Poems of the Week, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Thomas Fleming

By

May 15, 2018

I was fond of Coleridge in my teens, but never since.  Despite his brooding seriousness--or perhaps because of it--he strikes me often as conceited and pretentious, too full of his own profundity.  And yet, he has his moments.  Here are a few short poems, mostly in a lighter vein.  

The poet was much taken with the life cycle of the butterfly, but his etymological excursion is extravagant to say the least.  The word psyche meant something like soul or life-force.  It was occasionally used to designate the butterfly, perhaps because the butterfly breaks free of its ugly preceding phase, but who knows?

 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"The Broken Friendship"

Alas! they had been friends in youth;
But whispering tongues can poison truth;
And constancy lives in realms above;
And life is thorny; and youth is vain;
And to be wroth with one we love,
Doth work like madness in the brain.
And thus is chanced, as I divine,
With Roland and Sir Leoline.
Each spake words of high disdain
And insult to his heart's best brother:
They parted - ne'er to meet again!
But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from painting -
They stood aloof, the scars remaining,
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary see now flows between; -
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been.

"Psyche"

The butterfly the ancient Grecians made

The soul's fair emblem, and its only name--

But of the soul, escaped the slavish trade

Of earthly life!--For in this mortal frame

Our's is the reptile's lot, much toil, much blame,

Manifold motions making little speed,

And to deform and kill the things whereon we feed.

 

"Metrical Feet"

Trochee trips from long to short;
From long to long in solemn sort
Slow Spondee stalks, strong foot!, yet ill able
Ever to come up with Dactyl's trisyllable.
Iambics march from short to long.
With a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.
One syllable long, with one short at each side,
Amphibrachys hastes with a stately stride --
First and last being long, middle short, Amphimacer
Strikes his thundering hoofs like a proud high-bred Racer.

If Derwent be innocent, steady, and wise,
And delight in the things of earth, water, and skies;
Tender warmth at his heart, with these meters to show it,
WIth sound sense in his brains, may make Derwent a poet --
May crown him with fame, and must win him the love
Of his father on earth and his father above.
My dear, dear child!
Could you stand upon Skiddaw, you would not from its whole ridge
See a man who so loves you as your fond S.T. Colerige.

"Cologne"

In Köhln, a town of monks and bones,
And pavements fang'd with murderous stones
And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches ;
I counted two and seventy stenches,
All well defined, and several stinks !
Ye Nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
The river Rhine, it is well known,
Doth wash your city of Cologne ;
But tell me, Nymphs, what power divine
Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine ?

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

1 Response

  1. Vince Cornell says:

    I enjoyed these, especially the one about Cologne. I read it to the kids who liked it. Two and seventy stenches! It was nice to read something Coleridge other than Kubla Kahn and Ancient Mariner.