Dejection: An Ode by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon,
With the old Moon in her arms;
And I fear, I fear, my Master dear!
We shall have a deadly storm.
(Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence)

I

Well! If the Bard was weather-wise, who made
The grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spence,
This night, so tranquil now, will not go hence
Unroused by winds, that ply a busier trade
Than those which mould yon cloud in lazy flakes,
Or the dull sobbing draft, that moans and rakes
Upon the strings of this Æolian lute,
Which better far were mute.
For lo! the New-moon winter-bright!
And overspread with phantom light,
(With swimming phantom light o’erspread
But rimmed and circled by a silver thread)
I see the old Moon in her lap, foretelling
The coming-on of rain and squally blast.
And oh! that even now the gust were swelling,
And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!
Those sounds which oft have raised me, whilst they awed,
And sent my soul abroad,
Might now perhaps their wonted impulse give,
Might startle this dull pain, and make it move and live!

II

A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,
A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
In word, or sigh, or tear—
O Lady! in this wan and heartless mood,
To other thoughts by yonder throstle woo’d,
All this long eve, so balmy and serene,
Have I been gazing on the western sky,
And its peculiar tint of yellow green:
And still I gaze—and with how blank an eye!
And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars,
That give away their motion to the stars;
Those stars, that glide behind them or between,
Now sparkling, now bedimmed, but always seen:
Yon crescent Moon, as fixed as if it grew
In its own cloudless, starless lake of blue;
I see them all so excellently fair,
I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!

III

My genial spirits fail;
And what can these avail
To lift the smothering weight from off my breast?
It were a vain endeavour,
Though I should gaze for ever
On that green light that lingers in the west:
I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.

IV

O Lady! we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does Nature live:
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud!
And would we aught behold, of higher worth,
Than that inanimate cold world allowed
To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd,
Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud
Enveloping the Earth—
And from the soul itself must there be sent
A sweet and potent voice, of its own birth,
Of all sweet sounds the life and element!

V

O pure of heart! thou need’st not ask of me
What this strong music in the soul may be!
What, and wherein it doth exist,
This light, this glory, this fair luminous mist,
This beautiful and beauty-making power.
Joy, virtuous Lady! Joy that ne’er was given,
Save to the pure, and in their purest hour,
Life, and Life’s effluence, cloud at once and shower,
Joy, Lady! is the spirit and the power,
Which wedding Nature to us gives in dower
A new Earth and new Heaven,
Undreamt of by the sensual and the proud—
Joy is the sweet voice, Joy the luminous cloud—
We in ourselves rejoice!
And thence flows all that charms or ear or sight,
All melodies the echoes of that voice,
All colours a suffusion from that light.

VI

There was a time when, though my path was rough,
This joy within me dallied with distress,
And all misfortunes were but as the stuff
Whence Fancy made me dreams of happiness:
For hope grew round me, like the twining vine,
And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seemed mine.
But now afflictions bow me down to earth:
Nor care I that they rob me of my mirth;
But oh! each visitation
Suspends what nature gave me at my birth,
My shaping spirit of Imagination.
For not to think of what I needs must feel,
But to be still and patient, all I can;
And haply by abstruse research to steal
From my own nature all the natural man—
This was my sole resource, my only plan:
Till that which suits a part infects the whole,
And now is almost grown the habit of my soul.

VII

Hence, viper thoughts, that coil around my mind,
Reality’s dark dream!
I turn from you, and listen to the wind,
Which long has raved unnoticed. What a scream
Of agony by torture lengthened out
That lute sent forth! Thou Wind, that rav’st without,
Bare crag, or mountain-tairn, or blasted tree,
Or pine-grove whither woodman never clomb,
Or lonely house, long held the witches’ home,
Methinks were fitter instruments for thee,
Mad Lutanist! who in this month of showers,
Of dark-brown gardens, and of peeping flowers,
Mak’st Devils’ yule, with worse than wintry song,
The blossoms, buds, and timorous leaves among.
Thou Actor, perfect in all tragic sounds!
Thou mighty Poet, e’en to frenzy bold!
What tell’st thou now about?
‘Tis of the rushing of an host in rout,
With groans, of trampled men, with smarting wounds—
At once they groan with pain, and shudder with the cold!
But hush! there is a pause of deepest silence!
And all that noise, as of a rushing crowd,
With groans, and tremulous shudderings—all is over—
It tells another tale, with sounds less deep and loud!
A tale of less affright,
And tempered with delight,
As Otway’s self had framed the tender lay,—
‘Tis of a little child
Upon a lonesome wild,
Nor far from home, but she hath lost her way:
And now moans low in bitter grief and fear,
And now screams loud, and hopes to make her mother hear.

VIII

‘Tis midnight, but small thoughts have I of sleep:
Full seldom may my friend such vigils keep!
Visit her, gentle Sleep! with wings of healing,
And may this storm be but a mountain-birth,
May all the stars hang bright above her dwelling,
Silent as though they watched the sleeping Earth!
With light heart may she rise,
Gay fancy, cheerful eyes,
Joy lift her spirit, joy attune her voice;
To her may all things live, from pole to pole,
Their life the eddying of her living soul!
O simple spirit, guided from above,
Dear Lady! friend devoutest of my choice,
Thus mayest thou ever, evermore rejoice.

Paraphrase

Stanza 1

Well! If the poet, who wrote the grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spence, was correct in his forecast of weather, this night, which is so calm at this time, will not pass without being disturbed by winds which are more active than those which have broken up that cloud into slow-moving fragments or than the dull, melancholy breeze which is producing mournful sounds and which gently touches the strings of this lute on which the god of wind is playing and which should have been silent. For behold! the new moon is wintry bright. It is covered by a pale ghostly light which seems to be floating over it. But the moon has an edge of a silvery color all around it. I see the old moon in the lap of the new, and it foretells the coming of rain and a storm which will blow furiously. And, oh ! already is the wind developing into a storm and rain has started falling in a slanting direction. The rain drops are falling rapidly and are producing aloud sound. The sounds of the rain and the storm have often raised my spirits in the past,though at the same time they created a terrifying impression on me and sent my mind wandering out of doors.. It is possible that these sounds might produce in me their customary thrill. They might awaken this pain which benumbs me and might lend some movement to it.

Stanza 2

Mine is a grief which does not cause any piercing sensation. It is empty, thick, and dull.It is a suppressed, sleepy kind of grief that causes no excitement and that finds no natural outlet or relief in words, or sighs or tears. O Lady ! I have been gazing on the western sky and its peculiar hue of yellow green throughout this evening which was so peaceful and sweet, and I have been in a cheerless and spiritless mood. The song of the throstle singing over there has been inducing in me thoughts of other things. And I am still gazing (at the sky)’, and I am doing so perfectly with vacant eyes. I am gazing at those thin clouds which appear in fragments and which, here and there, look like parallel lines. Although it is the clouds that are moving, it appears as stars behind them are in motion. The stars appear to be floating behind clouds and sometimes between the clouds. When stars are not screened by the clouds, they look bright; when the clouds cover them, their light becomes dim, but they continue to be visible even then.The thin semi circular over there seems to be fixed, as if it has its roots in that portion of the blue sky where there are neither clouds nor stars. I see all these objects of Nature looking so beautiful and lovely.

Stanza 3

The poet says that he has lost all happiness and joys of life and his spirits are now dropping. The beautiful objects of nature can not even make him forget the sorrows of his life.Even if the poet was to keep gazing for ever at the beautiful green light that seems to stay on in the western sky, it would be a futile effort because he would not draw any comfort from it. The heart itself is the real source of excitement and animation. When the inner source of excitement and animation has dried up, he cannot expect to experience these feelings by gazing at the beauty of the external objects.

Stanza 4

O Lady! We get from Nature what we have transferred to it from our own hearts.Nature seems to be full of life, because our heart is full of joy and happiness. It is our own mood that is reflected in the nature. Nature cannot make us sad or happy. It is lifeless and cold. The human being themselves has to send whatever they want to receive from nature.

Stanza 5

O pure hearted lady, you need not ask me what is the nature of this powerful and sweet voice in the soul is purest moments of life.. It is the essence of life and issues forth from the vitality of human being. Only the purest-hearted people are the recipients of this unique, gift of Nature, namely joy. This joy enables them to see a new earth and a new heaven which the vulgar and the proud persons cannot even dream. Of. Joy is .the source of that sweet Voice;joy is .the source of that bright light It is because of the joy in our own hearts that We feel happy. All the sweet sounds that delight the ear and all the beautiful sights which delight, the eyes flow from that joy in our hearts. All music is an echo of that sweet voice (the source of which is the joy in our hearts), and all beautiful paintings are a. reflection of that light (which flows from the joy in our own hearts).

Stanza 6

There was a time when, though there were difficulties in my way, the joy in. my heart enabled me to make light of my suffering. In those days, even my misfortunes served merely as material, for my fancy to weave visions of delight. That was the time when hope grew around me like a climbing plant around a tree. The pleasure even of hopes which did not belong to me seemed in those days to be my own (just as the leaves, and fruits of a plant growing around a tree seem to belong to the tree itself). But now’ the sorrows of life have crushed me and brought me from the upper regions down to the earth. Nor do I feel sorry that these misfortunes deprive me of my joy. But what grieves me is that each fit of depression renders my inborn ‘gift of the creative power of imagination inoperative. All that I can do now is to remain silent and patient ‘under the stress of my incapacity to give poetic expression to my , deepest feelings. The gift of poetic imagination with which I was endowed by Nature is .being suppressed by my Philosophical and metaphysical tendencies. The gift of poetic ‘imagination was my only treasure in life, the only quality on which my, life was based But ‘my metaphysical tendencies’ which’ were only a part of my mental make-up have weakened and crushed my real nature which was poetically constituted. Now metaphysical thinking has taken almost complete possession of my soul and become ‘a habit of the land.

Stanza 7

O poisonous thoughts which have enveloped my mind and ‘which are like a fearful dream reality! I dismiss you. I turn my ‘attention from you and listen to the wind which has been raging without my having taken any notice of it. The sound produced by the wind striking the strings of the lute is like the prolonged scream of a human being who is being tortured and who cries in. his agony. You wind, who are blowing furiously outside, it would be, much better if you, instead of playing upon the. lute, were to blow against bare rock, ‘a’ mountain lake,alighting-struck ‘tree, ‘a high .pine grove where no woodman has ever set foot, or a lonely house which’ has long been believed to be haunted by evil spirits. You’re a reckless musician playing upon the lute. The sounds that you are producing are worse than those which are heard during the bleak months ‘of winter. It seems as if you are celebrating a devil’s Christmas among the blossoms, buds, and tremulous leaves in this rainy season when the gardens look dark-brown and the flower peep from behind the leaves. You are an actor, able to reproduce fully all Sounds of pain and suffering. You are like a powerful poet. You can blow with great fury, thus emulating a frenzied poet. What sounds are you producing now? You are producing sounds similar to those produced by the panicky retreat of a defeated army, with cries of pain of trampled men with painful wounds, groaning in pain and at the same time shuddering with cold.

But now there is a pause. There is a brief interval of the deepest possible silence. All that noise, similar to the sounds of a retreating army, with the groans, trembling and shuddering of trampled soldiers, has ended: Now the wind produces different sounds, sounds which are less deep and less loud, and which express less of fear and something of delight. These sounds are like the pathetic poem written by Thomas Otway about a lost girl roaming about on a lonely stretch of territory, not far from home. The wind produces sometimes sounds of bitter grief and fear and sometimes it screams aloud like that lost girl who hoped that her mother would hear her cries and come to her rescue.

Stanza 8

It is mid-night, but I have almost no thought of sleeping. May my friend have such experiences of sleeplessness only rarely’! May soothing sleep descend upon her and make her forget her worries! May this storm be only a kind of mountain-birth! May all the stars shine brightly above her house and continue shining in silence as if they were ‘watching the sleeping earth! May she get up from bed with a care-free heart! May she feel happy and bright and may her eyes express a cheerful mood! May her spirits be raised by joy and may her voice be ‘sweetened with happiness! May all living creatures from one end of the world to the other dedicate their existence to her! May their existence become a vital force to add to the energy of her spirit 0 dear and simple-hearted Lady! May you be guided by heaven! You are the most faithful friend of my choice. May you feel happy for ever and ever!

Summary

The poet sees the old moon in the lap of the new and this, according to an old belief,foretells the coming, of rain and a furious storm. In a few moments the wind actually develop into a storm and rain starts falling with a loud sound, The sounds of rain and storm have often in the past raised the poet’s spirits, though at the same time they filled him with awe. He welcomes the rain and the storm now because it is possible that their sounds might awaken his dull pain and make it move and live.

The poet then describes the kind of grief that has been weighing upon his heart. It is a dark, dear, drowsy and unimpassioned grief. Although the poet has been gazing at the western sky and ‘its peculiar hue of yellow green throughout the peaceful and balmy evening, he has been in a cheerless and spiritless mood. He has watched the beauty of the clouds and the stars but he has not been able to feel that beauty because of the grief that has taken a firm hold on his mind. The poet laments of all happiness and joy in his life. His spirits are drooping. All the beautiful objects of Nature are unable to remove the weight of this grief from-his heart. Indeed,it is not from external objects that happiness can flow to a man’s heart. The heart itself is the real source of animation and excitement. When this inner source of animation and excitement,had dried up, a man cannot expect to experience these feelings by gazing at the’ beauty of external objects.

Addressing his wife Sara’, the poet says that we get from Nature what we give to Nature. Nature seems to be full of life because we ourselves endow it with life. In our life alone does Nature live? If we find Nature to be in a joyful or festive mood, it is because we are ourselves in that mood. If we find Nature in a mood of mourning, it is because we are ourselves in that mood. The objects of Nature themselves are cold and lifeless. If we want to see anything noble or sublime in Nature, our own souls must send forth a light, a lustre, or a radiance to envelop the objects of Nature. Our own souls must send forth a sweet and potent voice which will endow the sounds of Nature with sweetness and power. This light or this glory which our souls can send forth is not only beautiful in itself but it enables us to create beautiful things also.The Source of this light or glory is joy in the heart. This joy is given by Nature to purehearted persons only. All the sweet sounds that delight the ear, and all the beautiful sights that delight the eyes, flow from the joy in our hearts. All music is an echo of that sweet voice, the source of
47which is the joy in our hearts, and all beautiful paintings are the reflection of the light which flows from the joy in our hearts.

The poet then recalls the time in his past life when, though there were difficulties in his way, the joy in his heart enabled him to make light of his distress. In those days even his misfortunes served as material for his fancy to weave Visions of delight. That was the time of hopefulness. But now the sorrows of life have crushed him. But it is not the loss of his joy that makes him sad. What grieves him is the decline and the weakening of his inborn gift of the creative power of imagination. His mind is now chiefly occupied with metaphysical speculation which tends to suppress his poetic imagination. Metaphysical thinking has taken almost complete possession of his soul and is crushing his poetical powers.

The poet then dismisses the depressing thoughts that have been haunting his mind, and turns his attention to the storm that has been raging outside. Hearing the sound produced by the wind blowing against the strings of the lute, he feels that it is like the prolonged scream of a human being who is being tortured and who cries in his agony. He thinks that it would have been much better if the wind, instead of playing upon the lute, were to blow against a bare rock, a mountain lake, a lightning-struck tree, a high Pine-grove, or a lonely house haunted by evil spirits. It seems – to him that the wind is celebrating a devils’ Christmas. He addresses the wind as an actor and as a mighty poet who can reproduce kinds of tragic sounds. The sounds that the wind is producing are compared by the poet to those produced ‘by the panicky retreat a defeated army and to the cries of pain uttered by trampled men groaning in their pain and shuddering with cold. Then there is a pause, a brief interval at deep silence. This pause is followed again by sounds which are this time less deep and less loud than before. These sounds are compared by the poet to the pathetic poem written by Thomas Otway about a lost child some-times crying in bitter grief and fear and sometimes screaming aloud in the hope that its mother would come to its rescue.

It is midnight, says the poet, but there seems to be little possibility of his falling asleep.He would not like his beloved wife to have such an experience of sleeplessness. He would like her to enjoy a sound sleep and to forget her worries. He ends the poem with a prayer for her happiness, and joy.

Analysis

The Poem Ode to Dejection, is a confession of the poet Coleridge’s failure, and one of the saddest of all human utterances.The poem is written in the year 1802, in a way it is considered to be a swan song .In the poem Coleridge laments the loss of his creative imagination and also mourns his moral and spiritual loss. It is a deeply personal and autobiographical poem which depicts the poet’s mental state at the time. It records a fundamental change in his life and is a lament on the decline of his creative imagination.

Coleridge at this time felt that his inborn gift of imagination was decaying and that his interest was shifting to philosophy. In other words, he found that he was becoming more and more of a philosopher or thinker and less and less of a poet. This change greatly distressed him. He was grief-stricken at the thought that his interest in abstruse research was crushing his poetic talent. The poem is an expression of that grief –

A grief without a pang, void, dark, and
A stifled, drowsy. unimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
In word, or sigh, or tea

Seldom has grief found such tragic expression as in this poem which has been called“the poet’s dirge of infinite pathos over the grave of creative imagination”. The poem proceeds with an ever- deepening sadness, each stanza charged with heavy gloom. “Sadder lines than these were never perhaps written by any poet in description of his own feelings.” It is much sadder and more tragic than Shelley’s Stanzas Written in a Near Naples.

Nature

A very important point about this poem is that Coleridge here contradicts his own previous view of Nature, thus challenging Wordsworth’s Nature-creed also. In The Eolian Harp and Frost at Midnight, Coleridge had expressed a belief in pantheism—the view that Nature is a living whole, that a Divine Spirit passes through all objects of Nature, that man can establish a spiritual intercourse with Nature,and that Nature exercises an ennobling and educative influence upon man. But in this poem, Coleridge completely denies this belief. Here he asserts that Nature has no life of her own—that it is we who attribute life to her

O Lady! We receive but what we give
And in our life alone does Nature live
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud.

No longer can Coleridge gain from Nature the- joy used to give him because he has no joy in his heart to meet half-way. He has discovered that Nature can give no joy to these who have no joy already in their hearts.

Joy, Lady ! is the spirit and the power
Which wedding Nature to us gives in dower

Imagery

The ode contains some very vivid and concrete imagery. The poet sees the new-moon winter bright with the old moon in her lap ; the swelling storm with night-shower falling loud and fast ; the stars gliding behind or between the stars

I see the old Moon in her lap, foretelling
The coming-on of rain and squally blast.
And oh! that even now the gusts were swelling,
And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!

More vigorous and forceful are the lines where the sounds of the storm are compared first to the rushing of a defeated army, with groans of trampled and wounded men and then to the alternate moaning and screaming of a frightened child who has lost its way home:

What tell’st thou now about?
‘Tis of the rushing of an host in rout,
With groans of trampled men, with smarting
At once they groan with pain, and shudder cold
Here in these lines also he has used beautiful imagery-
Tis of a little child
Upon a lonesome wild,
Not far from home, but she hath lost her way;
And now moans low in bitter grief and fear,
And now screams loud, and hopes ‘to make her mother hear.

Nor are these the only pictures in the poem. We have also the images of the storm raging over a rock or a tree, a pine-grove or a haunted house, and of its celebrating the Devil’s Christmas in the “month of showers, of dark-brown gardens, and of peeping flowers.”

Tenderness

The poet ends on a note of tenderness for his wife. He prays to sleep to visit his beloved. May she rise with light heart, gay fancy, cheerful eyes!These are the only lines which to some extent lighten the heavy gloom of the whole poem.

Interesting points of comparison and contrast at once occur to us between this ode and Wordsworth’s Ode on the Intimations of Immortality. As in Wordsworth’s poem, we have here the poet’s reference to his past joy and a description of his present mood of grief. There was a time when even misfortunes an aspect of happiness,but now had “afflictions bow me down ‘to earth.” These lines also remind us of similar lines in Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind –

If even I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed

In Wordsworth’s ode, grief finds relief and ends in joy ; in Coleridge’s poem grief finds no relief and ends in dejection. It is morning in Wordsworth’s Ode, midnight in Coleridge’s. In the former and it is May and the sun shines warm ; in the latter it is the month of showers.

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