetic voices in 18th century England. Coleridge often uses a matter-of-fact, conversational style in his poetry, a practice in keeping with the Romantic ideal that poetry should be about and for the average reader. Many of his poems are in fact lyrical conversations between Coleridge and some unseen, silent listener; William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, Sara Hutchins, and even Coleridge's own infant son Hartley appear in these poetic monologues.

Coleridge also emphasized the supernatural and the power of the natural world in his works. "Kubla Khan" describes the building of a "stately pleasure dome" that itself is formed by the bizarre natural (supernatural?) phenomena of icy caves under a sunlit sky. "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" combines elements of the natural world (such as the Albatross) with the supernatural (such as the strange sea creatures) to describe the connection between the seen and unseen worlds, as well as human beings' interconnection with both. Nature is celebrated outright in other poems, such as Coleridge's "Sonnet: To the River Otter," and forms the basis of thoughtful meditation in "Frost at Midnight."

The voice Coleridge uses in his poetry is often somber and melancholy, as can be most clearly seen in "Dejection: An Ode" but which also appears in the first half of "Frost at Midnight." Like most Romantics, Coleridge took a very personal stance in his poetry, writing much of it in response to his own life experiences or his views on current events in which he had an interest. Thus "Dejection: An Ode" reflects upon his own unrequited love, while "France: An Ode" meditates upon his own growing disillusionment with the revolution in France.

Most of Coleridge's poetry is lyric; that is, it has a song-like quality and is quite suited to reading (or even singing) aloud. Coleridge fused this popular writing style with his own experimental poetic forms, as when he based the scheme of "Christabel" not on rhyme, but on the pattern of accented and unaccented syllables.

A prolific writer, Coleridge seems to have seldom been satisfied with his own final products. Much of his most famous published poetry is either fragmentary or heavily rewritten. There exist two different versions of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (an early, yet complete one published in Lyrical Ballads and his heavily-rewritten later published version) and both "Kubla Khan" and "Christabel," two of his most influential works, are incomplete. It is a testament to the power of Coleridge's wordcraft that even in such fragments, he managed to change the world of poetry forever.