Coleridge: Rime, Christabel, Kubla Khan, & More

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
5,470
#1
Samuel Taylor Coleridge's remains rediscovered in wine cellar

I believe that a strong case could be made for Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) as the most important figure in English-language fantastic literature. There, I've said it.

To start with: No "Kubla Khan," no Lord Dunsany's fantasy-dream worlds. It's all there, in potential at least, in Coleridge's poem.

The imaginary-world medieval fantasy is there, or nearly there, in "Christabel." Everyone from George MacDonald to William Morris to Robert E. Howard to J. R. R. Tolkien might owe STC something.

I suspect that "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" contributed in one way or another to classic authors such as William Hope Hodgson -- so important for, say, H. P. Lovecraft.

I'm not just making a bid for STC as important as an "influence," tracing which can be tricky. The quality of these three works remains outstanding.

Mervyn Peake certainly seems to have tuned in to the weirdness of the "Rime" in his illustrations for it.

I suspect that Coleridge tends to be taken for granted. The chill breath of Required School Reading may have blown across his words, too.

Here's a place to discuss the man, his works, his influence, etc. What else by STC, other than those three great poems, is worth reading? A concern here is that, as a prose writer, STC's style can be congested. And some of his promising work was never finished.

 

Vince W

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Sep 9, 2011
Messages
2,210
#2
I discovered Coleridge via Iron Maiden. They did a musical version on their 1984 album Powerslave. No three minute version. Oh no, the song tops out at 13.45. They even played it live during the tour.

Of course being a fan of Maiden I immediately got myself to the library to read it for myself. Gripping stuff. It came up the next year at school, although only briefly.

Very important? Certainly. Very, very important? Yes. The most important though? That's something to ponder. Although I respect that you had the backbone to say it Extollager, it probably needed to be said. Are they still reading it at school?
 
Joined
Oct 23, 2008
Messages
4,900
#4
That's a weird (and interesting) article. Thanks, Extollager.

As far as Coleridge and fantasy, I don't know. The Greeks and Romans produced a lot of "fantastic literature" which influenced English literature. Beowulf was English literature of a sort. Shakespeare and all sorts of others (can't forget the wildly visionary Blake) had their stuff before and the Shelleys and others came after and, while influenced by Coleridge, would probably have been similar without him. But, whatever the magnitude, he is important and often overlooked.

I have an edition of his and Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads (mostly for literary historical curiosity), The Viking Portable Coleridge, and Biographia Literaria. Also Lowes' The Road to Xanadu (an entire book somewhat about "Kubla Khan") but I've had it for years and have never gotten around to reading it. I've read the stuff actually by Coleridge but it's been a long time. While I might feel differently if I re-read them today, it looks like I particularly liked the three you cite and "Sonnet: To the Autmnal Moon," "The Dungeon," "France: An Ode," "Dejection: An Ode," "Song: From Zapolya," "On Donne's Poetry," "Youth and Age," and parts of "The Eolian Harp" and "Inscripton for a Fountain on a Heath" but I don't know that any of them have the scope or "canon" effect of the big three.

Wordsworth and Coleridge are often seen as a pair and are bound in turn to the trio of Byron, Shelley, and Keats and all are often lumped in with others such as Lamb and Hunt and other writers of the era as "Romantics" (with Blake and some "graveyard poets" being seen as precursors to it all). As a Shelley nut, Wordsworth always seemed kind of Robert Frosty in the sense of seeming plain and unexciting to me (speaking more of language and structure as I guess his concepts were exciting at the time) and Coleridge seemed much more to my taste, though still somewhat separated from the Byron-Shelley-Keats zeitgeist. I don't recall any problem with the style (verbally) of Biographia Literaria which was actually clean and crisp compared to the German philosophy of the time which heavily influenced it. I may be wrong but my recollection was that Coleridge's take on aesthetics was interesting and had legitimate philosophical weight as well as particular insight. All that's foggy gropings, though - I'd need to re-read it to say anything useful.

Point is, Coleridge isn't one of my leading lights, but I like him and think anyone interested in him should go for it. Don't let any bad school experiences (that "chill breath of Required School Reading") or anything like that put you off. If you like the "sensawunda" of SF&F, you may like Coleridge.

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?
And, to go for some bathos, I'm not a huge fan of Dickinson-era Maiden, @Vince W , but that is a pretty amazing and epic song, both in the studio and live (after death) where it's unforgettably introduced with "And the moral of this story: This is what not to do when a bird sh*ts on you." :D

Oh, and let's not forget Rush's "Xanadu" - Coleridge has had all kinds of influence.
 

Similar threads

Top