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one would rather preserve “Kubla Khan” and “ Christabel” than any other of Coleridge's poems. It is more conceivable that another man should be born capable of writing the “Ancient Mariner” than one capable of writing these. The former is perhaps the most wonder- ! ful of all poems. In reading it we seem rapt into that paradise revealed to Swedenborg, where music and colour and perfume were one, where you could hear the hues and see the harmonies of heaven. For absolute melody and splendour it were hardly rash to call it the first poem in the language. An exquisite instinct married to a subtle science of verse has made it the supreme model of music in our language, a model unapproachable except by Shelley. All the elements that compose the perfect form of English metre, as limbs and veins and features a beautiful body of man, were more familiar, more subject as it were, to this great poet than to any other. How, for instance, no less than rhyme, assonance and alliteration are forces, requisite components of high and ample harmony, witness once for all the divine passage ! which begins
“Five miles meandering with a mazy motion," &c. All these least details and delicacies of work are worth notice when the result of them is so transcendent. Every line of the poem might be subjected to the like scrutiny, but the student would be none the nearer to the
I Witness also the matchless fragments of metrical criticism in Coleridge's “ Remains," which prove with what care and relish the most sweet and perfect melodist among all our poets would set himself to examine and explain the alternations and sequences of sound in the noblest verse of others.
master's secret. The spirit, the odour in it, the cloven tongue of fire that rests upon its forehead, is a thing neither explicable nor communicable.
Of all Coleridge's poems the loveliest is assuredly “Christabel.” It is not so vast in scope and reach of imagination as the “Ancient Mariner;" it is not so miraculous as “Kubla Khan;" but for simple charm of inner and outer sweetness it is unequalled by either. The very terror and mystery of magical evil is imbued with this sweetness ; the witch has no less of it than the maiden ; their contact has in it nothing dissonant or disfiguring, nothing to jar or to deface the beauty and harmony of the whole imagination. As for the melody, here again it is incomparable with any other poet's. Shelley indeed comes nearest ; but for purity and volume of music Shelley is to Coleridge as a lark to a nightingale ; his song heaven-high and clear as heaven, but the other's more rich and weighty, more passionately various, and warmer in effusion of sound. On the other hand, the nobler nature, the clearer spirit of Shelley, fills his verse with a divine force of meaning, which Coleridge, who had it not in him, could not affect to give. That sensuous fluctuation of soul, that floating fervour of fancy, whence his poetry rose as from a shifting sea, in faultless completion of form and charm, had absorbed—if indeed there were any to absorb_all
From this general rule I except of course the transcendent antiphonal music which winds up the “ Prometheus” of Shelley, and should perhaps except also the “Ode to the West Wind," and the close of the “ Ode to Naples." Against “Christabel" it would for example be fairer to set “The Sensitive Plant" for comparison of harmonies.
emotion of love or faith, all heroic beauty of moral passion, all inner and outer life of the only kind possible to such other poets as Dante or Shelley, Milton or Hugo. This is neither blameable nor regrettable; none of these could have done his work; nor could he have done it had he been in any way other or better than he was. Neither, for that matter, could we have had a Hamlet or a Faust from any of these, the poets of moral faith and passion, any more than a “Divina Commedia” from Shakespeare, a “Prometheus Unbound” from Goethe. Let us give thanks for each after their kind to nature and the fates.
Alike by his powers and his impotences, by his capacity and his defect, Coleridge was inapt for dramatic poetry. It were no discredit to have fallen short of Shelley on this side, to be overcome by him who has written the one great English play of modern times; but here the very comparison would seem a jest. There is little worth praise or worth memory in the “Remorse" except such casual fragments of noble verse as may readily be detached from the loose and friable stuff in which they lie imbedded. In the scene of the incantation, in the scene of the dungeon, there are two such pure and precious fragments of gold. In the part of Alhadra there are lofty and sonorous interludes of declamation and reflection. The characters are flat and shallow ; the plot is at once languid, violent, and heavy. To touch the string of the spirit, thread the west of evil and' good, feel out the way of the soul through dark places of thought and rough places of action, was not given to this the sweetest dreamer of dreams. In
“ Zapolya" there are no such patches of imperial purple sewn on, but there is more of air and motion ; little enough indeed of high dramatic quality, but a native grace and ease which give it something of the charm of life. In this lighter and more rapid work, the song of Glycine flashes out like a visible sunbeam ; it is one of the brightest bits of music ever done into words.
The finest of Coleridge's odes is beyond all doubt the “Ode to France." Shelley declared it the finest of modern times, and justly, until himself and Keats had written up to it at least. It were profitless now to discuss whether it should take or yield precedence when weighed with the “Ode to Liberty” or the “Ode to Naples." There is in it a noble and loyal love of freedom, though less fiery at once and less firm than Shelley's, as it proved in the end less durable and deep. The prelude is magnificent in music, and in sentiment and emotion far above any other of his poems; nor are the last notes inadequate to this majestic overture. Equal in force and sweetness of style, the “Ode on Dejection" ranks next in my mind to this one ; some may prefer its vaguer harmonies and sunset colours to the statelier movement, the more august and solemn passion of the earlier ode.'
Some time later, when France, already stripped of freedom and violated by treason, was openly paraded in her prostitution to the first Buonaparte, Coleridge published his “Ode to Tranquillity,” beginning with two stanzas since retrenched. Having unearthed them in the “ Annual Register for 1801" (vol. xliii., p. 525), I set them down here as better worth saving than most of his political verse :
• It is noticeable that only his supreme gift of lyrical power could sustain Coleridge on political ground. His attempts of the kind in blank verse are poor indeed :
“Untimely breathings, sick and short assays." Compare the nerveless and hysterical verses headed “ Fears in Solitude” (exquisite as is the overture, faultless in tone and colour, and worthy of a better sequel) with the majestic and masculine sonnet of Wordsworth, written at the same time on the same subject : the lesser poet-for, great as he is, I at least cannot hold Wordsworth, though so much the stronger and more admirable man, equal to Coleridge as mere poet-speaks with a calm force of thought and resolution ; Coleridge wails, appeals, deprecates, objurgates in a flaccid and querulous fashion without heart or spirit. This debility of. mind and manner is set off in strong relief by the loveliness of landscape touches in the same poem. The
" What statesmen scheme, and soldiers work;
Whether the Pontiff or the Turk
“ Disturb[s] not me! Some tears I shed
When bow'd the Swiss his noble head;