Love by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Love’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a twenty-four stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each of these quatrains follows rhyming pattern of abcb, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit. 

Coleridge has also chosen to imbue this piece with a structured pattern of meter. The first three lines of each stanza are written in iambic tetrameter. This means that each line contains two sets of two beats, or iambs. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed. The last line of the stanzas is different though, it only contains three iambs, meaning that it is written in iambic trimeter. 

 

Summary of Love

‘Love’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge details the emotional and physical relationship between a speaker and the woman he woos through storytelling. 

The poem begins with the speaker describing how love is the most important of the emotions. It is connected to all other emotions and experiences. There is one particular person the speaker is thinking of: a woman named Genevieve. He spends the majority of this piece 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 story he tells is contained within ten stanzas and details the love a knight feels for “The Lady of the Land.” She does not reciprocate at first and it drives him mad. He travels throughout the country but is unable to shake off her image and presence. Eventually he comes upon a group attempting to rape a woman. The woman turns out to the be “Lady” the knight loves. He saves her, but is mortally wounded. The Lady has learned to love him though and is deeply upset by his death. 

It is the sorrow of the story that turns Genevieve towards the speaker. The two embrace and the speaker declares that she became his wife. 

 

Analysis of Love

Stanza One 

All thoughts, all passions, all delights, 

Whatever stirs this mortal frame, 

All are but ministers of Love, 

And feed his sacred flame. 

In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by stating that every emotion one could experience, from “passion” to sorrow (as well as all “thoughts”) influence love. It is to “his” benefit that these feelings exist. The extraneous experiences are “ministers” to a great purpose. Coleridge chose to personify Love (give the force human characteristics) in order to shift one’s perspective on its abilities. It is given agency and the will to make certain events happen. Love will be the driving force in this narrative.

 

Stanza Two 

Oft in my waking dreams do I 

Live o’er again that happy hour, 

When midway on the mount I lay, 

Beside the ruined tower. 

In the second stanza the speaker goes on to refer to himself in the first person. He is also an important part of this story. Coleridge places the poem’s main story within a fame of his speaker’s narration. The speaker is looking back on a time that comes to him in his “waking dreams” or day dreams. He recalls the “happy hour” in which he was “midway on” his horse and stationed “Beside the ruined tower.” From this line, and those that follow in the third stanza, it is clear the poem has a fantastical element. The events have a fairy-tale-like quality to them  a fact which supports “Love’s” primary role in the story. 

 

Stanza Three

The moonshine, stealing o’er the scene 

Had blended with the lights of eve; 

And she was there, my hope, my joy, 

My own dear Genevieve! 

The speaker continues to describe this time in his life and the beautiful scene playing out under near the “moonshine,” or moonlight. The light was moving slowly over the speaker and the tower. It was combining with the other lights of the evening and with the light given off by “Genevieve.” 

Here the speaker introduces another main character, his true love. She is described as being his “hope” and his “joy.” Just from these lines it is clear that he values her above everything else. 

 

Stanza Four 

She leant against the arm{‘e}d man, 

The statue of the arm{‘e}d knight; 

She stood and listened to my lay, 

Amid the lingering light. 

The four and fifth stanzas are dedicated to the speaker describing what Genevieve is like and how she reacts to him. Later be described as “guileless,” as if she can do no wrong. She stands around the scene and listens to the speaker. He is reciting to her his “lay” or a short lyric poem/narrative. The speaker describes her as if she has no life of her own and the only thing she has to do as the light “linger[s]” is to listen to him speak. It is easy for him to gain her love. He knows exactly what to do.

 

Stanza Five

Few sorrows hath she of her own, 

My hope! joy! my Genevieve! 

She loves me best, whene’er I sing 

The songs that make her grieve. 

The description of Genevieve continues into the fifth stanza. She does not have many “sorrows” of her own. There is nothing for her to suffer in the world. Perhaps this is because she is protected, or that she is not aware enough to recognize sorrow for what it is.

In the next line the speaker uses the phrase “My hope! My joy!” to describe Genevieve again. The repetition of these emotions emphasize their presence within the speaker but they also say something about his depth of emotion. She is to him perfect, and can only bring out positive emotions in him. 

Lucky for him, she particularly likes him when he sings. She appreciates his talents sufficiently, especially when they “make her grieve.” His words allow her to experience an emotion she is not used to. 

 

Stanza Six

I played a soft and doleful air, 

I sang an old and moving story— 

An old rude song, that suited well 

That ruin wild and hoary. 

The sixth stanza describes how the speaker sings and plays his “lay” to her. His words are “soft” and have a  gentle presence in the “doleful,” or mournful air. There is one story in particular the speaker remembers telling Genevieve. It is an old and emotionally “moving” one. It has the benefit of being sad and “wild and hoary.” The narrative is somewhat scandalous and is meant to sadden and excite Genevieve in equal measure. 

 

Stanza Seven 

She listened with a flitting blush, 

With downcast eyes and modest grace; 

For well she knew, I could not choose 

But gaze upon her face. 

In the next lines the speaker tells how Genevieve reacted to the story. At first she blushed and lowered her eyes, embarrassed but also moved. The “downcast” nature of her eyes shows her modesty in their contemporary society. This would be the only appropriate reaction for a young woman to have. 

Her meek gaze is also in reaction to the fact that the speaker does not seem to be able to stop looking a her. He is unable to move his eyes from “upon her face.” 

 

Stanza Eight 

I told her of the Knight that wore 

Upon his shield a burning brand; 

And that for ten long years he wooed 

The Lady of the Land. 

At the beginning of the eighth stanza the speaker opens another story. Now the reader is within three layers of narrative. He is retelling the story that is both “hoary” and sorrowful. First, he states that there was a “Knight” who carried a shield on which there was a “burning brand.” While he went about his duties he spent the rest of his time attempting to “woo” the “Lady of the Land.” 

From this short phrase the reader is able to assume that the speaker relates this mysterious “Lady” to Genevieve. The “ten years” spent on wooing her should convey to Genevieve that the speaker would be willing to do the same. 

 

Stanza Nine 

I told her how he pined: and ah! 

The deep, the low, the pleading tone 

With which I sang another’s love, 

Interpreted my own. 

The speaker tells the reader that in the story the knight “pined” over the “Lady.” In the next lines he explains that he knows exactly what he’s doing with this story. Genevieve appreciates the way he tells another’s story and that passion works to his benefit.

 

Stanza Ten

She listened with a flitting blush,

With downcast eyes, and modest grace; 

And she forgave me, that I gazed 

Too fondly on her face! 

The tenth stanza is again dedicated to Genevieve. Here, she said again to have a “flitting blush” and “downcast eyes.” Her grace is on display once more. Although perhaps he shouldn’t be, the speaker still stares at her. She does not mind and apparently forgives him for it. 

Their relationship dynamic is a strange one and his apologetic tone in regards to his advances is a clear put on in order to get closer to her. That being said, it is likely that her modesty is false as well. They are both players at a game for which society wrote the rules. They cannot step out of their roles as lady and gentleman. 

 

Read more:   Fears in Solitude by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Stanza Eleven 

But when I told the cruel scorn 

That crazed that bold and lovely Knight, 

And that he crossed the mountain-woods, 

Nor rested day nor night; 

The speaker tells his listener that the “Lady” did not accept the knight’s advances. He was made to wander the land, constantly seeking out a way to win her heart. She was scornful and cruel to treat someone so “lovely” that way. The knight did everything he could and traveled through the woods and over mountains every day and night, desperate for an answer. 

 

Stanza Twelve 

That sometimes from the savage den, 

And sometimes from the darksome shade, 

And sometimes starting up at once 

In green and sunny glade,— 

No matter where the knight went or what he did the face of the “Lady” was there to stare at him. She appeared from the darkest of place, those which would never be associated with such a person. She would appear from no where, haunting him. The impact of this haunting is explained in the next stanza. 

 

Stanza Thirteen 

There came and looked him in the face 

An angel beautiful and bright; 

And that he knew it was a Fiend, 

This miserable Knight! 

The face of the woman came to him and made him miserable. She was just as beautiful as always but now her constant presence wears him down and inspires him. He still loves and seeks to win her. She is to him an “angel beautiful and bright.” But, she had another side. She was like a “Fiend” that would not leave him alone. Luckily for the “lovely” knight his situation was about to change. 

 

Stanza Fourteen 

And that unknowing what he did, 

He leaped amid a murderous band, 

And saved from outrage worse than death 

The Lady of the Land! 

While he was wandering around the country in something of a daze, he threw himself into a “murderous band.” He did not seek to join them but to save their victim from an “outrage worse than death,” meaning rape. And surprisingly, the woman who he saved was “The Lady of the Land!” He acts out of impulse, without a predetermined idea of what he was going to do and that led him back to the woman he loves. 

 

Stanza Fifteen

And how she wept, clasped his knees; 

And how she tended him in vain— 

And ever strove to expiate 

The scorn that crazed his brain;— 

Now finally the knight is getting the attention from then lady that he always wanted. She is so thankful that he saved her that she sinks down and “clasp[s]” him around “his knees.” She is crying and thanking him for what he did for her. Although this is everything the speaker used to want, he still holds some of his old, negative opinion towards her. She is not all that she used to be. 

The Lady is not going to let that stands and strives to “expiate / The scorn that crazed his brain.” It is now her goal to change his mind and bring him back to the state he was in before. 

 

Stanza Sixteen

And that she nursed him in a cave; 

And how his madness went away, 

When on the yellow forest-leaves 

A dying man he lay;— 

The lady spends a great deal of time “nurs[ing] him.” Together they stay in a “cave,” likely close to where the almost tragedy occurred. Eventually his madness, or his ill opinion of her, went away. This was not a strictly optimistic turn of events though. His mind was only changed because he was dying. The speaker describes this valiant knight’s resting place as being on the “yellow forest-leaves.” This is a tragic and surprising ending to the story that a reader might not have seen coming. 

The knight was clearly injured in the fight to free the lady from her attackers and it was this injury as much as the crazed nature of his mind that she was nursing.

 

Stanza Seventeen 

His dying words—but when I reached 

That tenderest strain of all the ditty, 

My faltering voice and pausing harp 

Disturbed her soul with pity! 

In the seventeenth stanza the speaker steps back from the story. It has become so emotional, or at least he is playing it off as being so, that his voice falters and his “harp” pauses. He realizes that the vibrantly real nature of his story has moved and “Disturbed” Genevieve. She has become terribly sad about this ending. Perhaps he now realizes he has gone too far or maybe he is only recognizing the perfect outcome to his initiating this tale. 

 

Stanza Eighteen 

All impulses of soul and sense 

Had thrilled my guileless Genevieve; 

The music and the doleful tale, 

The rich and balmy eve; 

The speaker uses the next stanzas the describe the reaction of Genevieve to the story he told. She was deeply moved by the “impulses” and emotions the speaker described. He puts the fault on his well constructed words and beautiful music. It is also the fault of the evening, which is so “rich” and very much worth recognizing. This events have worked together (in his favour) to bring sorrow out of his intended lover. 

 

Stanza Nineteen 

And hopes, and fears that kindle hope, 

An undistinguishable throng, 

And gentle wishes long subdued, 

Subdued and cherished long! 

In particular, Genevieve was moved by the “hopes” and the “fears” that were conveyed through the story. She imagined herself in the same situation and what the loss of the possibility of love would feel like. This is exactly the reaction the speaker was hoping to get from her. If he can make her fear losing love then she will be more amiable to his own advances. 

 

Stanza Twenty 

She wept with pity and delight, 

She blushed with love, and virgin-shame; 

And like the murmur of a dream, 

I heard her breathe my name. 

Genevieve is so upset by these new emotions (one must remember that she has no sorrow in her life normally) that she is weeping. She loved the story but feels pity for those involved. The address is accompanied in equal measure with the “virgin-shame.” She has not known love or lust but wants to. The tide turns for the speaker when he hears her “breathe [his] name.”

 

Stanza Twenty-One

Her bosom heaved—she stepped aside, 

As conscious of my look she stepped— 

Then suddenly, with timorous eye 

She fled to me and wept. 

Genevieve does not appear to be in control of her emotions in the twenty-first stanza. Her chest is heaving and she has to step away from the speaker. She does not dare meet his eye but does not want to miss out on the opportunity to experience love like the characters in the story did. She runs to him and he enfolds her in his arms. 

 

Stanza Twenty-Two

She half enclosed me with her arms, 

She pressed me with a meek embrace; 

And bending back her head, looked up, 

And gazed upon my face. 

Genevieve hugs him back, but meekly. The young woman is unsure what she is supposed to, or what she should, do. This quick stanza describes one moment when she looks at the speaker and contemplates the situation she is in. 

 

Stanza Twenty-Three 

‘Twas partly love, and partly fear, 

And partly ’twas a bashful art, 

That I might rather feel, than see, 

The swelling of her heart. 

At this point the speaker knows that he must calm her. His fear over the reaction in her mirrors Genevieve’s own fear of losing love. Finally the two know how they feel about one another and are able to act on that. The speaker chooses to “feel” her love rather than see it by inflicting emotions on her. 

 

Stanza Twenty-Four

I calmed her fears, and she was calm, 

And told her love with virgin pride; 

And so I won my Genevieve, 

My bright and beauteous Bride. 

In order to restore Genevieve to how she was before he calms her and tells her of his own love. It is the story followed by a few simple acts of kindness that turn her to him. He as able to win her and take her as his bride. Their story has a happy ending that the knight and the lady could only wish for. 

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