Coleridge on Romantic Nature
Nature is a key element amongst the writers of the Romantic period. From man’s struggle to get back to Nature through Art to his painful experiences with the elements, Nature’s presence abounds during this period of time. The best example of Nature in writing can be found in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight and The Aeolian Harp. This paper will examine these two masterpieces and provide examples of man’s struggle and experiences with Nature and how man’s presence is essential to its beauty.
In Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight, Coleridge discusses being a prisoner to the solitude and tranquility that Nature provides, being alone with only his babe to keep him company. Being alone with Nature seems to bring him great joy, and the prospect that his child shall inherit all this beauty is overwhelming to him.
My babe so beautiful! It thrills my heart
with tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
and think that thou shalt learn for other lore,
and in far other scenes! (49-52)
He wrestles with the notion of God believing that only God a supreme being is capable of making the sounds that Nature makes and creating the beauty that Nature possesses. Man is only part of it but is not capable of creating it.
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
of that eternal language, which thy God
utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things himself.
Great Universal Teacher! (60-64)
Coleridge likes the idea of Nature recycling itself. He likens his child to that of an icicle constantly dripping and growing. As the water drips down the icicle only gets bigger, but even as the icicle melts it returns back to its previous, beautiful state of water. “Or if the secret ministry of frost/ shall hang them up in silent icicles. (73-74) Is he stating that the droplets here are messengers spreading the word of God and beauty of Nature? I think he is. Just as his child will grow and spread the word of his father.
In Coleridge’s The Aeolian Harp, Coleridge discusses Nature as his soul mate, his ever constant lover and friend always playing him sweet songs of tranquility on her harp. In the beginning of the poem, I thought Coleridge was expressing his love for a woman named Sara. Describing how they met and were won over by the romantic atmosphere that Nature provided.
My pensive Sara! thy soft cheek reclined
Thus on mine arm, most soothing sweet it is
To sit beside our Cot, our Cot o’ergrown
With white-flower’d jasmine and broad-leav’d Myrtle,
(Meet emblems they of Innocence and Love!) (1-5)
But in taking a close look at the language of the poem, I discovered Coleridge’s greater purpose in describing his love affair with Nature. He describes the untamed spirit of Nature and how it first infected him by use of a song played on a lute. The melodies captured and overtook all of his senses.
Where melodies round honey-dropping flowers,
Footless and wild, like birds of paradise,
Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untam’d wings! (24-27)
He compares his soul hearing the music to a bird taking flight and never feeling obligated to land. He is struggling with the possibility and notion of loving every single aspect of his true love Nature, with his every step she takes care.
Not to love all things in a world so fill’d
Where the breeze warbles and the mute still air
Is music slumbering on her instrument.
And thus, my Love! As on a Midway slope
Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon. (32-36)
Could it be that all of Nature is made up of this one magical song that only brings tranquility and harmony? Is God the singer of the song? Coleridge talks about expressing his love for Nature and for Christ and never being ashamed.
For never guiltless may I speak of Him,
The incomprehensible! Save when with awe
I praise him, and with faith that inly feels;
Who with his saving mercies healed me. (59-62)
Nature is a very important subject during the Romantic period of writing. Samuel Taylor Coleridge through his poems Frost at Midnight and The Aeolian Harp, captures the true essence of Nature. Through his writings we get a much greater picture of his love affair and experiences in Nature. Without man there would be no beauty for there would be no one to experience it all. Painfully human because though we may be a part of Nature we can never fully understand the beauty and complexities of it all.
Coleridge, Samuel. “The Aeolian Harp.” The Longman Anthology British Literature: The Romantics and their Contemporaries. vol. 2A. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education, 2006. 572.
Coleridge, Samuel. “Frost at Midnight.” The Longman Anthology British Literature: The Romantics and their Contemporaries. vol. 2A. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education, 2006. 576-577.