The supernatural in the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Barnaud, Ernest E.
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The poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge is characterized by the supernatural. The word comes from the Latin super meaning above and naturo meaning nature. The etymology of the word, however, helps us in no way to understand the connotation of the word in literature. Contrasted with the natural, the supernatural is apprehended as opposed to comprehended. In fact a thing is apprehended when we can know its existence without understanding it. The natural, we can know and understand because it is material, physical- but the supernatural is beyond the grasp of the physical senses- it is imaterial, spiritual. The natural acts in accordance with physical laws, and departures from these laws are physically impossible, but they are not absolutely impossible for the natural, being created, depends upon the power and the will of its creator. The Creator of the physical universe is above nature and is spiritual and imaterial. We know he exists; but, being beyond the grasp of our senses we can only apprehend him and not comprehend him. Our notion of his being, then since we are so deeply rooted in the physical can only be measured with material images, which we provided with our imaginations and our dreams. The supernatural, then, is a superior force, both spiritual and divine, that has power over the physical universe to change the nature of created things, either in themselves or in their modes of action, and either directly through himself or indirectly through angels or demons or departed spirits. Coleridge is thoroughly romantic in this conception of the supernatural. He creates a new and exotic beauty from the images stored in his imagination. It "lives and breathes before the eyes" and yet it is fantastic, improbable, even impossible. One important factor in understanding the exotic and fantastic nature of the supernatural in his poems is to realize the The Ancient Mariner and Christabel were indirectly influenced by his opium dreams and Kubla Khan was the direct result of an opium dream- proof of this is found in both his Biographia Literaria and Letters written to his wife and friends throughout his opium days. The fact that The Ancient Mariner and Christabel were influenced by his opium dreams does not eliminate the possibility that they were the result of a plan, however- Coleridge himself in his Biographia Literaria assures us that they were- "It was agreed that my endeavors should be directed to persons and characters supernatural." In addition the account of his walk with Wordsworth and Dorothy as well as the argument that precedes the poem provide the external evidence that the Ancient Mariner deals with the supernatural. Spectral persecutions, tutelary spirits and dead men navigating a ship are to be the main elements. In fact the spectral persecution by the tutelary spirits which we find to be at first daemonic and later angelic is most evident throughout the Ancient Mariner. The Christabel, Coleridge called "nothing more than a common Fairy Tale." In fact the poem itself is exotic, deals with enchantment and evil spirits "masking in human forms." Geraldine is weird, unreal, unworldly- she provides the evil influence in the poem- Christabel's mother, who watches from beyond the grave provides the good influence- Geraldine is present throughout the poem, we see her, and through her actions, realize what she is. Christabel's mother is only alluded to; yet, we feel her presence. Unfortunately like Kubla Khan, Christabel is a mere fragment. Had he finished it I cannot but feel that Christabel's mother would have held a more prominent part in the conclusion. Kubla Khan is a dream picture or a rather a part of a dream picture for it was never finished- the background with its supernatural atmosphere of "caverns, measureless to men" "sunless sea" "woman wailing for her demon lover," and "dancing rocks," foreshadows great possibilities. Unfortunately because of the fact that it was never finished, we can only guess, if even that, what might have resulted had not that man from Porlock broken in upon Coleridge's translation into words of this dream picture. Of his three supernatural poems, the Ancient Mariner is his sole poetic literary masterpiece. Coleridge was not a great poet, but he was nevertheless an interesting one- his great merit lies in the utter facility with which he combined the concrete with the abstract, the neutral with the supernatural, in his complete grip of the concrete and facile manipulation of impossibilities. There, he provided both the elements of belief and interest that makes the success of such poems. It is the simplicity and effect woven in the mingling of the concrete with the abstract. That helps us in receiving these abnormal impressions as facts, and in our accepting these lines as facts. Coleridge has verily accomplished his poetic creed.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University