Samuel Taylor Coleridge; a birthday sonnet, and a book

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

I should also mention that in 2017 I published Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge which has been well and widely reviewed and examines Coleridge’s life and faith in fresh ways, through the lens of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, his most famous poem.

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 they 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 own 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  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!

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Filed under imagination

10 responses to “Samuel Taylor Coleridge; a birthday sonnet, and a book

  1. J. Allan Taylor

    H Malcolm Thank you for your post on STC. A rather prosaic question. Do you know where the name Taylor in his name came from? I have tried to discover this, for obvious reasons, without success. Blessings Allan

    Rev. J. Allan Taylor BA (Hons) ACP BRC Circuit Tutor, Wey Valley Methodist Circuit

    01483 200 464 07708 573661 # goose.bush.hush


    • malcolmguite

      Interesting question to which I don’t know the answer but given his father’s interests it might be after Jeremy Taylor the seventeenth century divine

  2. This makes me want to revisit Coleridge. Thank You!

  3. ldcravens

    This morning’s sonnet and your comments brought me back about 60 years to my first reading of STC. Thank you for bringing me back to this well of living water. Back to a refreshing drink in this sometimes parched and lonely world of this Pandemic. Bless you Malcolm.

  4. The “wide wake” stirred a delicious ASMR reaction and the sailing metaphor also called to mind the ending of The Return of the King, when Gandalf and party sailed away… Thank you, Malcolm, and enjoy your coffee! 😉

  5. Ann Prentice

    I confess that I’ve not paid attention to Samuel Taylor Coleridge (except for Kubla Khan, as a kid); however, Guite’s praise makes me consider a second look. You might find this interesting and affirming of your own poetry—which I admire!

    I hope these few days of retreat will help whatever needs a break.

    Lots of prayers and Love to you, Ann


  6. Thank you for this and for your very fine book on Coleridge which I have found very helpful when expressing my thoughts on Coleridge in my own blog page. I have acknowledged your work as influential. Re- reading Coleridge has had an inspiring effect on my thinking about literature-specifically in what he says to connect imagination with theological understanding.

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