Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Devonshire, England in October of 1772. After his father died, Coleridge moved to London where he studied at Christ’s Hospital School. While there, he accumulated a large debt that followed him for his entire life.
In the late 1790s, Coleridge met William Wordsworth and began the most important period of his writing. Wordsworth and Coleridge soon started their collaboration on Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems that is considered to be one of the greatest works of the Romantic Movement. It was published in 1798. Coleridge died in July of 1834 after struggling with illness and an addiction to opium.
Top 10 Samuel Taylor Coleridge Poems
Work without Hope
‘Work without Hope’ describes the way that nature works and the importance of having a goal to direct one’s life. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s main character begins the poem somewhere out in nature. There is all manner of life around him, including bees, birds, and plants. He takes note of how numerous the forms of life are, and how they are all working towards independent goals. The birds sing and the bees make honey. He is the sole “unbusy” element in this forest.
As the poem progresses he comes to terms with the fact that he is contributing nothing to his own life and his simple presence in the world is not enough. The speaker realizes that he is standing by, unhelpful. The flowers will not bloom simply because he is there. It is this lack of direction, and goalless outlook on life, that is dragging him down, mentally and emotionally. He has no hopes to work towards, nor any real object to set his mind on.
This poem is in the form of a narrative ballad and is divided into two parts, the first written around 1797 and the second in 1800. Coleridge planned on adding three other parts to the narrative but they were never finished. The poem was finally published in 1816 in a pamphlet that also included two other poems on this list, ‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Pains of Sleep’.
‘Christabel’ focuses on an encounter between Christabel and another person named Geraldine. The latter speaks about a terrible ordeal she has been through and evokes Christabel’s pity. Unfortunately, nothing is what it seems and after taking the woman home, a number of strange things occur. The reader is left at a loss, without a resolution as the poem remained unfinished.
Dejection: An Ode
‘Dejection: An Ode’ was written in 1802 and, despite being married to someone else, was dedicated to the poet’s love interest, Sara Hutchinson. The poem was published (in 1802 in Morning Post), revised, and published again until many of the personal details had been removed. Some versions are as long as 340 lines, and others as short as 139. But, at its simplest, the text is about a writer’s inability to write because of the mental and emotional state he is in. In the real world of Coleridge’s troubled love, the problems raised in the poem are resolved when Coleridge decided to cut off all contact with Hutchinson.
The Pains of Sleep
‘The Pains of Sleep’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes a period in a speaker’s life in which he is besieged by terrible imagery. These images are representative of the horrors of humankind and the speaker is unable to shake them from his mind. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker describes a very simple horror: he has been laying in his bed for an extended period of time, unable to move. The only outlet he has is prayer, so he turns his soul over from “reverential resignation” to “Love”. Hopefully, this action will result in his thoughts and body being purified.
Frost at Midnight
‘Frost at Midnight’ was written in 1798 and discusses the importance of childhood and the developmental years of one’s life. It also speaks on the power of nature and how it influences the aging process. Particularly, the poem discusses Coleridge’s own childhood. He speaks negatively about how he was raised and declares that being raised in a natural environment is critical if a child is to have a positive youth. He was interested in presenting the idea that if one resides within nature, they are also within God.
The Knight’s Tomb
The poem, ‘The Knight’s Tomb,’ is an allegory. This means that it has a message for the reader, beneath that which seems most obvious. The most important theme Coleridge engages within the poem is time, and its ability to destroy. He speaks about this force, which impacts every living and nonliving thing, through the description of Sir Arthur O’Kellyn’s grave. He asks the reader where the grave is located and then proceeds to explain where it is. It is in a natural scene that is in a constant state of flux. The speaker adds, “The Knight’s bones are dust” but, he believes the knight’s “soul is with the saints”.
‘Love’ details an emotional and physical relationship between a speaker and the woman he woos through storytelling. The speaker knows that love is the most important of the emotions because it is connected to all other emotions and experiences. When Coleridge’s speaker considers love, he thinks of a woman named Genevieve. He spends the majority of ‘Love’ relaying to the reader how he wooed Genevieve. It took time, and the influence of a loving and sorrowful story to bring her to him.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
This poem is most certainly Coleridge’s best-known. It was written between 1797 and 1798 and first appeared in Lyrical Ballads. It is a frame narrative focusing on the story of a mariner who wants to tell his story. Broadly, it is based around one man’s choice to shoot down an albatross and the bad luck that strikes the ship afterward. It is thought that Coleridge was inspired to write ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ while spending time with William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. Wordsworth himself claimed to have given Samuel Taylor Coleridge the basis for the story by relaying the narrative of another story, A Voyage Round The World by Way of the Great South Sea by Captain George Shelvocke, published in 1726.
The full title of this poem is ‘Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment. Samuel Taylor Coleridge finished it in 1797 and published in 1816 alongside ‘Christabel’ and ‘The Pains of Sleep’. The preface tells the reader that the inspiration came from a dream the writer had, while under the influence of opium and reading about the summer palace (Xanadu) of Kubla Khan, the Mongol ruler. Coleridge also claims in the preface that he was interrupted while writing, and could therefore not finish the poem as he has planned. It was not until he was encouraged by Lord Byron to do so that Coleridge published the piece. Today, the poem is considered to be one of, if not the, most famous example of Romanticism in the English language.
‘Human Life’ describes a speaker’s frustration with the idea that there is in fact no purpose to life, nor is there existence after death. The speaker meditates on what happens after one dies. Considering, as some think, that when someone dies, they are dead for good. There is nothing to penetrate the “gloom” and “doom” that is death. Life is brief, a “flash,” and is then over. But, the speaker considers life and death very differently. He uses the example of Milton, saying that no one as important as Milton could possibly know a final death. Surely, he declares, there is something else.
The speaker also discusses the fact that some believe that “Nature” created humanity purposelessly. He speaks with exaggerating language, laboring over the metaphor of “Nature” simply becoming bored and offhandedly making humankind.
2 thoughts on “Top 10 Samuel Taylor Coleridge Poems”
they’re all rubbish they aint got no bars like me #fire
Yes, Harley – I’m sure you are a better poet than Coleridge. I have a better right foot than Beckham, but I choose not to brag. It’s called modesty, my friend.