Samuel Taylor Coleridge; a sonnet, and a new book!

SamuelTaylorColeridgeThe great poet, philosopher, and Christian sage, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on the 21st of October in 1772, so I am posting this sonnet for his birthday!

I am deeply immersed in Coleridge at the moment, because, I am happy to announce, I have signed a contract with Hodder and Stoughton to write a new book, which will be called Mariner! A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and will be published in the spring of 2017, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Coleridge’s seminal book Biographia Literaria, and also the first full collection of his poems Sybilline Leaves. My book will tell Coleridge’s story through the lens of his own great poem The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner, a poem which was uncannily prophetic not only of Coleridge’s own life, but of our own history and culture. My book will try both to show the vital thread of Christian thought and witness that runs through Coleridge’s life and writing and also the startling relevance of that life and writing to the challenges of the 21st century, so, as they say, Watch This Space!

I could not begin to reckon the personal debt I owe to Coleridge; 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 in my most recent book The Singing Bowl,  published last year by the Canterbury Press.

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!


Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Poems

13 responses to “Samuel Taylor Coleridge; a sonnet, and a new book!

  1. I am delighted that you are going to publish on Coleridge. I found your chapters on him in Faith, Hope and Poetry very helpful and wanted to read more even then. I also have great affection for The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner. I owe a good friendship to reflections I made on the poem in church one morning and someone had just “popped” in on that one occasion.
    I do hope that your book might make a contribution to ending the judgements people make on Coleridge to this day. I keep being reminded of the episode of The Simpsons when Ned Flanders’ wife mysteriously “disappears” only to re-appear at the end saying that she had been on church camp learning how to judge others more effectively! How true that so often seems to be.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Stephen thats very encouraging. I agree about the oribkem of judgementalism. People certainly oppressed STC withbit! I shall try to redress the balance M

  2. All the best with this project.

  3. Charles Twombly

    Wonderful associations with more than one poem of STC’s. Your words in FHP on “Frost in Midnight” caused shiverings surpassing even Keats. As for your reference to “I AM,” it caused reverberations that will send me back to further reflection on STC’s Pentad in “Inquiring Spirit.” Except for the laudanum, you two make quite a pair.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Charles, I feel a deep kinship with him, and the more I study him the more uncannily close I feel. My challenge as a biographer is not going to be about finding empathy or understanding but on the contrary learning how to get sufficient distance from my subject to make the portrait whilst retaining that almost instinctive sense of connectedness.

  4. Last night I finished Karen Swallow Prior’s Fierce Convictions about Hannah More. Throughout the book Coleridge is mentioned. As I put the finished book aside I kythed, Malcolm, what about STC? And there you were scenting my mailbox with fresh smoke this morning when I woke.

    In the margin on page 246 I wrote, does M know this little tidbit? Probably.

    “The famous romantic poet STC–who, as we saw earlier, called More the “first literary female he had met” and who was also an active abolitionist–visited her at Barley Wood in 1814. However, More’s long-standing tendency to ingratiate her-self with her social superiors marred Coleridge’s visit. Two hours into an engaging conversation with the notable poet, a titled guest arrived, and More abandoned Coleridge’s party, leaving them to withdraw “to a snug window” and fend for themselves while she entertained the visiting viscountess.”

    Too bad for her. She missed the moment.

    As for your sonnet….this iLove:

    …. And make with him the poem of my being.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks, that’s a lovely little vignette. I knew he was a campaigner against the slave trade but didn’t know about the meeting with Hannah M -interesting – once to hear from you

  5. Am currently, slowly working my way through Faith, Hope and Poetry and am certain your study of STC would be a worthy read. Look forward to it.

  6. I’m excited about this. I think you’re really on to something with STC. I have always loved the poetry of the Romantics and he is in a league of his own. And I loved your Ashgate book and won’t part with it despite the limited capacity of our retirement-flat bookcases! I shall definitely be ordering a copy, Malcolm, and I hope the project is blessed with that very special moment where you know you have found the right approach and it takes on its own momentum.

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