In Coleridge, more than any other writer from the Romantic age, we see a body of work dominated by underlying theological ideas. I will be concerned mainly with the young Coleridge and his early work; rather than discussing Coleridge’s philosophical and theological ideas about the nature of things and God, I will be predominantly looking at his the more subjective facet of Coleridge’s ideas, expressed in his poetry: his relationship and emotional reactions to these ideas, and more specifically, the relationship between his self, “Nature” and God.
So what was Coleridge’s idea of God? As a radical, in an age where politics and religion are inextricably linked, a person like Coleridge would find it difficult to accept conventional religious beliefs: “Coleridge’s teachings about the nature of God were to a great extent motivated by his dislike of some eighteenth century conceptions of God. “Coleridge was obviously a Unitarian in his early years, but it was a much more original and complex a conception than what an average Unitarian doctrine would teach.
Like Blake, Coleridge in some way invented his own personal religion.
There is insufficient time to go into this in detail now, but there are some key ideas within this that we shall see. It is possible to see that Coleridge took on the idea that God is in things and that all substance is divine, and this has profound implications for his poetry and his poetic imagination. He feels, in The Pains of Sleep: “in me, round me, everywhere/ Eternal strength and wisdom are.
” The important thing is that Coleridge sees not only external objects, but also himself and therefore other people, as God (“Eternal strength”).
In the Ancient Mariner, the mariner harms God in harming the albatross, and blesses God in blessing the water snakes. This has very topical implications in Fears in Solitude, where, as Duncan Wu says “the central argument of the poem is that, in declaring war on himself, man has, like the ancient mariner, declared war on God. “2 And we can certainly see links with the Ancient Mariner in the poem: Boys and girls, And women, that would groan to see a child Pull of an insect’s leg, all read of war, The best amusement for our morning meal!
Like the Ancient Mariner, there is threat of revenge at this harm done to God: And what if all-avenging Providence… … force us to feel The desolation and the agony Of our fierce doings? Symbols of unity are a prevalent force in Coleridge’s poetry. The Eolian Harp, one of Coleridge’s earliest poems, and the symbol of the harp, is certainly an icon not just for Coleridge, but for the whole romantic age. An Aeolian harp is a stringed instrument placed by a window and effectively played by the breeze.
This symbolised for Coleridge the inspiration of nature (the wind) in the process of artistic or imaginative creation. It also gives for him a unity between what is “art” and what is nature: the harp is an intermediate link between “the one life within us and the one abroad. ” The symbol of course raises the importance of nature to creation, but it is worth finding out why Coleridge sees this as important. The poem raises a much wider issue: that is, the relationship between man and God. Coleridge sees nature as a symbol of God: “all that meets the bodily sense I deem/ Symbolical”.
Coleridge also calls on the idea of the Platonic ideal, the higher reality of objects: Coleridge sees us, in the world, as in Plato’s cave: “we are in this placed with our backs to reality”. But he has adapted it and now the ideal has a real subject, and all is not just incidentally of a lower form, but an actual symbol of God. Also interesting is in Frost at Midnight were Coleridge takes on a slightly different view: that all things are in fact the language of God: “lovely shapes and sounds intelligible/ Of that eternal language which thy God/ Utters.”
The two do essentially amount to the same thing, but importantly Coleridge sees two key elements in God: nature, or the symbols of God, and God himself, who we all presumably meet when we leave this world of symbols. Coleridge sees the world of symbols, the created world, as not only different, but in some way less divine, as C. R. Sanders suggests: “An attribute found in a created being (beauty, brightness, or love) can be predicated by God, but predicated in an entirely greater degree without the imperfections and limitations of created being.
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