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Friday, March 11, 2011

Coleridge: "Constancy of an Ideal Object"

Coleridge in Rome (1806)

Coleridge on Idealized Love

In his biography of Coleridge, Richard Holmes addresses the matter of Coleridge's idealized image of the beloved, “ . . . what Coleridge himself came to see as the profound philosophic problem posed by the nature of human love itself; and by extension, of all intensely subjective experience. Was love a self-created, self-referring illusion? Or was it “some dear embodied Good?” Was [the beloved] in the end nothing more than “a fanciful dream,” or . . . genuinely a projection of his own best self, his conscience, his sense of beauty and power and hope?

This was the problem he faced again and again in his Notebooks in the succeeding months and years, and gradually in the slow accretions of his Confessional Poems, like “Constancy to an Ideal Object.” This was the questioning poem he had begun in Malta, . . . .” Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1804-1834, (Pantheon, New York, 1998) at p. 196.


Since all that beat about in Nature's range,
Or veer or vanish; why should'st thou remain
The only constant in a world of change,
O yearning Thought! that liv'st but in the brain?
Call to the Hours, that in the distance play,
The faery people of the future day -- --
Fond Thought! not one of all that shining swarm
Will breathe on thee with life-enkindling breath,
Till when, like strangers shelt'ring from a storm,
Hope and Despair meet in the porch of Death!
Yet still thou haunt'st me; and though well I see,
She is not thou, and only thou art she,
Still, still as though some dear embodied Good,
Some living Love before my eyes there stood
With answering look a ready ear to lend,
I mourn to thee and say –‘Ah! loveliest friend!
That this the meed of all my toils might be,
To have a home, an English home, and thee!’
Vain repetition! Home and Thou are one.
The peacefull'st cot, the moon shall shine upon,
Lulled by the Thrush and wakened by the Lark,
Without thee were but a becalméd Bark,
Whose Helmsman on an ocean waste and wide
Sits mute and pale his mouldering helm beside.

And art thou nothing? Such thou art, as when
The woodman winding westward up the glen
At wintry dawn, where o'er the sheep-track's maze
The viewless snow-mist weaves a glist'ning haze,
Sees full before him, gliding without tread,
An image¹ with a glory round its head;
The enamoured rustic worships its fair hues,
Nor knows he makes the shadow, he pursues!

[Date uncertain²]

¹ This phenomenon, which the Author has himself experienced, and of which the reader may find a description in one of the earlier volumes of the Manchester Philosophical Transactions, is applied figuratively in the following passage of the Aids to Reflection: --
‘Pindar’s fine remark respecting the different effects of Music, on different characters, holds equally true of Genius – as many as are not delighted by it are disturbed, perplexed, irritated. The beholder either recognizes it as a projected form of his own Being, that moves before him with a Glory round its head, or recoils from it as a Spectre.’ - Aids to Reflection [1825], p. 220. [S.T.C.]

² ‘. . . those lines which a long time ago I sent to Mrs. Green.’ [S.T.C., Letter, 11 June 1835.]

From Coleridge's Letter to Henry Crabb Robinson (1811):

“In short, I believe that Love . . . is always the abrupt creation of a moment – tho’ years of Dawning may have preceded. I said Dawning – for often as I have watched the Sun-rising, from the thinning, diluting Blue to the Whitening, to the fawn-coloured, the pink, the crimson, the glory, yet still the Sun itself has always started up, out of the Horizon – ! between the brightest Hues of the Dawn and the first Rim of the Sun itself there is a chasm – all before were Differences of Degrees, passing & dissolving into each other – but this is a difference of Kind – a chasm of Kind in a continuity of Time. – And as no man who has never watched for the rise of the Sun could understand what I mean, so can no man who has not been in Love, understand what Love is – tho’ he will be sure to imagine & believe, that he does.” [emphasis in original] (Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols., edited by E.L. Griggs, Oxford, 1956-71.) Vol. 3, pp. 304-5.

The 'Eros' of Centocelle

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