A Birthday Sonnet for Samuel Taylor Coleridge

samuelcoleridgeThe great Poet, philosopher, and Christian sage, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on the 21st of October in 1772, so I cant resist re-posting this sonnet for his birthday!.

I could not begin to reckon the debt I owe him; for his poetry, for his personal and Christian wisdom, above all for his brilliant exploration and defence of the poetic imagination as a truth bearing faculty which participates in, and is redeemed by the Logos, the living Word, himself the Divine Imagination. We are only now coming to appreciate the depth and range of what he achieved, his contemporaries scarcely understood him, and his Victorian successors looked down in judgement at what htey saw as the shipwreck of his life. Something of that experience of rejection, twinned with deep Christian conviction, can be seen in the epitaph he wrote for himself:

Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!

From my teenage raptures when I was first enchanted by Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner, to my struggles and adventures in the middle of life STC has been my companion and guide.In the chapter on Coleridge in my book Faith Hope and Poetry I have set out an account of his thinking and made the case for his central importance in our own age, but what I offer here is a sonnet celebrating his legacy, drawing on that epitaph I mentioned above, one of a sequence of sonnets on my fellow christians which will be part of my new book The Singing Bowl, coming out on October 25th with the Canterbury Press. If you are in Cambridge then why not come to the launch in St. Edward’s church at 7:30pm on November 6th?

As Always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or clicking the ‘play’ button.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!’

You made your epitaph imperative,

And stopped this wedding guest! But I am glad

To stop with you and start again, to live

From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,

Whose living power is imagination,

And know myself a child of the I AM,

Open and loving to his whole creation.

Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,

To let his light transfigure all my seeing,

To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,

And make with him the poem of my being.

I follow where you sail towards our haven,

Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

2 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination, Poems

2 responses to “A Birthday Sonnet for Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  1. Charles Twombly

    I love this. The last lines give a way of focused reading of STC’s prose and poetry–the “wide wake” is perfect. We too can be mariners, one hopes without the bird pendant. The ancient bloke, accosting wedding guests, did the bird thing for us. The laudanum addict was sailing interior seas to the same effect. Now to trace the wake and plunge ahead.

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