FTER Coleridge and Wordsworth once met they soon became fast
friends, and in order to be near Coleridge the Wordsworths moved
to another house near
Coleridge was two years or more younger than Wordsworth, having
been born in 1772. He was the thirteenth child of his father,
who was a clergyman. As a boy he was sensitive and lonely,
liking better to
At school even his fellows saw how clever Coleridge was. He read
greedily and talked with any one who would listen and answer. In
his lonely wanderings about London on
In a few months, however, he was discovered, and his brothers bought him out. He then went back to Cambridge, but left again at the end of the same year without taking a degree.
Meantime, while on a visit to Oxford, he had met Southey, another poet who was at this time a student there.
Robert Southey was born in 1774, and was the son of a Bristol
linen draper, but he was brought up chiefly by an aunt in Bath.
At fourteen he went to school at Westminster, and later to
Balliol College, Oxford. When Coleridge met him he was just
twenty, and Coleridge
With some others of like mind they formed a little society, which
they called the Pantisocracy, from Greek words meaning
Coleridge, about the same time as he married, published a volume of poems. But as this did not bring him wealth he then tried various other ways of making a living. He began a weekly paper which ceased after a few numbers, he lectured on history, and preached in various Unitarian chapels. Then after a time he settled at Nether Stowey, where he was living when he met Wordsworth.
The two poets, as has been said, at once became friends, Coleridge having a deep and whole-hearted admiration for Wordworth's genius. "I speak with heartfelt sincerity," he says, "and I think unblinded judgment, when I tell you that I feel a little man by his side."
The two friends had many walks and talks together, shaping their ideas of what poetry should be. They at length decided to publish a book together to be called Lyrical Ballads.
In this book there was published the poem which of all that
Coleridge wrote is the best known, The Ancient Mariner. It tells
how this old old sailor stops a guest who is going to a wedding,
and bids him hear a tale. The wedding guest does not wish to
stay, but the old man holds him with his skinny
"He holds him with his glittering
The Wedding Guest stood still,
And listens like three years' child:
The Mariner hath his will."
He hath his will, and tells how the ship sailed forth gayly, and
how it met after a time with storms, and cold, and fog, until at
last it was all beset with ice. Then when to the sailors all
hope seemed lost, an albatross came sailing through the fog.
With joy they hailed it, the only living thing in that wilderness
of ice. They fed it with
"It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
And round and round it flew:
The ice did split with a
The helmsman steered us through!"
Then on they gladly sailed, the albatross following, until one
day the Ancient Mariner, in a mad moment, shot the beautiful
bird. In punishment for this deed terrible disasters fell upon
that ship and its crew. Under a
blazing sun, in a hot and slimy
sea filled with creeping, crawling things, they were
"Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean."
Then plague and death came, and every man died except the guilty
"Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea;
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.
"I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gush'd,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust."
But one day as the Mariner watched the water snakes, the only
living things in all that dreadful waste, he blessed them
unaware, merely because they were alive. That
"Oh, dream of joy! is this indeed
The lighthouse top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this mine own countree?
"We drifted o'er the
And I with sobs did
'O let me be awake, my God!
Or let me sleep a
The ship had indeed reached home, but in the harbor it suddenly sank like lead. Only the Mariner was saved.
When once more he came to land, he told his tale to a holy hermit
and was shriven, but ever and anon afterward an agony comes upon
him and forces him to tell the tale again, even as he has just
done to the wedding guest. And thus he ends his
"He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God, who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."
Then he goes, leaving the wondering wedding guest alone.
"The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone; and now the Wedding Guest
Turned from the Bridegroom's door.
"He went, like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn."
Among the poems which Wordsworth wrote for the book of Lyrical
Ballads, was one which every one knows,
"I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
"In her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it griev'd my heart to think
What man has made of man.
"Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
"The birds around me hopp'd and play'd,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion that they made,
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.
"The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
"If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?"
The book was not a success. People did not understand The
Ancient Mariner, and they laughed at Wordsworth's simple lyrics,
although the last poem in the book,
And now, as this new book was not a success, and as he did not seem able to make enough money as a poet, Coleridge seriously began to think of becoming a Unitarian preacher altogether. But, the Wedgwoods, the famous potters, wealthy men with cultured minds and kindly hearts, offered him one hundred and fifty pounds a year if he would give himself up to poetry and philosophy. After some hesitation, Coleridge consented, and that winter he set off for a visit to Germany with the Wordsworths.
It was on their return from this visit that Wordsworth again
changed his home and went to live at
The days at Grasmere flowed along peacefully and almost without
an event. Wordsworth published a second volume of lyrical
ballads, and then went on writing and working steadily at his
Coleridge soon followed his friend, and settled at
It seemed hardly to break the peaceful flow of life at Dove
"She was a Phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament;
Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight's, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
A dancing Shape, an Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and waylay.
"I saw her upon nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A Creature not too bright and good
For human nature's daily food;
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.
"And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A Being breathing thoughtful breath,
A Traveller between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright
With something of angelic light."
The years passed in quiet fashion, with friendly comings and goings, with journeys here and there, now to Scotland, now to the Continent.
Children were born, friends died, and once or twice the Wordsworths changed their house until they finally settled at Rydal Mount, and there the poet remained for the rest of his long life. And all the time, for more than fifty years, Wordsworth steadily wrote, but it is not too much to say that all his best work was done in the twenty years between 1798 and 1818.
Besides The Prelude, of which we have already spoken,
Wordsworth's other long poems are
The Excursion, though a long poem, is only part of what
Wordsworth meant to write. He meant in three books to give his
opinions on Man, Nature, and Society, and the whole was to be
called The Recluse. To this great work
One of the most beautiful of all his poems Wordsworth calls by
the cumbrous name of Intimations of Immortality from recollections
of Early Childhood. This is his way of saying that when we are
small we are nearer the wonder-world than when we grow up, and
that when we first open our eyes on this world they have not
quite forgotten the wonderful sights they saw in that eternity
whence we came, for the soul has no beginning, therefore no
ending. I will give you here one verse of this
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily further from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day."
Wordsworth, for the times in which he lived, traveled a good
deal, and in his comings and goings he made many new friends and
met all the great literary men of his day. And by slow degrees
his poetry won its way, and the younger men looked up to him as
to a master. The great, too, came to see in him a power. Since
1813 Southey had been Laureate, and when in 1843 he died, the
honor was given to Wordsworth. He was now an old man of
seventy-three, and although he still wrote a few poems, he wrote nothing
as Laureate, except an ode in honor of the Prince Consort when he
became Chancellor of Cambridge University. Now, as he grew old,
one by one death bade his friends to leave
"Like clouds that rake the mountain summits,
Or waves that own no curbing hand,
How fast has brother followed brother,
From sunshine to the sunless land!
"Yet I whose lids from infant slumber
Were earlier raised, remain to hear
A timid voice, that asks in whispers
'Who next will drop and
At length in 1850, at the age of eighty, he too closed his eyes, and went "From sunshine to the sunless land."
"But where will Europe's latter hour
Again find Wordsworth's healing power?
Others will teach us how to dare,
And against fear our breast to steel;
Others will strengthen us to
But who, ah! who, will make us feel?"
Poems of Wordsworth, selected by C. L. Thomson.
Selections, by Matthew Arnold.