Samuel Taylor Coleridge

To William Wordsworth by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘To William Wordsworth’ is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s response to William Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem. Coleridge first encountered Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem, The prelude, in 1806.  It was read to him by Wordsworth himself in his Coleorton home. In ‘To William Wordsworth’, Samuel Taylor Coleridge praises William Wordsworth and his poetic ability. Coleridge finds Wordsworth’s understanding of nature unique and emphasizes, throughout the poem, his achievements.

As in other poems, Samuel Taylor Coleridge foregrounds nature and men’s relationship with it, taking special attention in the images conveyed and the expression of meaning. ‘To William Wordsworth’ was first published in 1817 and it was titled Sibylline leaves. Later on, the author made some changes and alterations to the poem and, in 1834, he changed the poem’s name to ‘To William Wordsworth’. The full title of the poem is To William Wordsworth, Composed on the Night After His Recitation of a Poem on the Growth of an Individual Mind.

To William Wordsworth by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


To William Wordsworth Analysis

Stanza One

Friend of the Wise ! and Teacher of the Good !
Into my heart have I received that Lay
More than historic, that prophetic Lay
Wherein (high theme by thee first sung aright)
Of the foundations and the building up
Of a Human Spirit thou hast dared to tell
What may be told, to the understanding mind
Revealable ; and what within the mind
By vital breathings secret as the soul
Of vernal growth, oft quickens in the heart
Thoughts all too deep for words !

In this first stanza, the lyrical voice praises someone. The admiration that the lyrical voice expresses is towards William Wordsworth and his autobiographical poem called The prelude. He/She finds the ideas of The prelude extremely truthful and stimulating. In the beginning of the stanza, the lyrical voice addresses Wordsworth in a direct form: “Friend of the Wise ! and Teacher of the Good !”. From that moment onward, the lyrical voice will state the importance of reading Wordsworth’s poem. Notice how there are close repetitions in rhymes, in words, and in sentence structures, which emphasize the importance of this particular learning.


Stanza Two

Theme hard as high !
Of smiles spontaneous, and mysterious fears
(The first-born they of Reason and twin-birth),
Of tides obedient to external force,
And currents self-determined, as might seem,
Or by some inner Power ; of moments awful,
Now in thy inner life, and now abroad,
When power streamed from thee, and thy soul received
The light reflected, as a light bestowed–
Of fancies fair, and milder hours of youth,
Hyblean murmurs of poetic thought
Industrious in its joy, in vales and glens
Native or outland, lakes and famous hills !
Or on the lonely high-road, when the stars
Were rising; or by secret mountain-streams,
The guides and the companions of thy way !

In this stanza, the themes of The prelude are described. The lyrical voice talks about Wordsworth’s poem and how he/she found it inspiring and powerful. Again, this stanza contains sentence structures that are very similar to one another. This emphasizes the enumeration of elements and provides a rhythmic pace to the poem. Furthermore, the lyrical voice focuses on images of nature portrayed in The prelude.


Stanza Three

Of more than Fancy, of the Social Sense
Distending wide, and man beloved as man,
Where France in all her towns lay vibrating
Like some becalméd bark beneath the burst
Of Heaven’s immediate thunder, when no cloud
Is visible, or shadow on the main.
For thou wert there, thine own brows garlanded,
Amid the tremor of a realm aglow,
Amid the mighty nation jubilant,
When from the general heart of human kind
Hope sprang forth like a full-born Diety !
–Of that dear Hope afflicted and struck down,
So summoned homeward, thenceforth calm and sure
From the dread watch-tower of man’s absolute self,
With light unwaning on her eyes, to look
Far on–herself a glory to behold,
The Angel of the vision ! Then (last strain)
Of Duty, chosen Laws controlling choice,
Action and Joy !–An Orphic song indeed,
A song divine of high and passionate thoughts
To their own music chaunted !

In this stanza, the lyrical voice continues to think about certain topics. Notice how the tone of the poem becomes more lively as the pace gets more active. The lyrical voice shows a lot of emotion and sensibility towards what he/she is expressing. Therefore, the lyrical voice continues constructing a certain tone and rhythm that gets more intense in this stanza.


Stanza Four

O great Bard !
Ere yet that last strain dying awed the air,
With stedfast eye I viewed thee in the choir
Of ever-enduring men. The truly great
Have all one age, and from one visible space
Shed influence ! They, both in power and act,
Are permanent, and Time is not with them,
Save as it worketh for them, they in it.
Nor less a sacred Roll, than those of old,
And to be placed, as they, with gradual fame
Among the archives of mankind, thy work
Makes audible a linkéd lay of Truth,
Of Truth profound a sweet continuous lay,
Not learnt, but native, her own natural notes !
Ah ! as I listened with a heart forlorn,
The pulses of my being beat anew :
And even as Life returns upon the drowned,
Life’s joy rekindling roused a throng of pains–
Keen pangs of Love, awakening as a babe
Turbulent, with an outcry in the heart ;
And Fears self-willed, that shunned the eye of Hope ;
And Hope that scarce would know itself from Fear ;
Sense of past Youth, and Manhood come in vain,
And Genius given, and Knowledge won in vain ;
And all which I had culled in wood-walks wild,
And all which patient toil had reared, and all,
Commune with thee had opened out–but flowers
Strewed on my corse, and borne upon my bier,
In the same coffin, for the self-same grave !

In this stanza, the lyrical voice refers to William Wordsworth. The lyrical voice talks about the author’s achievement and his ability to portray nature (“Among the archives of mankind, thy work”). The length of the paragraph gives the idea about how long the lyrical voice’s admiration for the author is. Once again, the alliteration and the repetition construct a particular emphasis of the praising of the author.


Stanzas Five and Six

That way no more ! and ill beseems it me,
Who came a welcomer in herald’s guise,
Singing of Glory, and Futurity,
To wander back on such unhealthful road,
Plucking the poisons of self-harm ! And ill
Such intertwine beseems triumphal wreaths
Strew’d before thy advancing !


Nor do thou,
Sage Bard ! impair the memory of that hour
Of thy communion with my nobler mind
By pity or grief, already felt too long !
Nor let my words import more blame than needs.
The tumult rose and ceased : for Peace is nigh
Where Wisdom’s voice has found a listening heart.
Amid the howl of more than wintry storms,
The Halcyon hears the voice of vernal hours
Already on the wing.

In these two stanzas, the tone of the poem changes dramatically. The lyrical voice seems to be mourning about the greatness of Wordsworth and the importance of his figure (“Where Wisdom’s voice has found a listening heart”). To finish it off, the lyrical voices turn to natural images once more, in order to illustrate clearly the significance of William Wordsworth’s The prelude.


Stanzas Seven and Eight

Eve following eve,
Dear tranquil time, when the sweet sense of Home
Is sweetest ! moments for their own sake hailed
And more desired, more precious, for thy song,
In silence listening, like a devout child,
My soul lay passive, by thy various strain
Driven as in surges now beneath the stars,
With momentary stars of my own birth,
Fair constellated foam, still darting off
Into the darkness ; now a tranquil sea,
Outspread and bright, yet swelling to the moon.


And when–O Friend ! my comforter and guide !
Strong in thyself, and powerful to give strength !–
Thy long sustainéd Song finally closed,
And thy deep voice had ceased–yet thou thyself
Wert still before my eyes, and round us both
That happy vision of belovéd faces–
Scarce conscious, and yet conscious of its close
I sate, my being blended in one thought
(Thought was it ? or aspiration ? or resolve ?)
Absorbed, yet hanging still upon the sound–
And when I rose, I found myself in prayer.

In these two final stanzas, the tone of the poem shifts again. The lyrical voice returns to a celebratory tone where William Wordsworth is greatly appraised. Moreover, the lyrical voice describes the impression The prelude made on him (“My soul lay passive”). The stable rhythm that was created throughout the poem breaks and the lyrical voice ends with a final conclusion about the poem (“And when I rose, I found myself in prayer”).


About the Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet who was born in 1772 and died in 1834. He and William Wordsworth wrote Lyrical Ballads, which founded the Romantic movement. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth had a really close relationship between 1797 and 1798. This enabled them to discuss and reflect on poetry.

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Julieta Abella Poetry Expert
Julieta has a BA and a MA in Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team back in May 2017. She has a great passion for poetry and literature and works as a teacher and researcher at Universidad de Buenos Aires.
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