LETTER TO GEORGE COLERIDGE
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
23 February 1794
Sweet in the sight of God and celestial Spirits are the tears of Penitence—the pearls of heaven—the Wine of Angels! Such has been the language of Divines— but Divines have exaggerated.—Repentance may bestow that tranquillity, which will enable man to pursue a course of undeviating harmlessness, but it cannot restore to the mind that inward sense of Dignity, which is the Parent of every kindling Energy! I am not what I was:—Disgust—I feel, as if I had jaundiced all my Faculties.
Grace isn’t understood until forgiveness seems impossible. In today’s section of Mariner’s second chapter, Coleridge spirals circumstantially to a last resort of escape by anonymity. He goes home from college, significantly in debt, receives money from his family and then spends it before returning to school. He despaired of life to consideration of ending it and finally joins the army using an alias. Absent the grace of God; he could have been killed or lost to disease.
Malcolm Guite writes:
The feeling of disgust and self-loathing was one with which Coleridge would have to wrestle during key periods throughout his life. And even as he tells us here that disgust extinguishes the “kindling energies,” he was nevertheless able to give permanent and powerful expression to that disgust not only for himself but also for posterity in the telling lines in The Ancient Mariner: “And a thousand thousand slimy things / Lived on; and so did I.”
Interestingly, he goes on to say that the inward sense of dignity is “the Parent of every kindling energy.” In that phrase “every kindling energy” we see the ﬁrst sparks of Coleridge in his mature brilliance, in his account of the mind as a meeting of reciprocal and circling energies, his sense of the intellect as itself an active and kindling light, not merely a blank and passive receptor to the outside senses. Perhaps the greatest characteristic of his mature poetry, particularly The Rime of the Ancient Mariner itself, is its “kindling energy”— kindling in the sense that it not only expresses the lights and energies that were already in Coleridge’s imagination, but also kindles to new ﬂame and form the imaginations of each new generation of readers.