Constancy to an Ideal Object

Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Nationality: English

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet.

He was one of the most influential writers of the Romanticism movement.

‘Constancy to an Ideal Object’ leaves you to speculate as to which objects are most enjoyable in life. Though in one sense, the poem is ‘about’ constancy, it also takes constancy to mean as a meritless and pointless obsession, not because the speaker, being constant, has shown herself worthless towards the object, but for the reason that the object is divulged not to have any existence, or in any case to have an existence only as a figment of the speaker’s ideation.  In other words, the poem plays constancy against change, construing the good against the bad. It is dealt with subtlety with real nuance.

Let’s understand it through the rhyme scheme used in the poem. The poem opens with a stanzaic piece, meaning the repetition of six-line pattern which rhyme like ababcc; but only after two such stanzas, that starts from line 12 of the poem, the form gets changed to heroic couplets, as if the concluding two lines of the stanza pattern have crammed in the machinery of the poem, and can only repeat since the lover’s unmoved constancy is unable to put a stop to the repetition of his hopeless love.

Constancy to an Ideal Object’ also has another formal aspect, that is; many of its lines have been created out of strings of monosyllabic words, or are built out of one di- or trisyllabic word available in a line or else completely monosyllabic: ‘O yearning Thought! that liv’st but in the brain’; ‘Call to the Hours, that in the distance play’; ‘Fond Thought! not one of all that shining swarm’; ‘Will breathe on thee with life enkindling breath’; ‘Hope and Despair meet in the porch of Death!’

Constancy to an Ideal Object by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Constancy to an Ideal Object Analysis

Since all that beat about in Nature’s range,

Or veer or vanish; why should’st thou remain

The only constant in a world of change,

O yearning Thought! that liv’st but in the brain?

Constancy to an Ideal Object’ is a sort of allegorical existential illusion. It is also surprisingly one of the most compact expressions of Coleridge’s cosmological works. Though on the surface it appears to be an expression of despair thus at first it reads more like dejection but in fact, is the re-affirmation of supernaturalism. Coleridge looks upon the physical nature as always fleeting and always changing so that the only constant is the yearning thought’ the ‘idea’ of the subject. The poet treats thought as if it were living or a spirit that first possesses the mind and then the whole body. At some point in life, we all have this experience when a thought is so powerful that nothing else in life seems more important.

Call to the Hours, that in the distance play,

The faery people of the future day—

Fond Thought! not one of all that shining swarm

Will breathe on thee with life-enkindling breath,

Till when, like strangers shelt’ring from a storm,

Hope and Despair meet in the porch of Death!

In this second stanza, the poet begins to imagine a more pleasant future but immediately corrects himself expressing some concern that though the initial idea was quite pleasurable, but no one can provide such inspiring renewal. So the poet finally comes to terms that such a fond thought can only live in the mind with no hope of materialization. Humans possess both the emotions of hope and despair which, though completely opposite, still interpenetrates and completes one another’s meaning. But ultimately all these emotions come to an end with the arrival of death. Death, being the ultimate, stark reality of life puts an end to everything.

Yet still thou haunt’st me; and though well I see,

She is not thou, and only thou are she,

Still, still as though some dear embodied Good,

Some living Love before my eyes there stood

With answering look a ready ear to lend,

I mourn to thee and say—’Ah! loveliest friend!

That this the meed of all my toils might be,

To have a home, an English home, and thee!’

Vain repetition! Home and Thou are one.

The peacefull’st cot, the moon shall shine upon,

Lulled by the thrush and wakened by the lark,

Without thee were but a becalméd bark,

Whose Helmsman on an ocean waste and wide

Sits mute and pale his mouldering helm beside.

These lines in ‘Constancy to an Ideal Object’ clearly express the poet’s need for a woman’s love and for domestic affection. Coleridge yearns for some domestic stability saying that he really yearned to lead a peaceful, domestic life with his beloved by his side. Where the morning lark would wake them and the thrush would sing them to sleep. But this is his thought only and like her, it would never materialize. Yet again Coleridge ends this stanza with a negative image and condition of loneliness when he says’ an ocean waste and wide’.

And art thou nothing? Such thou art, as when

The woodman winding westward up the glen

At wintry dawn, where o’er the sheep-track’s maze

The viewless snow-mist weaves a glist’ning haze,

Sees full before him, gliding without tread,

An image with a glory round its head;

The enamoured rustic worships its fair hues,

Nor knows he makes the shadow, he pursues!

This final stanza could be called the gist of the poem. In these eight lines, Coleridge depicts an apparent natural phenomenon, which actually takes place in the atmospheric situations of the mountains in certain places. When the weather is foggy in the mountains, the sun rising ahead to dawn projects a shadowy or mysterious human shape in the air. The shadow formed will, like a rainbow, recede from the observer. And when the sun starts shining on the head of the subject you can see a beautiful halo form around the head.

This image symbolizes the illusory status of the vision itself, it is a transient optical illusion and the poet augments the constituent of skepticism by getting chased the subject, in awe, this glory without realizing that it’s his own shadow.



The poem, ‘Constancy to an Ideal Object’ by S.T. Coleridge is a trickier-than-it-appears, coolly wrong-footing sort of poem. It is expressive not of anger or anguish, but a sort of scintillant despair. As discussed above, it is a sort of allegorical existential illusion, and also surprisingly the most compact expression of Coleridge’s cosmological works.

Though by the looks of it seems to be an expression of despair, and therefore, at the start, it reads more like dejection but in actual fact, it is the re-affirmation of supernaturalism.

Coleridge views the physical nature as always changing and fleeting so that the only constant is the yearning thought’ the ‘idea’ of the subject. The poet construes thought believing it to be a living or a spirit that first captures the mind and thereafter the entire body.

During some or other time, we all have to go through this sort of experience when a thought becomes so overpowering that nothing else in life appears more important.

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.

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