Coleridge: Telling Both Stories

To Celebrate the publication of Mariner in Paperback, by Hodder in the UK and by IVP Academic in America, I am posting a few brief extracts from key moments in the book. This one is from Chapter Nine, ‘The Moving Moon’ in which I pause to reflect on the scale of Coleridge’s Achievement:

From Mariner Chapter Nine: The Two Stories


Most writers about Coleridge have opted to tell only one of two apparently very different stories: the first and best known is the sublime yet tragic story of the poet of inspiration and of agony, of the lover who speaks with and from a broken heart, the poet of freedom who finds himself evermore deeply meshed in the bondage of opium, and ends his life, from that perspective, in apparent failure. The second is the story of Coleridge the thinker, the philosopher, the man of faith, the founder of literary criticism and the originator of almost every school of literary criticism we now possess. This story is often told without any reference to his life at all, as though the great literary criticism, the profound theories of poetry, the subtle and just appreciation of Shakespeare, were all achieved in some ideal ivory tower, free from pain or distraction. But the real story is much more moving. Owen Barfield’s excellent book What Coleridge Thought presents us with a reconstruction of Coleridge’s whole system of thought – ‘The Dynamic or Communicative Philosophy’ as Coleridge called it, as though that whole system had come to him in one piece with all its subtle connections and strong ramifications. When we see how Coleridge reached out towards, shaped and attained that dynamic philosophy, that integration of faith and reason, in the midst of the heartbreak of forsaken love and the corruption and damage of opium; how he achieved what he did not only in spite of the pain and despair through which he lived, but with that pain and despair, expressed in prayer and poetry, as his very materials; then we begin to see the greatness of his achievement.

Here is a piece from today’s Times inn which Paula Byrnes summarises her fuller review which the Times carried last year when the hardback came out:


Filed under imagination

5 responses to “Coleridge: Telling Both Stories

  1. Ashley

    I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  2. Charles Twombly

    Sail on, Mariner. Safe harbor awaits Though harrowing memories Now transfigured Will unsettle Calm waters in the port. Hark! A wedding party! Perhaps a guest Will hear the story And help release The burden of a bird Whose weight Long gone Still weighs Around the ancient mariner’s neck And carries his heart Like an anchor To the depths.

    Cheers, Malcolm. Charles (becalmed at the moment) ________________________________

  3. Thank you for bringing Coleridge alive again for a new generation.

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