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I have said, he was a contrast to his friend Wordsworth. That friendship with Wordsworth, the chief 'developing' circumstance of his poetic life, comprehended a very close intellectual sympathy; and in this association chiefly, lies whatever truth there may be in the popular classification of Coleridge as a member of what is called the ‘Lake School Coleridge's philosophical speculations do really turn on the ideas which underlay Wordsworth's poetical practice. His prose works are one long explanation of all that is involved in that famous distinction between the Fancy and the Imagination. Of what is understood by both as the imaginative quality in the use of mere poetic figures, we may take some words of Shakespeare as an example :-
My cousin Suffolk,
Tarry, sweet soul, for mine, then fly abreast.' The complete infusion here, of the figure into the thought, so vividly realised that though the birds are not actually mentioned yet the sense of their flight, conveyed to us by the single word
abreast,' comes to be more than half of the thought itself ;this, as the expression of exalted feeling, is an instance of what Coleridge meant by Imagination. And this sort of identification of the poet's thought, of himself, with the image or figure which serves him, is the secret, sometimes, of a singularly entire realisation of that image, which makes this figure of Coleridge's, for instance, 'imaginative':
• Amid the howl of more than wintry storms,
Already on the wing.' There are many such figures both in Coleridge's prose and verse. He has too his passages of that sort of impassioned contemplation on the permanent and elementary conditions of nature and humanity, which Wordsworth held to be the essence of the poetic life, and its object to awaken in other men-those 'moments, as Coleridge says, addressing him,
The whole of the poem from which those lines are taken, 'composed on the night after Wordsworth's recitation of a poem on the growth of an individual mind,' is, in its strain of impassioned contemplation, and in the combined justness and elevation of its philosophical expression
high and passionate thoughts To their own music chanted;'entirely sympathetic with The Prelude which it celebrates, and of which the subject is, in effect, the generation of the spirit of the Lake poetry. The Lines to Joseph Cottle have the same philosophically imaginative character ; the Ode to Dejection being Coleridge's most sustained effort of this sort.
It is in a highly sensitive apprehension of the aspects of external nature that Coleridge identifies himself most closely with one of the main tendencies of the ‘Lake School ;' a tendency instinctive, and no mere matter of theory, in him as in Wordsworth. That record of the
Which lingers in the west,' and again, of
the western sky And its peculiar tint of yellow green,' which Byron found ludicrously untrue, but which surely needs no defence, is a characteristic example of a singular watchfulness for the minute fact and expression of natural scenery, pervading all he writes--a closeness to the exact physiognomy of nature, having something to do with that idealistic philosophy, which sees in the external world no mere concurrence of mechanical agencies, but an animated body, informed and made expressive, like the body of man, by an indwelling intelligence. It was a tendency, doubtless, in the air, for Shelley too is affected by it, and Turner, with the school of landscape which followed him. I had found,' Coleridge tells us,
• That outward forms, the loftiest, still receive
Their finer influence from the world within ;
History and prophecy ...!! and this induces in him no indifference to actual colour and form and process, but such minute realism as this
• The thin grey cloud is spread on high,
or this, which has a touch of romantic 'weirdness
Nought was green upon the oak
But moss and rarest misletoe;' or this
• There is not wind enough to twirl
The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky;'~ or this, with a weirdness again, like that of some wild French etcher
Lo! the new-moon winter-bright!
He has the same imaginative apprehension of the silent and unseen processes of nature, its 'ministries' of dew and frost, for instance; as when he writes in April
A balmy night! and though the stars be dim,
Of such imaginative treatment of landscape there is no better instance than in the description of the Dell, in Fears in Solitude,
• A green and silent spot amid the hills,
A small and silent dell! O'er stiller place
•But the dell,
•The gust that roared and died away
• heard and only heard In this low dell, bowed not the delicate grass.' This curious dwelling of the mind on one particular spot, till it seems to attain real expression and a sort of soul in it-a mood so characteristic of the 'Lake School'occurs in an earnest political poem, 'written in April, 1798, during the alarm of an invasion ;' and that silent dell is the background against which the tumultuous fears of the poet are in strong relief, while the quiet sense of it, maintained all through them, gives a real poetic unity to the piece. Good political poetry-political poetry that shall be permanently moving-can, perhaps, only be written on motives which, for those whom they concern, have ceased to be open questions and are really beyond argument; and Coleridge's political poems are for the most part on open questions. For although it was a great part of his intellectual ambition to subject political questions to the action of the fundamental ideas of his philosophy, he was still an ardent partisan, first on one side, then on the other, of the actual politics of the end of the last and the beginning of the present century, where there is still room for much difference of opinion. Yet The Destiny of Nations, though formless as a whole, and unfinished, has many traces of his most elevated speculation, cast into that sort of imaginative philosophical expression, in which, in effect, the language itself is inseparable from, or a part of the thought. France, an Ode, begins with the famous apostrophe to Liberty :
• Ye Clouds! that far above me Aoat and pause,
Whose pathless march no mortal may control !
Midway the smooth and perilous slope reclined,
Have made a solemn music of the wind !
How oft, pursuing fancies holy,
O ye loud Waves! and ye Forests high!
And O ye Clouds that far above me soar'd !
The spirit of divinest liberty.'
And the whole ode, though, in Coleridge's way, not quite equal to that exordium, is an example of strong national sentiment, partly in indignant reaction against his own earlier sympathy with the French republic, inspiring a composition which, in spite of some turgid lines, really justifies itself as poetry, and has that true unity of effect which the ode requires. Liberty, after all his hopes of young France, is only to be found in nature :
'Thou speedest on thy subtle pinions The guide of homeless winds, and playmate of the waves !' In his changes of political sentiment Coleridge was associated with the ‘Lake School ;' and there is yet one other very different sort of sentiment in which he is one with that school, yet all himself, his sympathy, namely, with the animal world. That was a sentiment connected at once with the love of outward nature in himself and in the 'Lake School,' and its assertion of the natural affections in their simplicity; with the homeliness and pity, consequent upon that assertion. The Lines to a Young Ass, tethered,
• Where the close-eaten grass is scarcely seen,
While sweet around her waves the tempting green,' which had seemed merely whimsical in their day, indicate a vein of interest constant in Coleridge's poems, and at its height in his chief poems-in Christabel, where it has its effect, as it were antipathetically, in the vivid realisation of the serpentine element in Geraldine's nature ; and in The Ancient Mariner, whose fate is interwoven with that of the wonderful bird, the curse for whose death begins to pass away at the Mariner's blessing of the watersnakes, and where the moral of the love of all creatures, as a sort of religious duty, is definitely expressed.
Christabel, though not printed till 1816, was written mainly in the year 1797. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was printed as contribution to the Lyrical Ballads, in 1798. These two poems belong to the great year of Coleridge's poetic production,