Fears in Solitude by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

This poem, Fears in Solitude, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge was likely controversial in its time. It is clear that the speaker does not entirely support the government under which he lives. And yet, he expresses a deep love and devotion to his country. The speaker effectively gains the attention of his audience by first painting a picture of a beautiful place in nature. In this place, the speaker is able to be in the stillness, away from the chaos of every day life. When he finds himself in his place of solitude, his fears begin to grip him. His fears are for the fate of his countrymen. The tone shifts to one of lamenting and calling for change. He beseeches his fellow countrymen to acknowledge their wrongdoing and to stand up for what is right rather than worship the idol of the British government.

The speaker makes it very clear that he does not wish to be divisive, and he certainly does not wish to make himself an enemy of his country. He expresses his love for his country and gratefulness for the ways in which his country has shaped him. Yet, the speaker believes that he is able to see something that his brethen may not see, namely the vices of his country. The speaker yearns for peace for humanity, not war and death. He believes that his country has called down chaos upon itself. He desperately prays that the threats his country received may be empty and may pass away like ashes in the wind. He is less than confident that this will happen, however, and so he calls to his fellow countrymen to change, to stand up for what is right, to acknowledge their wrongs, and to fight not only for their own people, but for all of humanity.

 

Fears in Solitude Analysis

Stanza 1

A green and silent spot, amid the hills,
A small and silent dell ! O’er stiller place
No singing sky-lark ever poised himself.
The hills are heathy, save that swelling slope,
Which hath a gay and gorgeous covering on,
All golden with the never-bloomless furze,
Which now blooms most profusely : but the dell,
Bathed by the mist, is fresh and delicate
As vernal corn-field, or the unripe flax,
When, through its half-transparent stalks, at eve,
The level sunshine glimmers with green light.
Oh ! ’tis a quiet spirit-healing nook !
Which all, methinks, would love ; but chiefly he,
The humble man, who, in his youthful years,
Knew just so much of folly, as had made
His early manhood more securely wise !
Here he might lie on fern or withered heath,
While from the singing lark (that sings unseen
The minstrelsy that solitude loves best),
And from the sun, and from the breezy air,
Sweet influences trembled o’er his frame ;
And he, with many feelings, many thoughts,
Made up a meditative joy, and found
Religious meanings in the forms of Nature !
And so, his senses gradually wrapt
In a half sleep, he dreams of better worlds,
And dreaming hears thee still, O singing lark,
That singest like an angel in the clouds !

Like many before and after him, the speaker of this poem has found a sense of solitude in nature. He has found a place in which he can be alone and connect with his inner being. Many people have claimed to feeler closer to God when alone in nature. This speaker suggests that even “religious meanings” can be found “in forms of Nature”. As he observes the beautiful hills and listens to the sky lark which he can hear but cannot see, he concludes that all of his “many feelings” and “many thoughts” consist of “a meditative joy”. Readers can relate with this description, as many have found a sense of calm, peace, and joy when once separated from the chaos of normal life. A place apart from other people offers a sense of solitude.

 

Stanza 2

My God ! it is a melancholy thing
For such a man, who would full fain preserve
His soul in calmness, yet perforce must feel
For all his human brethren–O my God !
It weighs upon the heart, that he must think
What uproar and what strife may now be stirring
This way or that way o’er these silent hills–
Invasion, and the thunder and the shout,
And all the crash of onset ; fear and rage,
And undetermined conflict–even now,
Even now, perchance, and in his native isle :

A significant shift occurs in stanza two. Even though the speaker has separated himself from the rest of humanity and has, briefly, enjoyed the silence and a connection with nature and his own spirituality, his thoughts are inevitably drawn back to his fellow human beings. He cries out to God in woe for humanity. He is sobered by the thought that a man could find “his soul in calmness” when alone in nature and yet also be at war against other human beings. The speaker cries out “for all his human brethen”. He claims that in “weighs upon [his] heart” that the humans all around him are filled with “uproar” and “strife”. Even though he is alone and in the solitude of nature, it is as if he can sense the strife of humankind lurking about him. He says that he can feel it “o’er these silent hills” and it feels like an “invasion” of the calm solitude he had found. The strife going on caused the reader to feel as if “the crash of onset; fear and rage” was inevitable.

Although he finally found a place of peace and quiet- a place in which to connect with nature and his own spirituality, the strife of humanity was about to invade. The speaker does not even know why the conflict is occurring. For this reason, he refers to it as “undetermined” and yet it has creeped in and invaded his quiet place.

 

Stanza 3

Carnage and groans beneath this blessed sun !
We have offended, Oh ! my countrymen !
We have offended very grievously,
And been most tyrannous. From east to west
A groan of accusation pierces Heaven !
The wretched plead against us ; multitudes
Countless and vehement, the sons of God,
Our brethren ! Like a cloud that travels on,
Steamed up from Cairo’s swamps of pestilence,
Even so, my countrymen ! have we gone forth
And borne to distant tribes slavery and pangs,
And, deadlier far, our vices, whose deep taint
With slow perdition murders the whole man,
His body and his soul ! Meanwhile, at home,
All individual dignity and power
Engulfed in Courts, Committees, Institutions,
Associations and Societies,
A vain, speach-mouthing, speech-reporting Guild,
One Benefit-Club for mutual flattery,
We have drunk up, demure as at a grace,
Pollutions from the brimming cup of wealth ;
Contemptuous of all honourable rule,
Yet bartering freedom and the poor man’s life
For gold, as at a market ! The sweet words
Of Christian promise, words that even yet
Might stem destruction, were they wisely preached,
Are muttered o’er by men, whose tones proclaim
How flat and wearisome they feel their trade :
Rank scoffers some, but most too indolent
To deem them falsehoods or to know their truth.
Oh ! blasphemous ! the Book of Life is made
A superstitious instrument, on which
We gabble o’er the oaths we mean to break ;
For all must swear–all and in every place,
College and wharf, council and justice-court ;
All, all must swear, the briber and the bribed,

In this stanza, the speaker goes into a deeper lament over the state of his country. He calls to his countrymen to admit their guilt. The tone of this stanza reflects that of Old Testament prophets who pleaded with their fellow countrymen to repent of their ways and turn make to their God. In much the same way, this speaker calls to his countrymen to acknowledge their wrong deeds and perhaps save themselves from the impending calamity. He refers to his “brethen” as “sons of God” which further establishes the biblical tone and use of biblical metaphor to solidify his claim that they have done wrong and must turn from their ways. He warns that God has heard the cries of his countrymen’s accusers. He claims that “a groan of accusation pierces the Heavens” implying that they will not get away with what they have done wrong, but that God has heard the cries of their accusers.

The speaker accuses his countrymen of “bartering freedom and the poor man’s life for gold as at a market”. Here, it becomes clear that the speaker is referring to slavery and the way people would use and sell other human beings for money. When the speaker says, “Oh ! blasphemous ! the Book of Life is made a superstitious instrument,” he refers to those who have used the Bible for their own personal gain, twisting the words in order to support their own selfish desires. The speaker laments this and he calls for the repentance of his countrymen.

 

Stanza 4

Merchant and lawyer, senator and priest,
The rich, the poor, the old man and the young ;
All, all make up one scheme of perjury,
That faith doth reel ; the very name of God
Sounds like a juggler’s charm ; and, bold with joy,
Forth from his dark and lonely hiding-place,
(Portentious sight !) the owlet Atheism,
Sailing on obscene wings athwart the noon,
Drops his blue-fringéd lids, and holds them close,
And hooting at the glorious sun in Heaven,
Cries out, `Where is it ?’

With this stanza, the speaker claims that all people of every trade and occupation are liars, including the priests. The rich and the poor alike, he accuses. This “perjury” causes one’s faith to “reel”and makes “the very name of God” sound like nothing more than a “charm”. Because of this, the “owlet Atheism” appears “from his dark and lonely hiding-place”. With this statement, the speaker suggests that people are prone to believe in God. However, the wrong deeds of those who claim to be of God causes Atheism to grow and emerge. The evil behavior of humankind causes people to look to the heavens and cry out “Where is it?”. This suggests that people are asking for proof of God because the evil they have seen has kept them from believing.

 

Stanza 5

Thankless too for peace,
(Peace long preserved by fleets and perilous seas)
Secure from actual warfare, we have loved
To swell the war-whoop, passionate for war !
Alas ! for ages ignorant of all
Its ghastlier workings, (famine or blue plague,
Battle, or siege, or flight through wintry snows,)
We, this whole people, have been clamorous
For war and bloodshed ; animating sports,
The which we pay for as a thing to talk of,
Spectators and not combatants ! No guess
Anticipative of a wrong unfelt,
No speculation on contingency,
However dim and vague, too vague and dim
To yield a justifying cause ; and forth,
(Stuffed out with big preamble, holy names,
And adjurations of the God in Heaven,)
We send our mandates for the certain death
Of thousands and ten thousands ! Boys and girls,
And women, that would groan to see a child
Pull off an insect’s wing, all read of war,
The best amusement for our morning meal !
The poor wretch, who has learnt his only prayers
From curses, and who knows scarcely words enough
To ask a blessing from his Heavenly Father,
Becomes a fluent phraseman, absolute
And technical in victories and defeats,
And all our dainty terms for fratricide ;
Terms which we trundle smoothly o’er our tongues
Like mere abstractions, empty sounds to which
We join no feeling and attach no form !
As if the soldier died without a wound ;
As if the fibres of this godlike frame
Were gored without a pang ; as if the wretch,
Who fell in battle, doing bloody deeds,
Passed off to Heaven, translated and not killed ;
As though he had no wife to pine for him,
No God to judge him ! Therefore, evil days
Are coming on us, O my countrymen !
And what if all-avenging Providence,
Strong and retributive, should make us know
The meaning of our words, force us to feel
The desolation and the agony
Of our fierce doings ?

In this stanza, the speaker accuses his own countrymen (Great Britain) of being “thankless for peace”. When the country was secure and safe from warfare, his people were not grateful. Instead, they were “passionate for war”. The new generation was not familiar with the agonies of past wars. They didn’t see the “ghastlier workings” of war, and so they were bloodthirsty and excited to fight. The speaker criticizes these people as ignorant of the realities of war. He claims that his people have made a sport out of war. He also claims that that are grasping at straws to find a justified reasoning for the war they began.

He continues to accuse his countrymen of using God as an excuse for their wrongdoing. He criticizes his country of choosing their “mandates for death” by sending thousands of young people who “would groan to see a child pull off an insect’s wing” into a gruesome and terrible war. He implies that this is done for amusement when he says, “the best amusement for our morning meal”. This, of course, refers to reading the newspaper in the morning and finding entertainment out of the bloody news that comes with times of war. The speaker pities the young men who will go into war, ignorant and naive. He describes them almost as if they were victims of the country’s government calls the young man who goes into war a “poor wretch” who is hardly old enough to learn how to pray and yet gets sent away to war where he will become “a fluent phraseman” in what he refers to as “dainty terms for fratricide”. The use of the word “fratricide” further implies the speaker’s feelings toward this war. The term means to kill one’s sibling. Thus, the speaker views the enemies of his country as brothers and sisters and clearly believes that people should view all other human beings as such. He mourns the fact that brothers and sisters will be out there killing each other in the name of war, supporting causes they don’t even know how to justify, and using “dainty terms” to cover the brutal reality that killing in war is the murder of one’s own kind. The speaker clearly hates these terms. He says, “we trundle [the dainty terms] smoothly o’er our tongues”. The use of the second person “we” suggests that he still identifies with his country and feels a sense of camaraderie with his fellow countrymen. The wrongs he sees do not cause him to separate himself from his country.

He continues to use the second person, thus including himself in the wrongdoing he points out. He hates the way people talk about war, as if they are completely unfeeling, without compassion. The speaker knows that the soldiers on the field suffer, and he cannot stand that others talk about war with a lack of compassion and feeling, “As if the soldier died without a wound ;As if the fibres of this godlike frame Were gored without a pang”. He believes that the people as a whole do not think about the soldiers who die as individual people. They refer to the death of a soldier “as though he had no wife to pine for him, No God to judge him!” With these words, the speaker emphatically calls upon his countrymen to remember the value of a single human life. He refers to his wife so that others might think about the fallen soldier as if he were their own family member, husband, brother, or son. When he says, “No God to judge him”. He reminds his hearers that each person has but one life to life. He refers to the belief that one will stand before the judgement of God upon passing from this life. This emphasizes the unmatched value of a human life. The speaker’s goal here seems to be to bring the realities of war to the minds of the people of Great Britain. He wants them to think about war on a smaller scale and to consider what it would feel like to lose someone close. Then, perhaps, they could truly grasp the grotesque nature of war rather than being bloodthirsty and hungry for victory. The speaker then resumes his biblical tone of a prophet to his people when he says, “Therefore, evil days Are coming on us, O my countrymen,”. Much like a biblical prophet, this speaker then warns that they will not go unpunished for their deeds.

 

Stanza 6

Spare us yet awhile,
Father and God ! O ! spare us yet awhile !
Oh ! let not English women drag their flight
Fainting beneath the burthen of their babes,
Of the sweet infants, that but yesterday
Laughed at the breast ! Sons, brothers, husbands, all
Who ever gazed with fondness on the forms
Which grew up with you round the same fire-side,
And all who ever heard the sabbath-bells
Without the infidel’s scorn, make yourselves pure !
Stand forth ! be men ! repel an impious foe,
Impious and false, a light yet cruel race,
Who laugh away all virtue, mingling mirth
With deeds of murder ; and still promising
Freedom, themselves too sensual to be free,
Poison life’s amities, and cheat the heart
Of faith and quiet hope, and all that soothes,
And all that lifts the spirit ! Stand we forth ;
Render them back upon the insulted ocean,
And let them toss as idly on its waves
As the vile sea-weed, which some mountain-blast
Swept from our shores ! And oh ! may we return
Not with a drunken triumph, but with fear,
Repenting of the wrongs with which we stung
So fierce a foe to frenzy !

In this stanza, the speaker continues his biblical tone of a prophet when he cries out to God for forgiveness on behalf of his countrymen. He prays, “Spare us yet awhile Father and God!”. He does not wish to see the punishment that his fellow countrymen deserve. He then calls to his countrymen to “stand forth” and “be men”. He calls to them to stand up for what is right and to go against the grain of their generation by doing what is right. He wants them to realize that they have become an evil people “who laugh away all virtue” and even “mingle murth with deeds of murder”. This, of course, is all done in the name of “freedom”. The speaker claims that those who cry out “freedom” in order to commit heinous acts in war are the same people who are in no way free. They are “too sensual to be free”. This is another biblical reference, though this time the speaker is drawing from the New Testament in which the Apostle Paul refers to people who are slaves to their own sin.

Just as Paul suggests that righteousness is freedom, the speaker here implies that to do the right thing would be to be thankful for times of peace and to avoid war if at all possible rather than to be hungry for victory. The speaker refers to people who are hungry for money, gain, and victory and claims that they “cheat the heart of faith and quiet hope, and all that soothes and all the lifts the spirit”. The speaker desperately wishes that his countrymen would “return not with a drunken triumph but with fear, repenting of the wrongs” they had done. This continued tone of a prophet to his people puts the speaker in a position all alone. He is not an enemy of his people, but he is not quite one of them either. He identifies with them and yet calls to them for repentance.

 

Stanza 7

I have told,
O Britons ! O my brethren ! I have told
Most bitter truth, but without bitterness.
Nor deem my zeal or factious or mistimed ;
For never can true courage dwell with them,
Who, playing tricks with conscience, dare not look
At their own vices. We have been too long
Dupes of a deep delusion ! Some, belike,
Groaning with restless enmity, expect
All change from change of constituted power ;
As if a Government had been a robe,
On which our vice and wretchedness were tagged
Like fancy-points and fringes, with the robe
Pulled off at pleasure. Fondly these attach
A radical causation to a few
Poor drudges of chastising Providence,
Who borrow all their hues and qualities
From our own folly and rank wickedness,
Which gave them birth and nursed them. Others, meanwhile,
Dote with a mad idolatry ; and all
Who will not fall before their images,
And yield them worship, they are enemies
Even of their country !

The speaker becomes a little more pointed in this stanza, as he names his audience when he says, “O Britons!” Until this stanza, his audience was implied but not blatant. Now that he has named his audience, he gives them no escape. There is no excuse for those who would choose not to heed his warning. He calls to his “brethen” to acknowledge their wrongdoing and simultaneously makes a case for himself. He claims that he has told the “bitter truth” and yet he has told it “without bitterness”. This reveals that he is not angry or bitter toward his countrymen. Rather, he is burdened and saddened by their choices as a whole. He defends myself by beseeching his brethen not to view his words as divisive or “factious” but to understand that he only wants the best for his country, and he believes that the best thing for Britain as a whole would be to see the truth for what it is. This is the reason he has spoken out against the wrongs he has seen his country do. He calls to his countrymen to open their eyes and no longer live under the “deep delusion” that they are justified in their cause for war. He wants his people to dar to “look at their own vices”.

The speaker then becomes even more direct and pointed in his accusation. He paints the picture of the British government being like a robe decorated with the vices and wretchedness of the people as they come together. This robe, he claims, is taken off “at pleasure”. This suggests the the British government makes decisions for its own pleasure rather than the good of its people. The speaker does not blame the few who are “radical” and “attached to the government and its decisions. He understands that the government’s “folly” and “rank wickedness…gave them birth and nursed them”. This implies that many people know nothing other than loyalty to their country. Thus, they trust their government by default and never think about its vices. The speaker picks up a distinctly biblical tone yet again when he says, “ Others, meanwhile, Dote with a mad idolatry”. Idolatry is what the second commandment warns against, and the Bible is filled with warnings against the dangers of idolatry. Here, the speaker accuses his countrymen of making an idol out of their government. Then he says, “and all Who will not fall before their images, And yield them worship, they are enemies Even of their country!” This is clearly in reference to the Book of Daniel, where the Jewish exiles were commanded to worship and pray to only the Babylonian king. With this reference, the speaker appeals to the religious beliefs he knows are predominant in his country, asking them to do what is right and refuse to worship the British government, but rather to stand for what is right.

 

Stanza 8

Such have I been deemed–
But, O dear Britain ! O my Mother Isle !
Needs must thou prove a name most dear and holy
To me, a son, a brother, and a friend,
A husband, and a father ! who revere
All bonds of natural love, and find them all
Within the limits of thy rocky shores.
O native Britain ! O my Mother Isle !
How shouldst thou prove aught else but dear and holy
To me, who from thy lakes and mountain-hills,
Thy clouds, thy quiet dales, thy rocks and seas,
Have drunk in all my intellectual life,
All sweet sensations, all ennobling thoughts,
All adoration of God in nature,
All lovely and all honourable things,
Whatever makes this mortal spirit feel
The joy and greatness of its future being ?
There lives nor form nor feeling in my soul
Unborrowed from my country ! O divine
And beauteous island ! thou hast been my sole
And most magnificent temple, in the which
I walk with awe, and sing my stately songs,
Loving the God that made me !–

The speaker, once again, makes the effort to identify with his countrymen by proclaiming his love for his counry. He calls her “dear Britain” and “O my mother Isle”. He says that to his country, he has been “a son, a brother, and a friend” as well as “a husband and a father”. He claims to have “all bonds of natural love” for his country and its “rocky shores”. He says that he has become who he is because of his country, and that he has “drunk in all [his] intellectual life” from his home country. He says that no one could prove that his country was anything other than “dear and holy” to him. His country is where he learned “all adoration of God in nature” and where he came to admire “all lovely and all honourable things”. He learned, in his home country, to feel “the joy and greatness” that his future “mortal spirit” would experience.

He refers to Great Britain as “divine and beauteous island” which is to him a “most magnificent temple”. The use of the word “temple” shows the reverence the speaker has for his country, even in the midst of pointing out its faults. He continues his adoration of his country by saying that he walks “with awe” as he sings about the God who made him. The speaker’s adoration of his country here solidifies his brotherhood with his countrymen. He feels as they do about his country. He loves it every bit as much as other people love their country. And yet, he is able to see through the falsehood and understand the wrong his country has done. It is because of the love he has for his country that he beseeches his brethen to turn from their error and seek to do right by loving and seeking peace.

 

Stanza 9

May my fears,
My filial fears, be vain ! and may the vaunts
And menace of the vengeful enemy
Pass like the gust, that roared and died away
In the distant tree : which heard, and only heard
In this low dell, bowed not the delicate grass.

This short stanza is the speaker’s prayer and hope that his warning may be unnecessary for the time being. He hopes that his fears would prove to “be vain” and that the “vengeful enemy” would not act in the way the speaker suspects. He hopes that the threats will “pass like gust”. This suggests that the speaker is referring to a threat his country has received. Although his previous words reveal that he is aware of the vices of his country and it’s hunger for war and victory, he also hopes that the enemy will not react and attack. He desperately wishes that the enemy’s threats will pass away, that Great Britain may continue in peace.

 

Stanza 10

But now the gentle dew-fall sends abroad
The fruit-like perfume of the golden furze :
The light has left the summit of the hill,
Though still a sunny gleam lies beautiful,
Aslant the ivied beacon. Now farewell,
Farewell, awhile, O soft and silent spot !
On the green sheep-track, up the heathy hill,
Homeward I wind my way ; and lo ! recalled
From bodings that have well-nigh wearied me,
I find myself upon the brow, and pause
Startled ! And after lonely sojourning
In such a quiet and surrounded nook,
This burst of prospect, here the shadowy main,
Dim tinted, there the mighty majesty
Of that huge amphitheatre of rich
And elmy fields, seems like society–
Conversing with the mind, and giving it
A livelier impulse and a dance of thought !
And now, belovéd Stowey ! I behold
Thy church-tower, and, methinks, the four huge elms
Clustering, which mark the mansion of my friend ;
And close behind them, hidden from my view,
Is my own lowly cottage, where my babe
And my babe’s mother dwell in peace ! With light
And quickened footsteps thitherward I tend,
Remembering thee, O green and silent dell !
And grateful, that by nature’s quietness
And solitary musings, all my heart
Is softened, and made worthy to indulge
Love, and the thoughts that yearn for human kind.

With the final stanza, the speaker brings his readers back around to the beginning of the poem by again describing the place in which he sits. Doing this, allows the reader to enter into these thoughts with the speaker by imagining the speaker’s surroundings and thus identifying with him and his thoughts. The speaker reminds his readers that he has gone to a place of solitude in which he could be alone with his thoughts. In this beautiful little nook of nature, the speaker’s thoughts were of concern for his countrymen. The speaker seems unwilling to leave his spot. He says, “Farewell, awhile O soft and silent spot”. The readers can picture the speaker rising to leave his place of comfort in order to return to the world filled with people who are anxious for war and victory. The reader can identify with the speaker’s feeling of connection to this place of solitude and the way he longs for peace in his country just like the peace he experiences when he comes to this beautiful, quiet place of solitude. The speaker rises to leave and as he walks toward home, he finds himself startled to look up and see the mansion of a friend and his own little cottage nearby. This reaction suggests that the nature, untouched, is natural and manmade structures such as a mansion and even his own home are out of place. They startle him when he has come from his place enjoying nature.

Then, however, the speaker reminds his readers that he is one of them. He describes his home and reveals that he has a wife and child at home. This allows the readers to identify with the speaker’s humanity. He is a father and a husband. This also allows his audience to understand, in part, why he so longs for peace and for his country to do what is right. The speaker has already established that he loves his country dearly and that he fears for it because of the decisions of its leaders. He previously identified with his countrymen by declaring his love for his country. Here, however, he makes his individuality known by describing his own little cottage and his own little family. His readers can see him as an individual and identify with him. As the speaker nears his home, he is thankful for his quiet place where he can go to think and be alone with his inner being. He says that being alone with his “solitary musings” has caused his heart to be “softened and made worthy to indulge”. In this place of solitude, he is able to think about “love and the thoughts that yearn for human kind”. The last line of this poem reveals that the speaker’s true heart is not for his country alone, but for all of humankind. He longs that humanity would be kind and true and do what is right.

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