Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Today is the birthday of the poet, literary critic and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, born October 21, 1772. Even as a child, Coleridge was famously sensitive, devouring books and avoiding social life. His brother Luke died in 1790 and his only sister Ann in 1791, inspiring him to write "Monody," one of his first poems, at the age of 22. The depression and consequent illness that followed encouraged Coleridge to take laudanum, which began a lifelong opium addiction. Coleridge entered Cambridge in 1791 and rapidly worked himself into debt with opium, alcohol, and women. He had started to hope for poetic fame, but was famously desperate for money, causing him to try all manner of schemes including joining and then deserting the British army, and planning a utopian community called "Pantisocracy" which attempted to create a garden of Eden in Pennsylvania.

Coleridge struggled to make a living through teaching, newspaper work and poetry, but everything from marital difficulties to dying children to a damp climate conspired to keep him depressed and hooked on opium. In 1798, the Lyrical Ballads, the first collaboration between Coleridge and William Wordsworth, was published. The poems, which included The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, signaled a dramatic shift toward modern poetry, and basically created the Romantic movement.

Despite that remarkable accomplishment, things never looked very bright for Coleridge. He separated from his wife Sarah in 1808, broke relations with Wordsworth in 1810, lost part of his annuity in 1811, and basically surrendered to his opium addiction by 1814, putting himself under the full time care of his doctor and caretaker. He continued to write poems and struggled to publish a weekly newspaper with limited financial success. His powerful intellect and insights into literature earned him invitations as a lecturer, but his ill-health, his addiction, and somewhat unstable personality meant that all his lectures were irregular and unpredictable.

In 1817, Coleridge moved into the home of his physician and remained there for the rest of his life, composing poetry and having visions. He died in London on July 25, 1834 as the result of a lung disorder linked to his use of opium.

Frost at Midnight

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud--and hark, again ! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings : save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed ! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village ! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams ! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not ;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

Complete poem is here.

1 comment: said...

Good post. Another tragic addict story. So damn cliche, I should know, I am the author of the Addicts Almanac that you posted about. I have followed your blog since then, and the street art stuff is always of interest to me as I am active in that scene here in Portland. I am currently working a graveyard shift at the porn store I have been working at for awhile now. I just spent the last four hours going back and reading your old posts and man the time flew by! I thank you for that, and I think that is a pretty good Anyway, great blog and keep up the good work.