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Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Dejection: An Ode


Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon,
With the old Moon in her arms;
And I fear, I fear, my Master dear!
We shall have a deadly storm.
            (Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence)

I
              1Well! If the Bard was weather-wise, who made
              2     The grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spence,
              3     This night, so tranquil now, will not go hence
              4Unroused by winds, that ply a busier trade
              5Than those which mould yon cloud in lazy flakes,
              6Or the dull sobbing draft, that moans and rakes
              7Upon the strings of this {AE}olian lute,
              8           Which better far were mute.
              9      For lo! the New-moon winter-bright!
            10      And overspread with phantom light,
            11      (With swimming phantom light o'erspread
            12      But rimmed and circled by a silver thread)
            13I see the old Moon in her lap, foretelling
            14      The coming-on of rain and squally blast.
            15And oh! that even now the gust were swelling,
            16      And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!
            17Those sounds which oft have raised me, whilst they awed,
            18           And sent my soul abroad,
            19Might now perhaps their wonted impulse give,
            20Might startle this dull pain, and make it move and live!

II
            21A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,
            22      A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,
            23      Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
            24           In word, or sigh, or tear--
            25O Lady! in this wan and heartless mood,
            26To other thoughts by yonder throstle woo'd,
            27      All this long eve, so balmy and serene,
            28Have I been gazing on the western sky,
            29      And its peculiar tint of yellow green:
            30And still I gaze--and with how blank an eye!
            31And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars,
            32That give away their motion to the stars;
            33Those stars, that glide behind them or between,
            34Now sparkling, now bedimmed, but always seen:
            35Yon crescent Moon, as fixed as if it grew
            36In its own cloudless, starless lake of blue;
            37I see them all so excellently fair
            38I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!

III
            39      My genial spirits fail;
            40      And what can these avail
            41To lift the smothering weight from off my breast?
            42      It were a vain endeavour,
            43      Though I should gaze for ever
            44On that green light that lingers in the west:
            45I may not hope from outward forms to win
            46The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.

IV
            47O Lady! we receive but what we give,
            48And in our life alone does Nature live:
            49Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud!
            50      And would we aught behold, of higher worth,
            51Than that inanimate cold world allowed
            52To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd,
            53      Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth
            54A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud
            55           Enveloping the Earth--
            56And from the soul itself must there be sent
            57      A sweet and potent voice, of its own birth,
            58Of all sweet sounds the life and element!

V
            59O pure of heart! thou need'st not ask of me
            60What this strong music in the soul may be!
            61What, and wherein it doth exist,
            62This light, this glory, this fair luminous mist,
            63This beautiful and beauty-making power.
            64      Joy, virtuous Lady! Joy that ne'er was given,
            65Save to the pure, and in their purest hour,
            66Life, and Life's effluence, cloud at once and shower,
            67Joy, Lady! is the spirit and the power,
            68Which wedding Nature to us gives in dower
            69      A new Earth and new Heaven,
            70Undreamt of by the sensual and the proud--
            71Joy is the sweet voice, Joy the luminous cloud--
            72           We in ourselves rejoice!
            73And thence flows all that charms or ear or sight,
            74      All melodies the echoes of that voice,
            75All colours a suffusion from that light.

VI
            76There was a time when, though my path was rough,
            77      This joy within me dallied with distress,
            78And all misfortunes were but as the stuff
            79      Whence Fancy made me dreams of happiness:
            80For hope grew round me, like the twining vine,
            81And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seemed mine.
            82But now afflictions bow me down to earth:
            83Nor care I that they rob me of my mirth;
            84           But oh! each visitation
            85Suspends what nature gave me at my birth,
            86      My shaping spirit of Imagination.
            87For not to think of what I needs must feel,
            88      But to be still and patient, all I can;
            89And haply by abstruse research to steal
            90      From my own nature all the natural man--
            91      This was my sole resource, my only plan:
            92Till that which suits a part infects the whole,
            93And now is almost grown the habit of my soul.

VII
            94Hence, viper thoughts, that coil around my mind,
            95           Reality's dark dream!
            96I turn from you, and listen to the wind,
            97      Which long has raved unnoticed. What a scream
            98Of agony by torture lengthened out
            99That lute sent forth! Thou Wind, that rav'st without,
          100      Bare crag, or mountain-tairn, or blasted tree,
          101Or pine-grove whither woodman never clomb,
          102Or lonely house, long held the witches' home,
          103      Methinks were fitter instruments for thee,
          104Mad Lutanist! who in this month of showers,
          105Of dark-brown gardens, and of peeping flowers,
          106Mak'st Devils' yule, with worse than wintry song,
          107The blossoms, buds, and timorous leaves among.
          108      Thou Actor, perfect in all tragic sounds!
          109Thou mighty Poet, e'en to frenzy bold!
          110           What tell'st thou now about?
          111           'Tis of the rushing of an host in rout,
          112      With groans, of trampled men, with smarting wounds--
          113At once they groan with pain, and shudder with the cold!
          114But hush! there is a pause of deepest silence!
          115      And all that noise, as of a rushing crowd,
          116With groans, and tremulous shudderings--all is over--
          117      It tells another tale, with sounds less deep and loud!
          118           A tale of less affright,
          119           And tempered with delight,
          120As Otway's self had framed the tender lay,--
          121           'Tis of a little child
          122           Upon a lonesome wild,
          123Nor far from home, but she hath lost her way:
          124And now moans low in bitter grief and fear,
          125And now screams loud, and hopes to make her mother hear.

VIII
          126'Tis midnight, but small thoughts have I of sleep:
          127Full seldom may my friend such vigils keep!
          128Visit her, gentle Sleep! with wings of healing,
          129      And may this storm be but a mountain-birth,
          130May all the stars hang bright above her dwelling,
          131      Silent as though they watched the sleeping Earth!
          132           With light heart may she rise,
          133           Gay fancy, cheerful eyes,
          134      Joy lift her spirit, joy attune her voice;
          135To her may all things live, from pole to pole,
          136Their life the eddying of her living soul!
          137      O simple spirit, guided from above,
          138Dear Lady! friend devoutest of my choice,
          139Thus mayest thou ever, evermore rejoice.

Notes

1] Written in April 1802, first in a letter to Sara Hutchinson in a longer and more personal version, the poem as revised was first published in the Morning Post on Wordsworth's wedding day, October 4, 1802. The original version, which has its own charm and personal interests, though a less polished poem, is found most accurately transcribed in G. Whalley, Coleridge, Sara Hutchinson and the Asra Poems, 1955, 155-68.

25] O Lady! Originally the reading was "O Sara!", then "O Edmund" (meaning Wordsworth), in the Morning Post version, and in Sibylline Leaves and subsequent editions as here.

39-58] Probably a reply to the first four stanzas of Wordsworth's Immortality ode, which Wordsworth read to Coleridge a few days before these lines were written.

120] As Otway's self: originally Edmund's self, i.e., Wordsworth's self, a reference to Wordsworth's "Lucy Gray." Thomas Otway, of Charles II's time, wrote plays notable for their pathos, one of which entitled The Orphan was possibly in Coleridge's mind in this revision.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Morning Post (Oct. 4, 1802; as revised).
Publication date note: April 1802: see G. Whalley, Coleridge, Sara Hutchinson and the Asra Poems (London: Routledge and Paul, 1955): 155-68, for the first version. PR 4483.W49 1955b SMC
RPO poem editor: Kathleen Coburn, R. S. Woof
RP edition: 3RP 2.466.
Recent editing: 4:2002/3/20

Composition date: 1802
Form note: irregular (couplets and quatrains)


Other poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge