The Eeolian Harp by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The poem, The Eolian Harp, by S.T. Coleridge, has been entitled after the ‘Aeolian harp’, which creates melodious music while the wind blows across its strings. It is much like wind chimes. The medium length poem stretches to 64 lines, divided in five stanzas. Since the main focus of the poem orbits around a lute, its title is appropriate and suggestive. However, Coleridge has made best use of this smallish ornamental harp to express his personal feelings towards his fiancée, Sara, and God. The poem has a less straightforward subject. While the first few lines of the poem makes it look like a simple love ballad, its main body turns into an allegoric approach when the harp symbolizes the poet and the wind symbolizes God’s breath.

This poem has been analysed by two different members of the team. To read the second intepretation, please scroll to the bottom and click ‘Next’ or page 2.

The Eolian Harp Analysis

My pensive Sara! thy soft cheek reclined
Thus on mine arm, most soothing sweet it is
To sit beside our Cot, our Cot o’ergrown
With white-flowered Jasmin, and the broad-leaved Myrtle,
(Meet emblems they of Innocence and Love!)
And watch the clouds, that late were rich with light,
Slow saddening round, and mark the star of eve
Serenely brilliant (such would Wisdom be)
Shine opposite! How exquisite the scents
Snatched from yon bean-field! and the world so hushed!
The stilly murmur of the distant Sea
Tells us of silence.

The opening stanza of the poem is straightforward. The poet himself is the speaker of this lyric, and is shown siting with her fiancée, Sara. The couple is sitting in front of the small, old-fashioned yet charming cottage, where they are going to live in future as a family. This is early evening time, and Coleridge here indicates towards the flowers of Myrthe and Jasmine, which are said to be the symbol of love and innocence.

Coleridge, being a poet, pays attention to everything lying around him. He even notices those things that are generally taken for granted by many people. The place where he is sitting is like Eden, surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty.

While concluding this stanza, the poet says early evening has in it the sound and scents that collectively make the atmosphere very promising and peaceful. It looks awe-some and inspirational you are in the lap of nature in the evening.

And that simplest Lute,
Placed length-ways in the clasping casement, hark!
How by the desultory breeze caress’d,
Like some coy maid half yielding to her lover,
It pours such sweet upbraiding, as must needs
Tempt to repeat the wrong! And now, its strings
Boldlier swept, the long sequacious notes
Over delicious surges sink and rise,
Such a soft floating witchery of sound
As twilight Elfins make, when they at eve
Voyage on gentle gales from Fairy-Land,
Where Melodies round honey-dripping flowers,
Footless and wild, like birds of Paradise,
Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untam’d wing!
O! the one Life within us and abroad,
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light,
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance every where
Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so fill’d;
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument.

In the second stanza, we are introduced to an ‘Eolian Harp’. This is a kind of musical instrument, which gives musical sound when the wind blows across its strings.

Here we find that when Coleridge was sitting with his fiancée on a hillside and enjoying the beauty of the nature, his ears are stricken through the sound of a lute, and creates disturbances in the silent place where the couple was sitting. And from this outburst, the horses of his imagination get ignited, or so to say his imagination goes higher and higher.

On hearing the sound, the poet first compares its music to a lute’s sound, then to the pleasurable (sensual) time the couple was enjoying there. After this, the speaker’s (Coleridge’s) imagination jumps to Elfin music world, and the melodies, themselves, start doing wild dance as the ‘birds of paradise’ do. It is notable that we again find Coleridge creating a perfect mental picture (scenery) of the natural beauty for us.

Besides, we also find the poet talking about to a divine force and creative power when he says: ‘O! the one Life within us and abroad,… Not to love all things in a world so filled.’

And thus, my Love! as on the midway slope
Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon,
Whilst through my half-closed eyelids I behold
The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the main,
And tranquil muse upon tranquillity:
Full many a thought uncalled and undetained,
And many idle flitting phantasies,
Traverse my indolent and passive brain,
As wild and various as the random gales
That swell and flutter on this subject Lute!

In the third stanza, we again see the speaker (Coleridge) addressing Sara, and calling back to his mind a nap had by him while he was sitting with his fiancée, and enjoying the Seaview that afternoon.

Here, we see him comparing the reflection of that shining-sun on to the sea to diamonds. Thereafter, we find him recalling an ‘uncalled and undetained’ thought and imagination, which he experienced through his brain.

The thought was quite similar to those the poet experienced after having heard the harp’s music. The poet says; just as a melodious sound is created by a harp as a result of the wind-blowing across the strings of a lute, similarly, a natural force brings about the creative spur that flies across his beliefs.

And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?

The stanza four is shorter than other stanzas of the poem. It is of just five verses wherein we notice that the speaker is using a metaphor when he calls the entire nature ‘organic harps diversely framed.’ In the last four lines, the poet reveals that all these natural harps ‘tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze, at once the Soul of each, and God of all?’

Let me tell you here that Coleridge and Sara have very different opinion about the existence of God.

So, he takes precautions while referring nature to God, and does not compare this sublime, creative and spiritual force of nature to God.

But thy more serious eye a mild reproof
Darts, O beloved Woman! nor such thoughts
Dim and unhallowed dost thou not reject,
And biddest me walk humbly with my God.
Meek Daughter in the family of Christ!
Well hast thou said and holily dispraised
These shapings of the unregenerate mind;
Bubbles that glitter as they rise and break
On vain Philosophy’s aye-babbling spring.
For never guiltless may I speak of him,
The Incomprehensible! save when with awe
I praise him, and with Faith that inly feels;
Who with his saving mercies healèd me,
A sinful and most miserable man,
Wildered and dark, and gave me to possess
Peace, and this Cot, and thee, heart-honored Maid!

In the concluding stanza, we find Sara setting the speaker (Coleridge) straight, and shrugging of his poet’s garb and understanding that since he wants to be with her in their own world, he should, therefore, make a clean breast of all God-given worldly pleasures, and enjoy them in full swing.

It is to be noted that from lines 47 to 65, Coleridge is shown praising of God because He (God) created him (Coleridge) among the mortal men, provided the organic inspiration, nature and beauty.

Expressing his wish, he says that he wants to have a humble walk with God in Christ’s footsteps. In line 57, we find the poet saying: “unregenerate mind”, which implies reborn in spirt or not renewed in heart and mind. He prays God to form his heart and mind into according to His (God’s) own thinking so that he can always remain engrossed into the thoughts of Almighty.

When we read the last four lines of this stanza, we find Coleridge telling God that though he isn’t a perfect man, you (God) have showered mercy on him by rendering him: “Peace, and this Cot, and thee, heart-honour’d Maid.” The mention of Maid in the last line means Sara, his fiancée who he started detesting in the later years.

Here it is notable that Coleridge dedicates his thank-you letter (through this last verse) to God, to his wife, Sara. His mention of Maid (Sara) shows that one should always try to find solutions in his/her own problems, dislikes, and un-wants.

Actually, by referring his wife in his thank-you letter, the poet wished to depict God, that while he and Sara have been together for long, he still feels grateful to her because whatever lessons he learned in his life that is only through his wife, Sara.

To read the second intepretation, please click ‘Next’ or page 2 below.

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