Seeing Through The Dungeon-Grate

Dejection: An Ode
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

From Poetical Works, Part II, Poem 293 Part VI

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.


The end of Mariner‘s Chapter Eight presents Coleridge, like the Mariner, seeing through the dungeon-grate of his losses.  His suffering included rejection of his work by Wordsworth, failing health, separation from Asra and his deepening addiction.  The root of this crisis, however was the loss of joy which, as Malcolm Guite wrote “wounded in himself the spirit of imagination from which all his visionary poetry had actually flowed.”

Malcolm continues:

The paradox is that this lament for the loss of his “shaping spirit of imagination” is itself expressed in beautifully shaped poetry of great imaginative force. Even as he mourns at seeing without feeling, he is enabling us both to see and to feel. On one reading, this poem appears to concede that everything we thought was actually glorious and beautiful in nature is merely a subjective feeling projected onto nature, and yet those very “subjective” ideas are expressed in a beautifully made object, the poem itself, which is not fleeting but reliable and generative, always available to the reader. From henceforth, this apparent dichotomy and tension between the two poles of the subjective and the objective was to be the central preoccupation of Coleridge’s thinking. What he needed was to find some mediating power between these apparent opposites that would not only reconcile them but would release the immense potential energies that each could bring out in the other. Like his mariner, he would find that resolution in a miraculous moonrise.

Have you ever found a turning point in the depth of a crisis?

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief