The acquisition of self-knowledge from a bond with nature is one of the most prevalent themes in the poetic works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge shared a friendship with fellow Romantic poet, William Wordsworth that spanned throughout both careers. Both writers shared a reverence and regard for the natural world and understood man’s connection to nature.
This theme is best exemplified in Coleridge’s poem “This Lime-Tree Bower, My Prison.” Written in the autobiographical voice of Coleridge, “Lime-Tree,” is a conversational poem to his friend Charles Lamb. Written while incapacitated in his cottage, Coleridge embarks on a mental journey of introspection, epiphany and eventually self-discovery. In the poem, Coleridge expresses the isolation he feels: “This lime-tree bower, my prison! I have lost/ Beauties and feelings such as would have been” (2-3). The speaker yearns to enjoy the things that his visiting companions are able to enjoy. To Coleridge, not being able to partake in the joys of nature is torturous. He views nature as the unifying agent of all human beings. It is this adoration of nature that links Coleridge to many of his companions. In the poem, Coleridge reveals his friend’s desire to leave the city and enjoy a simpler life:” …thou hast pinned/ And hunger’d after Nature, many a year, / In the great City” (28-30). Although this desire is portrayed as Charles’s fantasy, Coleridge also wished for an idyllic life in which he could live in perfect harmony with nature. This desire manifested itself in Coleridge’s plan to live in a utopian community where writers could commune with nature and focus on literature. However, these plans never came into fruition. The unsuccessfulness of his plan fueled his discontent with his current state of being. However, it is through this inability to interact with nature, that he gets a deeper understanding of himself. He realizes that self-pity should be disregarded and that he should enjoy the experiences of life and nature. This epiphany allows him to no longer view the lime-tree as a prison: “Pale beneath the blaze/ Hung the transparent foliage, and I watch’d-” (47-8). He is able to see and enjoy life again. Coleridge accepts his situation and has found peace within it and within himself.
“Dejection: An Ode” also by Coleridge is his poetic manifestation of lost love and imagination and it outlines the journey in which the poet regains his sense of self. Coleridge uses many elements of the natural world to express his feelings of loss and reclamation. The moon and the wind are used as symbols to express aspects of Coleridge’s journey to rediscovering self. The moon is a symbol of beauty to which the speaker compares himself. As he gazes at the moon, he realizes it’s beauty, but is unable to connect to the feelings that the beauty evokes: “I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!” (38). This is the speaker’s first recognition that there is a problem. He knows that there is something keeping him from his imagination: “But oh! Each visitation/ Suspends what nature gave me at my birth, / My shaping spirit of Imagination” (84-6). Like Wordsworth, Coleridge acknowledges that the human connection with nature is first evident at birth. He also knows that his inability to feel and connect with nature is detrimental to his existence as a poet. The answer to his problem comes when nature returns what has been taken from him. In the poem, the wind serves as the speaker’s personal savior and reconnects him with his self: “I turn from you and listen to the wind” (96). By listening to the wind he is guided to his former self, a man capable of love and imagination.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge fully aligns himself to nature in many of his poems. The author’s constant return to nature is strengthens his relationships. Coleridge uses man’s connection to nature to direct him to his creativity and essentially to his self.
Samuel Coleridge. “Dejection: An Ode.” http://www.bartleby.com/41/421.html.
Samuel Coleridge. “This Lime-tree Bower, My Prison.” http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=173248