The Life and Times of Samuel Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on October 21, 1772 in Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire. He was the youngest of ten children and was often teased and bullied by the others. When he was 7 years old, Coleridge ran away from home. He was found unharmed the next morning. This event has recurred, in a literary sense, in a large portion of his writings. Many of his poems, sketches, and notebooks contained pictures and descriptions of his night spent outdoors. Although it was evident that Coleridge was a prodigy, he did not do well at a young age because he lost himself in women, drugs, and alcohol. He turned to the army, but this too fell through for him because his family was furious and his brother had him released for reasons of insanity. He immediately brought him back to Cambridge. It was here that he met William Wordsworth (Ashton 29).
In 1797, Coleridge published "Poems" which was well liked. This excited him because he thought that this would begin his road to success. One year later, Wordsworth and Coleridge had their famous "Lyrical Ballads" published. Coleridge’s "The Ancient Mariner," opens the book. Many people believe that the work the two men did together greatly contributed to the creation of the Romantic Period. It was chosen to open the book because of its powerful descriptions about remorse. This, combined with the element of psychological obsession, may have had a lot to do with his younger years. In several ways, Coleridge’s life experiences seem to have a lot to do with his poem, "Frost at Midnight."
However brilliant, Coleridge was not necessarily a happy man. In 1802
he wrote to Southey: "All my poetic genius is gone, and I have been fool
enough to suffer deeply in my my mind, regretting the loss, which I attribute
to my long and exceedingly severe
metaphysical investigations, and these partly to ill-health, and partly to private afflictions…" (Watson 3). He, like many, was going through a tough period in his life. His poem, "Frost at Midnight," is an excellent example of his attempts to find hope in his life. He wrote this poem for his son, Hartley. Through his friendship with Wordsworth, Coleridge grew immensely as writer, and became inspired to write more. He published many of poems during this time, all dealing with some personal aspects of his life (86).
Coleridge’s father died while he was very young, he married a woman he did not love, and his son passed away, all in a span of about 25 years. This led to much remorse early on in his life. His sadness is evident in the poem that he wrote for his youngest son, Hartley (Holmes 36). This poem shows several different emotions. Coleridge includes memories of his own childhood, but also incorporates his hopes and dreams for his son. Through this poem, Coleridge finds joy and hope not only in his own life, but also in his son’s as well. It seems as though his experiences have encouraged him write a piece of work inspired by the pure joy of his son’s birth. Coleridge writes:
For I was rearedHe shows that while he may not have had the best childhood, he wants to see his own child have the best one possible.
In the great city, pent’ mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely, but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountains…" (David 458).
The language Coleridge uses displays the hurt he may have had at one time, but it also shows that he holds hope for his own son. Without the hard times in his life, Coleridge may have not been able to write this poem so effectively. Many different things have contributed to Coleridge’s style of writing, use of imagery, and even themes or issues in his works. We may not be able to determine where specifically these skills came from, but we can be sure that William Wordsworth was a big influence on Coleridge’s writing. One’s life experiences carry over into everything they do, and this is obvious in a large number of his works.
Samuel T. Coleridge died on July 25, 1834, leaving his finished and unfinished works behind. Today, Coleridge is a widely known name, remembered for his poetry, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" remaining one of the most well known (Cooke17). His life can be summed up in the epitaph he wrote for himself:
Beneath this sod
A Poet lies; or that which once was he.
O lift one thought in prayer for S.T.C.
That he, who many a year with toil of breath,
Found Death in Life, and Life in Death.
Ashton, Rosemary. The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell
Publishers, Inc., 1996.
Cooke, Katherine. Coleridge. London: Routledge, 1979.
David, Donaldson, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York:
WWW Norton and Company, 2000.
Holmes, Richard. Coleridge: Early Visions. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.
Watson, George. Coleridge the Poet. New York: Barnes & Noble Inc., 1966.