Samuel Taylor Coleridge

(1772 - 1834)


Coleridge shows within narrow limits a superlative power
and brings in a new element and opens a new field
in the realms of poetic vision.


from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out:
at one stride comes the dark;
with far-heard whisper, o’er the sea,
off shot the spectre-bark.

We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
my life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
the steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white;

from the sails the dew did drip —
till climb above the eastern bar
the hornéd Moon, with one bright star
within the nether tip.

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,
too quick for groan or sigh,
each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
and cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,
(and I heard nor sigh nor groan)
with heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
they dropped down one by one.

The souls did from their bodies fly, —
they fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul; it passed me by,
like the whizz of my cross-bow!


«Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
to thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well,
both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
all things both great and small;
for the dear God who loveth us,
he made and loveth all.»

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
whose beard with age is hoar,
is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
turned from the bridegroom’s door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
and is of sense forlorn:
a sadder and a wiser man,
he rose the morrow morn.


Sri Aurobindo’s remarks:

«There is a lyrical narrative movement and that is the quality reached by Coleridge, perhaps the finest use yet made of the ballad movement.»

«May I say a word about the four lines of Coleridge which you criticise! —

He prayeth best, who loveth best
all things both great and small;
for the dear God who loveth us,
he made and loveth all.

The sentimentalism of the “dear God” is obviously extra childlike and may sound childish even. If it had been written by Coleridge as his own contribution to thought or his personal feeling described in its native language it would have ranked him very low. But Coleridge was a great metaphysician or at any rate an acute and wide-winged thinker, not a sentimental prattling poet of the third order. Mark that the idea in the lines is not essentially poor; otherwise expressed it could rank among great thoughts and stand as the basis of a philosophy and ethics founded on bhakti. There are one or two lines of the Gita which are based on a similar thought, though from the Vedantic, not the dualist point of view. But throughout the Ancient Mariner Coleridge is looking at things from the point of view and the state of mind of the most simple and childlike personality possible, the Ancient Mariner who feels and thinks only with the barest ideas and the most elementary and primitive emotions. The lines he writes here record the feeling which such a mind and heart would draw from what he had gone through. Are they not then perfectly in place and just in the right tone for such a purpose? You may say that it lowers the tone of the poem. I don’t know — the tone of the poem is deliberately intended to be that of an unsophisticated ballad simplicity and ballad mentality — it is not the ideas but the extraordinary beauty of rhythm and vividness of vision and fidelity to a certain mystic childlike key that makes it such a wonderful and perfect poem. This is of course only a point of view; but it came to me several times as an answer that could be made to your criticism, so I put it on paper.»