This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison

This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison Study Guide

"This Lime-tree Bower My Prison" is a poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, first composed in 1797, that describes the emotional and physical experience of a person left sitting in a bower while his friends hike through beautiful scenes in nature. It consists of three stanzas written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. Focusing on themes of natural beauty, empathy, and friendship, the poem follows the speaker's mental journey from bitterness at being left alone to deep appreciation for both the natural world and the friends walking through it. "This Lime-tree Bower my Prison" was revised three times. An informal early version of only 56 lines was sent to the poet Robert Southey. A longer version was published in 1800, followed by a final, 1817 version published in Coleridge's collection Sibylline Leaves.

The poem was written as a response to a real incident in Coleridge's life. During the summer of 1797, Coleridge intended to take a walk through the country near his own home, accompanied by his wife Sara and his friends William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth (William's sister) and Charles Lamb, who was briefly visiting Coleridge. However, he was prevented from walking with them because his wife, according to Wordsworth, "accidentally emptied a skillet of boiling milk on my foot, which confined me during the whole time of C. Lamb's stay" (Coleridge's marriage was generally unhappy). Coleridge, like his own speaker, was forced to sit under the trees on a neighbor's property rather than join his friends on their walk. Indeed, the poem is dedicated to Lamb, and Lamb is repeatedly addressed throughout, making the connection to Coleridge's own life explicit.

Coleridge himself was one of the most prominent members of the Romantic movement, of which this poem's themes are fairly typical. An emphasis on nature, imagination, strong emotion, and the importance of subjective judgment mark both "This Lime-tree Bower My Prison" and the Romantic movement as a whole. This poem was written at an early point in the movement: in the year following its initial writing, William Wordsworth published his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, in which he articulated at length the themes and values underlying Romantic poetry as a whole.