Coleridge and the pleasures of verse.
Mellifluous and varied metrics was his darling study. (2) New volumes of The Collected Coleridge have revealed more and more contexts in which Coleridge expressed his thoughts about the value of meter, demonstrated his practical expertise in meter, criticized the meters of other poets, and admonished fellow poets not to forget meter in the excitement of disputation. Coleridge's preoccupation with meter occupies many pages of the Collected Notebooks, Collected Letters, Biographia Literaria, the Lectures 1808-1818, Table Talk, the Marginalia, and Shorter Works and Fragments. (3) He was interested not only in meter as a topic in itself but also as a discipline that touches many of his other interests. Meter, for him, is the chief vehicle for achieving the aim of poetry, which is pleasure; it quickens passions; it demands technical skill and knowledge of other and older languages. Meter pulls Coleridge back from the chasm of idealism to the vivacious body that his spirit filled. Meter draws its power from both the disciplined will and the body's rhythmical energy; it spans the intersection of mind and body and reconciles head and heart, specifically the heart-beat.
Coleridge's contemporaries recognized his passion for prosody; his own criticism of other people's verse harps on meter and errors of meter as politely as possible, given his fear that a crucial skill risked being lost to the poetic tradition; his definitions of poetry stress energy and movement rather than the belabored distinctions between primary and secondary imagination; and his practice as a poet at its best fulfills his own requirements for verse, promoting this purpose, for instance, in "Christabel." Throughout, he demonstrated in his own acts and in his praise or detraction of others a belief in carefully weighted sound as the true measure of poetic excellence.
In 1832, trying to capture as much of the essence of his failing father-in-law as possible, Coleridge's nephew described Coleridge's unusually intense passion for versification:
Mr. Coleridge has almost from the commencement of his poetic life looked upon versification as constituting in and by itself a much more important branch of the art poetic than most of his eminent contemporaries appear to have done. And this more careful study shows itself in him in no technical peculiarities or fantastic whims, against which the genius of our language revolts; but in a more exact adaptation of the movement to the feeling, and in a finer selection of particular words with reference to their local fitness for sense and sound. (Table Talk 1.564)
Merging his own impressions with his uncle's remarks in a conversation on 31 March 1832, Henry Nelson Coleridge goes on to describe Coleridge as a musical poet rather than a pictorial one, for "the whole man is made up of music; and yet Mr. Coleridge has no ear for music, as it is technically called." He compares the exquisite versification of the conclusion to "Kubla Khan" to "an outburst or crash of harps in the still air of autumn. The verses seem as if played to the ear upon some unseen instrument." In the poem's "symphony and song" the long and fluctuating pentameters contract into tetrameters after a reverberating silence, changing keys and closing chords. The musicality is even more pronounced when Coleridge recites in person. In an auditory performance near to operatic "recitative," Coleridge plays the "rhapsode": "it is perfectly miraculous with what exquisite searching he elicits and makes sensible every particle of the meaning, not leaving a shadow of a shade of the feeling, the mood, the degree, untouched" (TT 1.564). Recalling his friend's voice from years long past, the elderly Wordsworth told the album publisher Samuel Carter Hall that Coleridge was "quite an epicure in sound." (4)
1. Meter, Skill, and Discipline
Although this tribute of an adoring nephew doing double duty as a son-in-law may strike the reader as lavish, and Wordsworth's praise as minimal, Coleridge's attentiveness to the many aspects of sound formed a conscious part of his poetic and critical work. In recuperating John Donne's meter he emphasizes verse as a precise rendering of passion. He praises Donne's manly meter, a meter that can think as well as sing. As early as 1795 he imitates Donne's "dromedary muse"--"Thought's Forge and Furnace, Mangle-press and Screw" (5)--to demonstrate how spondaic and trochaic substitutions reenact twists of thought. In his 1811 annotations to Charles Lamb's copy of Donne's poems he exults in Donne's achievement of intensity through metrical variation at a time when many readers still thought Donne's numbers knotted and irregular. "To read Dryden, Pope &c, you need only count syllables; but to read Donne you must measure Time, & discover the Time of Each word by the Sense & Passion" (Marg. 2.216). As Coleridge in his own verse extends and varies the lengths of syllables, feeling them out in his voice and ear as they reproduce feeling, so in Donne's verse he recognizes variable time, the answer that accentual English verse makes to classical quantity. Donne's "Fine vigorous Exultation" reveals "both Soul & Body in full puissance!" (Marg. 2.219) Coleridge praises line 16 of Donne's "The Triple Fool"--" Grief, which Verse did restrain"--where Donne "roughly emphasized the two main words, Grief & Verse, and therefore made each the first Syllable of a Trochee:--u, or Dactyl" (Marg. 2.221). (6) In the manly native tradition of verse, Donne's passion takes form in sound by analogy to the soul expressing its power in the body.
Searching for quantity, intonation, and "puissance" in English meter, Coleridge prefers the variousness of Renaissance prosody over the regularity of meter since Dryden. He notes Beaumont and Fletcher's ingenious use of "Iambic Pentameter Hyperacatalectic, their Proceleusmatics, and Dispondaeuses-proceleusmatics," "not to mention the Choriambics, the Ionics, the Paeons, and the Epitrites." Trained by his knowledge of Greek, he hears "Quantity," "Accent," "emphasis," and "retardation & acceleration of the Times of Syllables according to the meaning of the words, the passion that accompanies them, and even the Character of the Person that uses them" (Marg. 1.376-77). All ears, Coleridge scans as he quotes and as he translates, sometimes tapping out a meter without words, sometimes scanning the simplest phrases--"Fleas that bite" (CN 716). He hears "in all comic metres the Gulping of short syllables, and the abbreviation of syllables ordinarily long by the rapid pronunciation of eagerness & vehemence." He knows that meter saves texts, "for the rule of the metre lost, what was to restrain the actors from interpolation?" (Marg. 1.384). Coleridge imitates meters from Homer, Catullus, and Ovid; he tries out Pindaric odes, Popean or Akensidean epistles, and sonnets, showing how poets exercised their prosodic muscles.
This precision applies to his own meter as well. From early poems to late Coleridge almost never sounds the same note. His zany poems play with song meters:
May all the curses, which they grunt In raging moan like goaded hog, Alight upon thee, damned Bog! (1791; Beer 14)
He tries insulting tetrameters:
Ah then, what simile will suit? Spindle leg in great jack-boot? Pismire crawling in a rut? Or a spigot in a butt? (Beer 74)
His early compliments sound flirtatious and jaunty.
Welcome, LADIES! to the cell, Where the blameless PIXIES dwell. But thou, Sweet Nymph, proclaim'd our Faery Queen, With what obeisance meet Thy presence shall we greet? (Beer 36-37)
His political jeremiads boom the outrage of a biblical prophet:
Like a cloud that travels on, Steamed up from Cairo's swamps of pestilence, Even so, my countrymen! have we gone forth And borne to distant tribes slavery and pangs, And, deadlier far, our voices, whose deep taint With slow perdition murders the whole man, His body and his soul! (Beer 285)
His conversation poems recreate the murmurs of intimate talk merging with interior questions, and the surrounding song of nightingales--
With skirmish and capricious passagings, And murmurs musical and swift jug jug, And one low piping sound more sweet than all-- Stirring the air with such a harmony. (Beer 195)
His supernatural poems frighten as they enact the whisperings of a lonely night--"Tu whit--tu-whoo! / And hark, again! the crowing cock, / How drowsily it crew,"--or the fast approach of a ship--" `But why drives on that ship so fast, / Withouten wave or wind?'" (Beer 260 and 242). When he confesses a loss of energy in "Dejection: An Ode," his opening sentences are so beautifully shaped in counterpoint to the metrical lines as to perfectly illustrate George Wright's admiration for "the flow of the syllables, the pulsing speechscape, sentences plunging forward on the currents of time and feeling which usually flow unobserved but are here marked and measured into paradoxically invisible lines by more or less equal sets of more or less periodic accents--and are thereby intensified, given additional weight and force, made more expressive." (7) Coleridge's sentences conclude with a subtly truncated line--"Which better far were mute"--that undercuts his own lament. Sinking into popular song, he raids the rhythms in the Frisky Songster to create raucous drinking songs and toasts of his own. (8) Coleridge's variety of sound results from practiced skill and an epicurean ear, cultivated in obedience to a theory that pleasure is not only permissible but the point.
Listening, weighing, and sounding, Coleridge has no ear, but is all ear. In "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" the accelerations of the meter affect the listener in the heart and pulse, sinuously racing. At the same time Coleridge reminds his listener that he is deliberately working with acoustics by repeating words for sound, hearing, listening, voices, tongues, roars, groans, and music. In the lines, "Sweet sounds rose slowly thro' their mouths / And from their bodies pass!d" (1798, 5.341-42), the sounds of "o" modulate and seem to widen outward into the air at the final word "pass'd." The reenactment of the sound of the varying "o"'s rising in the throat and exhaling resounds in the body cavities and is calculated by the will. Coleridge deliberately creates the rhythms of his verse, weighs his vowels, and speeds or retards his syllables, even as he recalls attention to his ear and voice at work. (9)
In Germany in 1799 Coleridge probes the meanings and intonations of a new tongue. Comparing the sounds and metrical capacities of German and English, Coleridge triangulates his knowledge of "the more manly Horatian" meters with Karl Wilhelm Ramler's translations of fifteen odes of Horace, and works on his understanding of German versification as he reads aloud and mutters to himself in his notebook. He adds to the common Spondee, Iambus, and Trochee rarer rhythms with their patterns--"Tell me, divinest / Annabella, tell me"--; and after playing with a particularly gnarled meter notes that "in English & German we form our harmony from tone not quantity--or perhaps as our quantity depends on the Intonation / & as this system of Intonation is almost always in utter discord with the position of the Latin Quantities--So no Englishman or German can read this measure in the original so as at once to let a hearer perceive the sense & the harmony" (CN 1.372-73). The "exact adaptation of the movement to the feeling" that his nephew praised in his voice in 1832 was a goal from his earliest readings. Playing with the rhythms of a new language seems to inspire play with his own, for at this time his metrical experiments proliferate. The Hexameters to "William, my teacher, my friend! dear William and Dear Dorothea!" are undercut with a note to himself: "False meter" (295). Cattullian Hendecasyllables, Homeric Hexameter, Ovidian Elegiac Meter--"In the hexameter rises the fountain's silvery column; / In the pentameter aye falling in melody back"--and even anapestic tetrameter in "The British Stripling's War Song"--"Since you told of the deeds which our countrymen wrought"--(Beer 297-98, 304-5) pour forth in this atmosphere of colliding languages. Such experiments in mere snippets of language (scanning "little dogs" in notebook entry 716) and wordless rhythms (as in notebook entries x 128, 1145, and 1148) underlie the verses that made him famous.
William Sotheby learned about Coleridge's keen ear the hard way, when in 1802 he sent his verse translation of Orestes: A Tragedy for comment. Probably expecting gentlemanly compliments from his new acquaintance, he must have reeled back at the many corrections and been ruffled by the outbursts of humor at his expense. Working through the errors and infelicities of meter and sound combinations, Coleridge apologizes for his zeal. He suggests that his sense of sound is as tactile as a fly's, as the fly ignores the architectural form and can only "creep over it with animalcular feet, & peer microscopically at the sand-grit of [the building's] component Stones" (CL 2.873). To minimize the impression of dogmatism, he credits the seemingly infallible gauge of his "ear": "murther & thunder have an unpleasant effect on my ear--a sort of tintinnation--they are assonants"; "I almost feel ashamed of my boldness but my ear seemed to require the swell & passion of a 12 syllable Line"; "In a Tragedy any word must be improper that does not convey an unmisunderstandable sense to the ear"; "Troy `sproud sp oi ls. To my ear both clogged & assonant--it stammers." Coleridge examined every beat and vowel for accent, logic, clarity, and meaning. In lengthy scrutiny of the words "to hear What weights" Coleridge writes that it is "a combination elegant perhaps at no time; but made more objectionable by the pause ensuing on the close of a Line, & the necessary Emphasis at the beginning. In the Leap frog of the Iambic Verse it is cruel to make the grand plunge on the back of a little Boy." Acoustics, morality, and humor collide as Coleridge castigates the "jammed" and "huddled up" phrases. As he politely destroys Sotheby's labors, he warns, "The Ear is a more spiritual Organ that the Eye" (SWF 1.119). "Ear" sounds as frequently through Coleridge's verse and criticism as it does in Shakespeare's Hamlet (where it gives access to poison).
Since Coleridge preferred to give suggestions viva voce, when "there is less danger of being imperfectly understood" (CL 2.872), his epistolary critique (requested by Sotheby at his peril) gives us a rare chance to see and hear him at work, concentrating, listening, calibrating syllables, weights of words, and speeds of sequences. When he composed his own verse the variables must have fallen into line more spontaneously as he focused his skills and vision on the "minutiae minutissimae," but here we watch him in slow motion sorting out the awkward distortions. We see the importance for him of perfect sound as it reinforces sense, and suspect a veiled disapproval of slapdash work, hackneyed phrases and repeated "Oh!'s" (SWF 1.121), thoughtless iambs by an amateur who thinks he can easily get the hang of it. With gentle irony he tells Sotheby, "I should think, that it would be far more terrible & sublime if the words--Thus will we lap thy blood--were omitted" (SWF 1.118). (10)
While delicacy and tact in metrical phrasing produces the excitement of varied beauty, its discipline also improves character. Therefore, meter should be studied from early childhood. A number of Coleridge's short works instruct young people in precise scansion, and show his skill as well as his assumptions about what educated readers should know. Coleridge writes the eleven-year-old Henry Gillman that he should learn iambs, trochees, spondees, pyrrics, amphimacers, and amphibrachs with the diligence he applies when learning his cyphers from a multiplication table (SWF 2.1217), and to his own son Hartley likewise he had earlier given painstaking instructions in the subtleties of verse in "Lesson in English Prosody" (1807; SWF 1.201-7). Referring specifically to Greek grammar, but applying his reasons to all careful weighing of language including prosody, Coleridge hopes that his skittish son will profit from learning "Habits of attention, and the power of self-controll. 2. Habits of (intellectual) accuracy, greatly favorable and even akin to Habits of moral Truth.... 4. A resource in Solitude ... and a freedom from low, or ruinous pleasures by the mind's having been preoccupied by nobler pleasures. 5thly and lastly, a tranquillity partly arising from the sense of stability in the objects of your love, & that consequent veneration of ancient things" that will lift the boy above "that unwholesome atmosphere of Envy ... which surrounds us, as men of the world" (SWF 1.185-86). Perfection of craft should lead to personal peace, admiration of excellence in others, balance, and freedom from contemporary fashions.
2. Meter and Physical Energy
But discipline as an act of the will is not enough: metrical skill also requires physical energy. Coleridge's frequent use of synonyms for movement emphasizes his search for vigorous forward movement in verse. So in the 1808 "Lectures on the Principles of Poetry" he begins an analysis of Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis" with such phrases as "an endless activity of Thought," "Activity of Thought, in the play of words," "that power of & energy of" producing images, "Energy, depth, and activity of Thought" (Lectures 1808-19 1.66 and 68). By contrast, poems lacking propulsion elicit humorous derision; to Wordsworth in October 1810, Coleridge laughs about Scott's "Lady of the Lake":
Merciful Apollo!--What an easy pace dost thou jog on with thy unspurred yet unpinoned Pegasus!--The movement of the Poem (which is written with exception of a multitude of Songs in regular 8 syllable Iambics) is between a sleeping Canter and a Marketwoman's trot--but it is endless-- ... I never remember a narrative poem in which I felt the sense of Progress so languid. (CL 3.291)
Hobbes, too, is guilty of languid movement, "without bone or muscle," in his too smooth translation of the Odyssey (Friend 1.31, note). Effective metrical lines move in varying speeds, but they move: Richard Cureton in Rhythmic Phrasing in English Verse states this requirement decisively: "Rhythmic structures are cognitive representations of the flow of energy in the stream of our experience"; they move with an "inherent physicality." (11)
Vitality, movement, energy, and activity in meter play upon the ears and by shifting and starting sharpen the attention. Such physicality informs other recent descriptions of meter as momentum. In Telling Rhythm: Body and Meaning in Poetry, Amittai F. Aviram declares, "It is this radical energy ... that I maintain is the differentia specifica of poetry, what makes poetry distinct from other modes of discourse." (12) Derek Attridge shows how meter "provides both an onward impetus and a series of resting places along the way ... a momentum ... a sequential progression, alternately disturbing and satisfying, challenging and calming." (13)
A kinaesthetic vocabulary is an often-neglected undercurrent of the Biographia Literaria, where registers of energy, pulse, forward motion, and speed reveal Coleridge's emphasis on the physical aspects of his art, the patterned reverberations of sound from one body to another and into the air. (14) In the Biographia he argues that the passions of poetry arise not from the feelings being depicted but from "the very act of poetic composition itself," an act, or activity, that produces "an unusual degree of excitement" (2.71). Poetry moves forward "by the pleasurable activity of mind excited by the attractions of the journey itself" (2.14). The pulses of meter move "[l]ike the motion of a serpent, which the Egyptians made the emblem of intellectual power; or like the path of sound through the air; at every step he pauses and half recedes, and from the retrogressive movement collects the force which again carries him onward." Metrical poetry rouses the whole soul to activity; it moves at different speeds, it swerves, pauses, and surges forward, quickening the senses and heart-beat. Chapter 18 of the Biographia Literaria insinuates that verse deliberately heightens this physical energy. Despite an opening remark about meter holding "in check the workings of passion" (2.64), Coleridge is more interested in the opposite impulse, the "increased excitement" (2.65), the "vivacity" (2.66), "the continued excitement of surprize" (2.66). Poetry, "accompanied by the natural language of excitement," is "formed into meter artificially, by a voluntary act, with the design and for the purpose of blending delight with emotion, so the traces of present volition should throughout the metrical language be proportionally discernible" (2.64-65). Coleridge stresses that the "voluntary act" trumpets its artifice, signaling the will's strategy of metrical pulses, surges, and pauses. The excitement is purposely intensified "for the sake of that pleasure, which such emotion so tempered and mastered by the will is found capable of communicating." Thus the metrical energy is purposeful, artful, strumming the listener's heartstrings with an almost sadistic intensity. Coleridge notes that Spenser's attention to meter is sometimes so intense as to be painful (TT 1.73). The excitement continues to mount "with the force and fervor of the describer"; "the wheels take fire from the mere rapidity of their motion" (BL 2.72). Meter "writh[es] like the "sinuous and overvaried lapses of a serpent" (Lectures 2.278). If in reading the Biographia we slightly shift our emphasis from categories of imagination to levels of energy, we see a vigorous practitioner and melodious advocate instead of a theorizer struggling to adapt an alien vocabulary.
In the light of Coleridge's assiduous attention to meter in reading Donne and other metaphysical poets, in listening to German vowels, in correcting Sotheby's work, in teaching verse to his son and his surrogate son Henry Gillman, his claims for the meter of "Christabel" may be taken seriously. In the headnote to the poem added at the time of its publication in 1817, Coleridge delights in his own metrical skills; he is as close to bragging as he comes, especially unusual in a poem that Wordsworth had hurtfully rejected for the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads:
I have only to add, that the metre of the Christabel is not, properly speaking, irregular, though it may seem so from its being founded on a new principle: namely, that of counting in each line the accents, not the syllables. Though the latter may vary from seven to twelve, yet in each line the accents will be found to be only four. Nevertheless this occasional variation in numbers of syllables is not introduced wantonly, or for the mere ends of convenience, but in correspondence with some transition, in the nature of the imagery or passion. (15)
The line lengths vary from the four elongated spondaic beats of "Tu--whit! Tu--Whoo!," reproducing the owlet's screech, to the twelve syllable anapestic four-beat line that sets off Geraldine's magical incantation--"`In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell.'" These variations on the four-beat line form part of Coleridge's strategy for arousing and disturbing his listeners. He uses his metrical skills to frighten them by disorienting them and disrupting their expectations. (16) He exercises his will and craft; shifts of point of view, altered voices, quizzical pauses, and questions leave the listener off balance and anxious. In this poem the meters work on the listener by analogy to the working of Geraldine's spell on Christabel. In a parallel submission readers come to experience what happens to Christabel herself. They suspend their disbelief as she did hers, because they are likewise forced passively to attend, their heart-beats disrupted by the play of rhythms. They, too, are reduced to the state of a three year's child listening to a story in the moonlight, as was the Wedding Guest in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," mesmerized by the swaying cobra of the poet's craftsmanship. Coleridge is conscious of enacting this power through rhythm. Donald Wesling in The Scissors of Meter credits Coleridge, in "Christabel," with the invention of "stress," of "a prosody malleable to meaning." (17)
3. Meter and the Stimulus of Pleasure
The wincing pain of disorienting meter is part of the pleasure of poetry. Poetry is a distinctive language because it aims to produce pleasure rather than to convey truth. Like the rocking of a baby, it begins in physical, muscular activity alternately comforting and arousing. The pleasure of poetry arises from motion and physical repetition; passions have specific pulses, and pulses rouse pleasure (Lectures 1811-12 1.221-22). In pursuing the "highest quantity of pleasure," "Metre introduces its claims where the feeling calls for it" (Lectures 1811-12 1.206). Meter is the beat of pleasure and its source.
Coleridge's repeated claims that poetry aims to produce pleasure, his repeated definitions of pleasure as more physical than emotional or intellectual, ground his fifteen-year disagreement with William Wordsworth on the ends and means of their craft, on the nature of pleasure and the purposes of meter. Coleridge's concern with skill, discipline, movement, energy, and power--aspects of meter that have been mentioned so far--form the basis of his notion of pleasure and in disagreeing with his friend he recurs frequently to these terms.
Coleridge luxuriates in the word pleasure. Where his eighteenth-century predecessors had used the word in the plural, (18) he uses the singular form to interrogate the quality of that pleasure itself. Coleridge examines the pleasure that for Aristotle was activity and process, the surprising recreation of similarity and difference in a different medium, (19) for Bentham a calculable and stable state of contentment, that will be for Freud a release of tension in recurrent repetitive play, (20) and for Barthes a "delectative duration," "the moment when by its very excess verbal pleasure chokes and reels into bliss." (21) In The Principles of Genial Criticism (1814) Coleridge attempts to pinpoint the meaning of a complex experience that ranges from luxuriance in sense perception to gratification of the appetites to a total glow of well-being, an experience that spans mutton to Milton, venison to Virgil (SWF 1.363).
Coleridge's notion of pleasure is more exclusively physical than Wordsworth's. Although Coleridge knows that "the term, pleasure, is unfortunately so comprehensive, as frequently to become equivocal" (SWF 1.362), he calls pleasure the immediate aim of poetry. Wordsworth, whose search for pleasure Lionel Trilling first extolled as a forerunner of Freud's, (22) fears certain kinds of pleasure as degraded or outrageous stimulation, and seeks a "sort" and "quantity" of pleasure. (23) Even Trilling observes that "the actual pleasures he represents are of a quite limited kind" and that "the eroticism is very highly sublimated" and "tend[ing] toward joy" (53). Coleridge, on the other hand, seeks stimulation however outrageous and praises those works of art that arouse pleasure.
Wordsworth is finicky about pleasure, Coleridge omnivorous. Wordsworth's poetry has many aims: to enlarge the capacity to feel without external stimulation, to trace primary laws of our nature, to correct and purify the language, to follow "a worthy purpose," to nourish feelings in connection with important subjects, to exalt taste and to ameliorate affections, to follow the fluxes and refluxes of the mind when agitated. But pleasure is not an initial aim; it is added to the preface to the Lyrical Ballads in 1802 in a sprawling paragraph where it seems to accompany a large number of abstract nouns. Wordsworth sees "the grand elementary principle of pleasure" as the ground of the human being's later development of serenity, but the object of poetry is truth (that is, accuracy, reality, purification), not pleasure in itself. When Wordsworth does include pleasure (258) he apologizes for the need for pleasure as a possible "degradation of the Poet's art" and then extends even further the areas of human experience that bring pleasure: "man knows and feels and lives and moves by pleasure"; "we have no sympathy but what is propagated by pleasure"; "wherever we sympathize with pain it will be found that the sympathy is produced and carried on by subtle combinations with pleasure"; "we have no knowledge ... but what has been built up by pleasure, and exists in us by pleasure alone" (258). Wordsworth attaches the word pleasure to knowledge, pain, feeling, sympathy, and science. All of these experiences of human life, even pain, bring pleasure. (24) In Wordsworth's "promiscuous" use of the word (as Coleridge calls such general applications in "On the Principles of Genial Criticism"), pleasure is philosophy, sorrow, sympathy, but hardly at all a sensuous sound. As if continuing a long argument with his friend Coleridge, Wordsworth asserts that "a very small part of the pleasure given by Poetry depends upon the metre" (263), though he acknowledges that meter can also rouse passion when words have not succeeded in doing so. For Wordsworth meter can control and regulate the exciting and painful passions stirred by the incidents of the poem; he is such a subtle metrist, however, that he can and does do the opposite, as Brennan O'Donnell demonstrates in The Passion of Meter, where he sees Wordsworth tempering and restraining passion by meter and also, where necessary, spurring it by meter. (25)
Whereas Wordsworth's "pleasure" is one of many adjuncts to the aim of expanding the capacity to feel without external stimulation, Coleridge keeps pleasure at the center of both the end and the means of poetry. His famous definition in Biographia Literaria thrusts back at Wordsworth; it is not feeling or indignation but pleasure that poems must rouse: "a poem is that species of composition, which is opposed to works of science, by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth" (2.13). The coherence of its parts produces "the pleasurable activity of mind excited by the attractions of the journey itself" (2.14); the "activity" and "action" (2.16) accelerate the pleasure of writer and reader. Pleasure is end and means in the second lecture on Shakespeare and Milton of 1811: "pleasurable excitement was its origin and object, pleasure formed the magic circle out of which the poet never dare attempt to tread" (Lectures 1811, 1.207) by slipping, for instance, into a didacticism that would violate the metrical contract promising a reward for aroused attentiveness. (26) Pleasure is excitement, stimulation, and motion kept at the stretch; the proper and immediate object of poetry is "the communication of immediate pleasure" (Lectures 1811, 1.217). Meter, also described, as we saw, as excitement and motion, is the vehicle of such physically experienced pleasure.
The purpose of meter for Wordsworth is often to soothe rather than to exhilarate. Paul Youngquist explains that Wordsworth deliberately weighed his meter in practice no matter how much he understated its importance in his prefaces. Youngquist demonstrates that in his early poems Wordsworth subscribed to a notion that the sound of poetry heals the body; he believed that regular meter modified and retarded the excitements aroused by the lamentable scenes presented in the poems. Meter is thus the calming influence imposed by reason to counterbalance the rousing subject; meter keeps the experience of poetry healthy. After the earliest of the lyrical ballads Wordsworth's view of the physical therapy in verse became less corporeal and more moral. (27) In the 1802 Preface Wordsworth argues that passions come first, arising from within or from the contemplation of natural objects and that these passions are soothed by "continual and regular impulses," "tempering and restraining" the passions. Meter calms passions which would otherwise cause pain (as passions do in the prose of Richardson [264-65]), and by relieving pain meter permits a moderating pleasure.
Wordsworth's soothing and Coleridge's agitating notions of meter's purpose may be glimpsed by comparing "Christabel" with Wordsworth's "Ruth," written in Germany in the winter of 1799 after Coleridge composed the first part of "Christabel." "Ruth" is a poem that Coleridge deeply admired and wished he had written (CL 1.632), knowing that it answers and in part corrects the first part of "Christabel." The subject of "Ruth" is similar to that of "Christabel" in narrating the seduction of a solitary girl; each girl is discarded by an exotic and mysterious lover who emerges ambiguously from a natural setting. Both Ruth and Christabel lose their identities as a result of willingly joining their seducers, and these losses of self are additionally disturbing to many readers because of the weak acquiescence of the heroines. Coleridge increases readers' agitation by unbalancing the meter, as in these first words of the mysterious stranger:
My sire is of a noble line, And my name is Geraldine: Five warriors seized me yestermorn, Me, even me, a maid forlorn: They choked my cries with force and fright, And tied me on a palfrey white. (Beer 262, lines 79-84)
The ostensible four beats to a line waver into three or five; falseness reeks from these and the next lines because of a wobbling uncertainty of accent from iamb to trochee, further agitated by shifts in point of view. By contrast, Wordsworth keeps the meter regular except for important emphases created by trochaic substitutions and direct address. Imagining an America of whooping savages, Wordsworth describes a young man from Georgia, sporting Cherokee feathers in his helmet, lively as a "panther" or a "dolphin," speaking of "green savannahs." His first promises, like Geraldine's, are false:
`How pleasant,' then he said, `it were A fisher or a hunter there, In sunshine or in shade To wander with an easy mind; And build a household fire, and find A home in every glade! `What days and what bright years! Ah me! Our life were life indeed, with thee So passed in quiet bliss, And all the while,' said he, `to know That we were in a world of woe, On such an earth as this!' (28)
The clear emphases of iambic tetrameter and trimeter, subtly modulated by commas and exclamations, allow the reader to notice the suspicious sounding evasions--"Ah me!"--, strange promises, and ominous reminders of the world's evil.
The results for the abandoned women likewise suggest the different purposes of meter. In the conclusion to part 1, after the spell has taken effect and silenced her, Christabel's appearance (presumably because of a collapse in her inward being) deteriorates in shifting lines whose spondees contract the four beat lines into three:
It was a lovely sight to see The lady Christabel, when she Was praying at the old oak tree. Amid the jagged shadows Of mossy leafless boughs, Kneeling in the moonlight, To make her gentle vows; Her slender palms together prest, Heaving sometimes on her breast; Her face resigned to bliss or bale-- Her face, oh call it fair not pale, And both blue eyes more bright than clear, Each about to have a tear. With open eyes (ah woe is me!) Asleep, and dreaming fearfully, Fearfully dreaming, yet, I wis, Dreaming that alone, which is-- O sorrow and shame! Can this be she ...? (Beer 267-68, lines 280-96)
Shifts from four to three beats and from couplets to triplets, shifts from statement to question, from description to intrusive uncertainty about the correctness of the description, parenthetical asides and incompletions, reinforce the transformation of loveliness into fear, and seem designed to unsettle the reader. By contrast, Ruth's collapse is certain and inevitable:
God help thee, Ruth!--Such pains she had, That she in half a year was mad, And in a prison housed; And there, with many a doleful song Made of wild words, her cup of wrong She fearfully caroused. (lines 193-98)
Within the regularly recurring iambic lines, varied by interruptions and pauses, the reader can focus on the facts and events and feel a steady, rather than skittish and uncertain, sympathy with Ruth. The reader learns that America harbors charlatans, that vulnerable girls must beware, and that doom will come with rash choices, while the meaning of "Christabel" is disturbingly unresolved, its tensions never clarified, the reader's sense of value destabilized.
Comparing these poems on similar topics suggests that Coleridge sees both the empassioning sound and the purpose of meter differently from Wordsworth. Rather than soothing passion, his meter spurs anxiety, it has the power of exciting feelings; it heats up passions which may have been quiescent. For Coleridge poetry is "imperfect and defective without metre" (BL 2.71). The passions of poetry arise not from the feelings being depicted but from "the very act of poetic composition itself," an act, or activity, that produces "an unusual degree of excitement." Praising vivacity and fervor, Coleridge locates the pleasure of poetry in motion, doing, acting, speeding. Meter is not reason keeping passion in check but rather the energy of sound rousing the passions. It stimulates the blood and further excites the passion. For Coleridge this is pleasure; for Wordsworth this is pain, because too intense, bespeaking perhaps a higher level of intensity that hurts, or a fear of excess. (29) The purpose of meter disjoins Wordsworth and Coleridge, and by extension opens up a deep rift between them, based perhaps in physiological differences. (30)
These profound differences in the tolerance for heightened stimulus may be founded on essentially different experiences of pain. Wordsworth feels it as acute, Coleridge as depressive and lethargic: thus Wordsworth needs meter to offset surges and Coleridge needs it to galvanize slumps. Wordsworth views meter as a tranquilizer, Coleridge as a stimulant to "pleasurable excitement" or "activity." The word "measure" is telling: it is moderation for Wordsworth, but metrically various ("more measured" [Lectures 1812, 1.222]) for Coleridge, who draws on the rich storehouse of numerous measures, measures meet, or mingled measures in Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and Donne. In the tradition of modes and meters, measure can be immoderate.
Within the context of an underlying disagreement about meter, the seemingly swerving arguments of chapters 14 to 18 of Biographia Literaria seem to cohere as a single argument with multiple parts. Together the five chapters aim to show, by delicate absences of transition, (31) the folly of Wordsworth's equation of prose and verse, as Coleridge: perceives it. From chapter 14, where poetry is defined as pleasure rather than truth, to 15, where Shakespeare's "delight in richness and sweetness of sound" is the preeminent evidence of his original poetic genius, to 16, where the "melodious" "measures," the "harmonies of ... metrical movement," the "numerous sounds" of Anacreon, Strozzi, and other masters of the art of madrigals have little to do with their subject matter, to 17 on rustic language, and to 18 on meter, the sequence brings to bear against Wordsworth's preface a history of musical artistry in sound. (32) Coleridge's witty refutation in chapter 17 of Wordsworth's theory of naturally poetic rustic diction--those pastoral names for insulated facts that lack the controlling artifice of educated syntax--gains intensity in the larger context of an artful (not natural) music of poetry. In arguing that poetry is more than a depiction of majestic landscapes available to those who work closely with the land, Coleridge presses his belief that music is the first requirement of greatness in a poet (BL 2.19). Unlike "interesting personal or domestic feelings," which can "be acquired as a trade," "the sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of imagination." Wordsworth's theoretical rejection of distinctions between prose and poetry leads Coleridge to suspect that Wordsworth lacks "the perfect sweetness of the versification" that from the start signals Shakespeare's greatness, as he also fails on the "second promise of genius," "the choice of subjects very remote from the private interests and circumstances of the writer himself." According to Coleridge's innuendoes in this sequence of chapters, these gifts, music and altruism, are not present naturally in Wordsworth, and thus Wordsworth may never be as great as Shakespeare, no matter how avidly he wills himself to fame. As Emerson Marks summarizes: "Wordsworth's virtual conflation of prose and verse would seem not merely technically erroneous but well-nigh insensate" (30). (33)
For Coleridge, meter is an "upper," for Wordsworth, a "downer." Meter is a stimulant to excitement, and is the excitement itself. It is not natural, but artificial and voluntary, and should reveal the "traces" of this volition (BL 2.65). It should "defamiliarize" language, and call attention to its constructedness. (34) To explain his divergence from Wordsworth on this topic so central to his own understanding of poetry as pattern or artifice, whose artful pleasures are independent of subject matter, Coleridge resorts to a "mean" metaphor. He calls on this metaphor to clarify how meter rouses passion, because meter is a stimulant. This metaphor defiantly engages Wordsworth's several criticisms of "gross and violent stimulants" and the "degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation" (248-49) in contemporary life and art:
As far as metre acts in and for itself, it tends to increase the vivacity and susceptibility both of the general feelings and of the attention. This effect it produces by the continued excitement of surprize, and by the quick reciprocations of curiosity still gratified and still reexcited, which are too slight indeed to be at any one moment objects of distinct consciousness, yet become considerable in their aggregate influence. As a medicated atmosphere, or as wine during animated conversation; they act powerfully, though themselves unnoticed. (BL 2.66)
Persistently objecting that Wordsworth does not examine how meter works in itself, Coleridge elaborates his metaphor of wine during animated conversation:
for any poetic purposes, metre resembles (if the aptness of the simile may excuse its meanness), yeast, worthless or disagreeable by itself, but giving vivacity and spirit to the liquor with which it is proportionally combined. (BL 2.67)
He summarizes, "Meter in itself is simply a stimulant of the attention, and therefore excites the question: Why is the attention to be thus stimulated?" (BL 2.69), circling back then to the distinguishing character of poetry, "the property of exciting a more continuous and equal attention, than the language of prose aims at," and thus pursuing the argument with Wordsworth over the essential difference between poetry and prose.
The metaphor of intoxication--of wine, yeast (the enzyme that ferments beer), and stimulants--is not as peripheral to Coleridge's understanding of meter's activity as it may seem. (35) First, it is based in his own experience of "conversations mantling like champagne" (CL 3.506-7). Second, it works to convey the continuous undercurrent of meter beneath and between the feelings and subjects of poetry, seeping into them, bathing them, liquefying them, transforming them into "poetry." Third, it insists on the language of poetry as heightened, intensified, and ardent, artificially so. Meter intensifies feelings and thoughts by analogy with alcohol in the blood and brain. Wine and fermenting yeast are metaphors to describe how this vivacity enters the mind and then seeps down into the blood and skin by a physiological osmosis. (36) Paul Fussell, pointing admiringly to these same metaphors, defines exactly this physiological acceleration in meter: "since the beat in most accentual poetry is slightly faster than the normal heart beat, the apprehension of metered language exhilarates the hearer or reader physically: the heart beat, it is said, actually speeds up in an effort to `match' the slightly faster poetic rhythm." (37)
Coleridge uses these metaphors--the medicated atmosphere, the wine in conversation, the yeast in liquor--to emphasize that in poetry the elements are enlivened, augmented, heightened, rhythmic and buzzing, whatever those elements might be, and that even pain, when it comes into the circle of the pleasure of the poem, becomes pleasure, not because the reader exploitatively enjoys the pain of others but because poetry brings "within the bounds of pleasure that which otherwise would be painful." (38) Pain is swept into the pulsing vitality of metrical verse and thus into the magic circle of pleasure. Prose is sober, poetry is inebriated.
Coleridge's mean metaphor--mean in being obvious to any drinking person whether laborer or lord--may be encouraged by physiologists in the preceding generation, such as Dr. Thomas Beddoes and even Dr. Carlysle, who briefly treated Coleridge's addiction to alcohol and laudanum. Their descriptions of glowing alcoholic states might tempt the most sober. Dr. Thomas Beddoes states, "that effervescence of the animal spirits which takes place just this side of intoxication, ranks among the highest of human pleasures." (39) Dr. Carlysle acknowledges that "At the beginning of intoxication the ideas flow with a more than natural rapidity." (40) It is not surprising then that Coleridge raids the words of the doctors to support his theory of meter: "Physicians asserted that each passion has its proper pulse--So it was with meter when rightly used," he says in Lecture 3 of 1811 (Lectures 1811-12, 1.222) and thus hints that he thinks of the effects of meter as physiological, corporeal, specifically hematic. The physiologists describe the effervescence, avidity, and glow of the animal spirits in this excited state. "Gross stimuli" may be exciting, even if impure.
Coleridge's happy application of his own experience of inebriated highs, his sensuous physicality akin to the Keats that Christopher Ricks reveals, (41) his readings of David Hartley on wine in the blood, and his memories of Milton's fallen ardor and seething excitement in Paradise Lost 9.856-1065, enrich several aspects of his view that the excitement of poetry arises from or actually consists of speed and pulse of verse and serves also to tweak the puritan Wordsworth in his fear of the degradations possible in pleasure. Unlike Wordsworth Coleridge does not imagine what passions or landscapes poetry should be about but that it generates its own motion. It spins its own wheels, it bums itself up. Coleridge's quotation from Sir John Davies at the end of Biographia, chapter 14--"As we our food into our nature change / As fire converts to fire the thing it burns"--gains immediacy from the physiological writings of the period but also speaks to the perennially generative energy of poetic structures which correspond, as Justus George Lawler tells, to some circling or voyaging structure in human nature. (42) Energy converts and fuels in new media, in a process akin to Coleridge's fantasy of chimney sweepers who might steal his manuscripts, sell them, convert that paper into money and then into liquid gin and then into liquid fire. Poetic meter is immediately material, sensed, experienced, transformed from the poet's sometimes artificially heightened pulse to the alternating and shifting stresses to the hearer's ear and blood. In accounting for the complex intensity of speech in Wyatt and Shakespeare, George Wright says, "The verse form springs the feeling, enables it to leap from the speaking voice of the text to the listening reader" (Shakespeare's Metrical Art x).
This essay has attempted to turn attention to pleasure at the interface between body and mind, between pulsing blood and willed discipline; to suggest that for Coleridge the heightened action of meter is the physical and spiritual core of his Dionysianism; to hope that Coleridge's poems are ripe for the study of meter and numbers that have enlivened studies of Renaissance poetry; (43) and to assert that Coleridge's passion for metrics is part of his larger advocacy of skilled action by knowledgeable agents who hone the techniques by which they hasten, retard, emphasize and modulate their verse and who concentrate on the perfection of their ancient craft.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY
(1.) John Hollander, Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form (New York: Oxford UP, 1975); Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1981); and The Work of Poetry (New York: Columbia UP, 1997) has long been summoning poets to the art of sound. See also Wai Chi Dimock, "A Theory of Resonance," PMLA 112.5 (Oct, 1997): 1060-71. Brennan O'Donnell, The Passion of Meter: A Study of Wordsworth's Metrical Art (Kent, Ohio, and London: Kent State UP, 1995), examines Wordsworth's sophisticated practice in ballad and blank verse. Susan Wolfson, "Romanticism and the Measures of Meter," Eighteenth Century Life 16.3 (Nov. 1992): 221-246, shows that metrical experiments flourished even in an era of revolutionary freedom from fetters. Wolfson's Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997), studies stanzas and similes but does not recur to her earlier interest in the problem of meter. Stuart Curran, Poetic Form and British Romanticism (New York: Oxford UP, 1986) catalogues the variety of experiments with forms in the period, but does not analyze meter. Jane Stabler, "George Gordon, Lord Byron, Don Juan" in A Companion to Romanticism, ed. Duncan Wu (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998) 247-58, gives a stirring account of how ottava rima speeds up Byron's thought. Worried about the loss of a tradition of technical expertise, contemporary poets have recently begun restoring attention to verse and craft: W. D. Snodgrass, "The Use of Meter," The Southern Review 35.4 (Autumn, 1999): 806-45; Timothy Steele, All The Fun's In How You Say A Thing: An Explanation of Meter and Versification (Athens: Ohio UP, 1999). Annie Finch, A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women (Brownsville, OR: Story Line P, 1994) shows contemporary women poets turning to meter and formal verse, with each explaining why.
(2.) The earliest study to concentrate on Coleridge's interest in verse is Emerson Marks, Coleridge on the Language of Verse (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981). Recently Brennan O'Donnell, "The `Invention' of a Meter: `Christabel' Meter as Fact and Fiction," JEGP 100.4 (October 2001): 511-36, has redefined the subtle and various measures in that poem.
(3.) Citations will be from The Collected Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Coburn (Princeton: Princeton UP and Bollingen P, 1957-); The Notebooks, ed. Kathleen Coburn (1957-2000); Lectures 1808-1819 On Literature, ed. R. A. Foakes (Princeton and Routledge, 1987), hereafter Lectures; Biographia Literaria, ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate (Princeton, 1983), hereafter BL; Shorter Works and Fragments, ed. H. J. and J. R. de J. Jackson (Princeton and Routledge, 1995), hereafter SWF; Table Talk, ed. Carl Woodring (Princeton, 1990), hereafter TT; Marginalia, ed. George Whalley (Princeton and Routledge, 1980-), hereafter Marg. Citations to Coleridge's letters will be from the Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. L. Griggs (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956-), hereafter CL.
(4.) Samuel Carter Hall, A Book of Memories of Great Men and Women of the Age (London: Virtue and Co., 187?) 42.
(5.) Citations from Coleridge's poems come from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poems, ed. John Beer (London: Everyman, 1993), with pages in parentheses, here (100).
(6.) Anthony John Harding, "Coleridge's recovery of John Donne," in Milton, the Metaphysicals, and Romanticism, ed. Lisa Low and Anthony John Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994) 209-10, deftly explains that "instead of reading the line as `Grief, which / Verse did / restrain' (trochee, trochee, iamb)--which is what would be suggested by accentual-syllabic theory--Coleridge notices that the heavy accents on `Grief' and `Verse' override the demands of regularized trimeter, pulling the first syllable of `restrain' into a dactyl with `Verse did,' and leaving the last syllable on its own, filling up the space of one metrical foot." Harding encouraged my sense of the importance of craftsmanship when he concluded (218): "The attention Coleridge paid to Donne's versification and the meticulousness of his observations on Donne's meter testify to a much more lively interest in prosody than one might expect from a Romantic."
(7.) George T. Wright, "Troubles of a Professional Meter Reader," in Shakespeare Reread: The Texts in New Contexts, ed. Russ McDonald (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994) 68, on reading Shakespeare's meter silently. Wright's Shakespeare's Metrical Art (Berkeley: U of California P, 1988), deals clearly with every variety of English meter used up until the seventeenth century, and has a chapter subtitled "More than Meets the Ear."
(8.) He admits to Wordsworth (23 Jan. 1798) his enjoyment of The Frisky Songster, two volumes of toasts. Coleridge's own drinking songs in various rousing meters are cited in Anya Taylor, "Coleridge and Alcohol," TSLL 33.3 (Fall 1991): 355-72; in Anya Taylor, "Coleridge, Keats, Lamb, and Seventeenth-Century Drinking Songs," in Milton, The Metaphysicals, and Romanticism 221-40; and in Anya Taylor, Bacchus in Romantic Literature: Writers and Drink 1780-1830 (London and New York: Macmillan and St. Martin's P, 1999) 94-100.
(9.) In To Southey, 25 Feb. 1800, Coleridge praises the "fascinating Metre" of Mary Robinson's "The Haunted Beach" with the highest accolade: "but the Metre--ay! that Woman has an Ear" (CL 1.575-76).
(10.) Coleridge is more polite to Sotheby than Byron, who in the 1817 Beppo (stanza 74) mocks him as "Botherby": "Translating tongues he knows not even by letter, / And sweating plays so middling, bad were better." See Peter J. Manning, "The Nameless Broken Dandy" in Reading Romantics: Texts and Contexts (New York: Oxford UP, 1990) 149-53. Byron may have learned about Sotheby's ineptitude from hilarious conversation with Coleridge.
(11.) Richard D. Cureton, Rhythmic Phrasing in English Verse (London and New York: Longman, 1992) 121, 124.
(12.) Amittai F. Aviram, Telling Rhythm: Body and Meaning in Poetry (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994) 31.
(13.) Derek Attridge, The Rhythms of English Poetry (London and New York: Longman, 1982) 308-9.
(14.) Bruce R. Smith, The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-Factor (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999) 3-29, describes the bone, muscle, lung, larynx, humidity, wind, and force that "sound through" one person (or "per-sona") and vibrate in another.
(15.) The entry "Christabel Meter" in Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993) 202, derides these claims for originality.
(16.) Coleridge's own sensitivity to sound is acutely rendered, for example, in The Notebooks 1, entries 1270 and 1272, as he listens at the White-hart to glass crashing, women scolding, tramplings, screaming in play, and yowling in earnest. See also entries 1307 and 1387.
(17.) Donald Wesling, The Scissors of Meter: Grammetrics and Reading (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1996) 12-13: "Stress, the broader linguistic term that I have preferred to use here, is not accent, though after the late eighteenth century the terms are for most prosodists synonymous. The signature of the new school is stress, and the influential poem that most radically enacts its premises is written by S. T. Coleridge in the late 1790's. `Christabel,' and its famous preface proclaiming a `new principle' for poetry, `that of counting in each line the accents, not the syllables,' is by traditional consent the work that turns both poetry and prosody toward the poem in the ear [my emphasis]."
(18.) As in The Pleasures of Imagination, The Pleasures of Memory, and The Pleasures of Hope, by Addison, Akenside, Rogers, and others, where the attention focuses on the object of the preposition.
(19.) Gerald F. Else, Aristotle's Poetics: The Argument (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1957), chapter 14, 447-49.
(20.) "Beyond the Pleasure Principle," The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey, et al (London: Hogarth P, 1964) 18: 7-17.
(21.) Roland Barthes, The Pleasures of the Text, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975) 18 and 8.
(22.) Lionel Trilling, "The Fate of Pleasure," in Beyond Culture: Essays on Literature and Learning (New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1965) 50-76.
(23.) William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, ed. R. L. Brett and A. R. Jones (London and New York: Routledge, 1991) 241.
(24.) When Don H. Bialostosky, Making Tales: The Poetics of Wordsworth's Narrative Experiments (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1984) 29-31, discusses Wordsworth's pleasure in his narrators' pleasure, he quotes Wordsworth's words but leaves us still wondering what kind of pleasure is involved in observing the pain of others. Bialostosky acknowledges (188, n. 13) that Wordsworth's "grand elementary principle of pleasure" "has not generally been treated as important by the critics," but his own uses of the word pleasure reiterate the word without exploring it. For him as for Wordsworth in the 1802 Preface pleasure is a given and applies to many possible topics. Bialostosky points to the one critic who has queried Wordsworth's notions of pleasure: B. R. Breyer, "Wordsworth's pleasure: An Approach to His Poetic Theory," Southern Humanities Review 6 (Spring 1972): 123-31. In his brief and hesitant essay Breyer begins to suspect that "Wordsworth did not share--could not even tolerate--Coleridge's amoral conception of poetic pleasure" (126) and that "Wordsworth saw as his purpose the refinement and enlargement of our range of pleasure--pleasure, be it noted, not in poetry as such but in poetry as the medium of human, heart-felt truth" (130).
(25.) He writes in the first case, "meter, operating as a familiar and constant presence in the midst of uncommon and unsettling passion, may act to oppose and to temper this excitement" (22). In the second, "[the] metrical form of a line itself, its length and its internal structure, imports its own passion into the poem" (27), forming a "tense interplay of phrase and measured line" (28). O'Donnell closely analyzes the "ambivalence about the power of meter [that] appears through Wordsworth's comments on the subject" (41).
(26.) John Hollander, "The Metrical Contract," in Romanticism and Consciousness: Essays in Criticism, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Norton, 1970) 181-200, first pointed to this contract in Wordsworth's prefaces and Coleridge's Biographia as a frame indicating that a certain kind of poetry is about to be written, but did not mention this promise to reward with interesting matter the attention which meter commands.
(27.) Paul Youngquist, "Lyrical Bodies: Wordsworth's Physiological Aesthetics," European Romantic Review 10.2 (Spring 1999): 152-62. Judith W. Page, "Wordsworth and the Psychology of Meter," Papers on Language and Literature 21 (1985): 275-94, anticipates this interest in the "soothing power" of meter, for instance in The Prelude's boating passage, where meter tempers terror and makes it pleasurable.
(28.) "Ruth," lines 72-84, William Wordsworth, The Poems, ed. John. O. Hayden (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1977) 1.377. Coleridge thinks it "the finest poem in the collection" (CL 1.623).
(29.) Adela Pinch, Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen (Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 1996) 87-89, suggests that meter can protect from literary pain: "meter is said to have powers to assuage the pains of affective language, prevent overidentification, maintain manliness.... meter provides pleasure not through excitement but through the reduction or regulation of excitement."
(30.) Stephen Maxfield Parrish, The Art of the Lyrical Ballads (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1973) 14-21, mounts a furious defense of Wordsworth against Coleridge on the subject of meter, which ends by stating, "It will, I hope, be clear from this analysis who disparaged and who defended meter" (24). This paper argues that both poets require meter but for different ends.
(31.) Heather Jackson, "Coleridge's Lessons in Transition: The `Logic' of the `Wildest Odes,'" in Lessons of Romanticism: A Critical Companion, ed. Thomas Pfau and Robert F. Gleckner (Durham and London: Duke UP, 1998) 220, sees these characteristic absences of transition, or apparent gaps in thought, as a proof of Coleridge's "preference for energy over matter in physical models of the universe and for mystery over evidence in the area of religious faith."
(32.) In chapter 16 Coleridge's long footnote to the madrigals of Giovanbatista Strozzi (1593) shows that he is keeping in mind his argument with Wordsworth on the difference between prose and verse and also demonstrating his own superior knowledge of "numbers": "I cannot but deem it likewise an advantage in the Italian tongue, in many other respects inferior to our own, that the language of poetry is more distinct from that of prose than with us. From the earlier appearance and established primacy of the Tuscan poets ... the Italians have gained a poetic idiom, as the Greeks before them had obtained from the same causes, with greater and more various discriminations--ex, gr. the ionic for their heroic verses; the attic for their iambic, and the two modes of the doric, the lyric or sacerdotal, and the pastoral, the distinctions of which were doubtless more obvious to the Greeks themselves than they are to us" (BL 2.35).
(33.) Susan Wolfson, "Romanticism and the Measures of Meter," scrutinizes the "evasions" of Wordsworth's ideas about meter, finding the issue of whether meter is an artifical form or essential to its effects "an involute of circular and reciprocal causes and consequences" (235). She believes (238) that Coleridge is equally uncertain, but I hope I have shown that he is not.
(34.) The history of critical interest in formal structures has been delineated by Susan Wolfson, "Romanticism and the Question of Poetic Form" in Questioning Romanticism, ed. John Beer (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995) 133-54, an essay in which she addresses the problem of meter as another "inclosure." Defamiliarization, an idea associated with Russian' Formalists, may begin in the Biographia and reach its fullness in Shelley's Defense.
(35.) In Bacchus in Romantic England: Writers and Drink 1780--1830 I discuss for writers as various as Burns, Wordsworth, Basil Montagu, Francis Place, numerous doctors, Coleridge, Hartley Coleridge, Keats, Byron, Clare, and many women novelists the importance of real and metaphorical drinking.
(36.) Marks summarizes Coleridge's use of the metaphor of wine and yeast (69).
(37.) Paul Fussell, Jr., Poetic Meter and Poetic Form (New York: Random House, 1966) 5, though Fussell says that Coleridge is a rationalist, and it is "other theorists" who note this physical activity, whereas Coleridge's animating wine works exactly this way on the body.
(38.) Lectures 1811-1818 1.222. The morality of using the pain of others to rouse poetic pleasure is questioned in James H. Averill, Wordsworth and the Poetry of Human Suffering (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1980) 180-85, where he speaks of Wordsworth's poems as "exploitative" of others' pain.
(39.) Hygeia: or Essays Moral and Medical, on the Causes Affecting the Personal State of our Middling and Affluent Classes, 3 vols, (Bristol, 1802) 1: 38-39.
(40.) Dr. Anthony Carlysle, "Of the moral influence of fermented liquors," quoted in Basil Montagu, Some Enquiries into the Effects of Fermented Liquors, by a Water-Drinker (London: Joseph Johnson, 1814) 178-79.
(41.) In Keats and Embarrassment (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974).
(42.) Justus George Lawler, Celestial Pantomime: Poetic Structures of Transcendence (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1979) 168 and 194.
(43.) See, for instance, Alastair Fowler, Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970).
ANYA TAYLOR is Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. She has written Magic in English Romanticism (U of Georgia P, 1979), Coleridge's Defense of the Human (Ohio State UP, 1986), Coleridge: On Humanity, in John Beer's Coleridge's Writings series (Macmillan and St. Martin's, 1994), and Bacchus in Romantic England: Writers and Drink 1780-1830 (Macmillan and St. Martin's, 1999). Also in 2002, "Two Improvvisatore: Coleridge, Letitia Elizabeth Landon and the Difficulties of Loving" will be published in Philological Quarterly and "Christabel and the Phantom Soul" in SEL.
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|Title Annotation:||Samuel Taylor Coleridge|
|Publication:||Studies in Romanticism|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2001|
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