Coleridge: Selected Poetry and Prose (Poetry Library, Penguin)

Selected Poetry and Prose - Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kathleen Raine I think Keats spoiled me for lesser romantic poets. Shakespeare and Donne often leaven their romantic flights of fancy with twists and twitting of conventions. Keats to me seemed to embrace them but with such freshness of expression and sheer beauty I forgave him. Almost all of the poems by Coleridge in this volume (according to the editor in the introduction all by him that is worthy of attention by a general reader) felt like exercises in poetic cliches. There are three poems cited as his greatest included here, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Christabel" and "Kubla Khan" and each certainly does have resonant lines. There are certainly many famous lines in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, one of Coleridge's longer works: “Water, water, everywhere And all the boards did shrink Water, water everywhere Nor any drop to drink.” I can't quite savor this poem though--probably bad associations from it being forced upon me in school, but it doesn't sing to me. "Christabel," which was never finished was... interesting--because it seemed to have such an obvious erotic subtext between two women--and I'm not the kind that usually reads that sort of thing into literature: "Beneath the lamp the lady bowed, And slowly rolled her eyes around; Then drawing in her breath aloud, Like one that shuddered, she unbound The cincture from beneath her breast: Her silken robe, and inner vest, Dropped to her feet, and full in view, Behold! her bosom and half her side- A sight to dream of, not to tell! O shield her! shield sweet Christabel!” That hasn't been lost on critics and looking it up I've seen "Christabel" described as a "Lesbian Vampire" tale. However, there's a quality of WTF to that given what I read of Coleridge's literary criticism. There's a lot in his prose works that made Coleridge sound like a rather priggish moralist to me. Two-thirds of this volume consists of prose writings by Coleridge, largely on the subject of poetry and drama, particularly Shakespeare. And Milton--of whom Coleridge said that in his Eve in Paradise Lost Milton had written the epitome of female characterizations. I read Paradise Lost a few months ago--and it was among the most misogynist works I've ever read. Coleridge's comments on Shakespeare's female characters also often made me think he was the opposite of a feminist. I find it impossible to believe Coleridge meant a lesbian or feminist context in "Christabel." And when you feel a poet is truly clueless about the meanings in his own poem, it's hard to respect him. Then there's "Kubla Khan" and I do have to admit I find it resonant and enchanting--my favorite poem in the book despite that, like "Christabel," it's essentially a uncompleted fragment: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea." That poem for me was the best of it. Unlike with Donne, Shakespeare and Keats, I didn't discover here new and unfamiliar poems that delighted me. In fact, I might have rated this book even lower, were it not that I did find a lot of Coleridge's Shakespeare criticism of interest.