British Poetry Seminar I(2019)

 The Eolian Harp

composed at clevedon, somersetshire

My pensive Sara! thy soft cheek reclined
Thus on mine arm, most soothing sweet it is
To sit beside our Cot, our Cot o’ergrown
With white-flowered Jasmin, and the broad-leaved Myrtle,
(Meet emblems they of Innocence and Love!)
And watch the clouds, that late were rich with light,
Slow saddening round, and mark the star of eve
Serenely brilliant (such would Wisdom be)
Shine opposite! How exquisite the scents
Snatched from yon bean-field! and the world so hushed!
The stilly murmur of the distant Sea
Tells us of silence.

                            And that simplest Lute,
Placed length-ways in the clasping casement, hark!
How by the desultory breeze caressed,
Like some coy maid half yielding to her lover,
It pours such sweet upbraiding, as must needs
Tempt to repeat the wrong! And now, its strings
Boldlier swept, the long sequacious notes
Over delicious surges sink and rise,
Such a soft floating witchery of sound
As twilight Elfins make, when they at eve
Voyage on gentle gales from Fairy-Land,
Where Melodies round honey-dropping flowers,
Footless and wild, like birds of Paradise,
Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untamed wing!
O! the one Life within us and abroad,
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light,
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere—
Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so filled;
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument.

    And thus, my Love! as on the midway slope
Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon,
Whilst through my half-closed eyelids I behold
The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the main,
And tranquil muse upon tranquility:
Full many a thought uncalled and undetained,
And many idle flitting phantasies,
Traverse my indolent and passive brain,
As wild and various as the random gales
That swell and flutter on this subject Lute!

    And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?

    But thy more serious eye a mild reproof
Darts, O beloved Woman! nor such thoughts
Dim and unhallowed dost thou not reject,
And biddest me walk humbly with my God.
Meek Daughter in the family of Christ!
Well hast thou said and holily dispraised
These shapings of the unregenerate mind;
Bubbles that glitter as they rise and break
On vain Philosophy’s aye-babbling spring.
For never guiltless may I speak of him,
The Incomprehensible! save when with awe
I praise him, and with Faith that inly feels;
Who with his saving mercies healèd me,
A sinful and most miserable man,
Wildered and dark, and gave me to possess
Peace, and this Cot, and thee, heart-honored Maid!

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Source: The Longman Anthology of Poetry (Pearson, 2006) 




1. Conversation Poems

 A group of eight poems composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) between 1795 and 1807. Each details a particular life experience which lead to the poet's examination of nature and the role of poetry. They describe virtuous conduct and man's obligation to God, nature and society, and ask as if there is a place for simple appreciation of nature without having to actively dedicate one's life to altruism.


The Conversation poems were grouped in the 20th-century by literary critics who found similarity in focus, style and content. The series title was devised to describe verse where Coleridge incorporates conversational language while examining higher ideas of nature and morality. The works are held together by common themes, in particular they share meditations on nature and man's place in the universe. In each, Coleridge explores his idea of "One Life", a belief that people are spiritually connected through a universal relationship with God that joins all natural beings.


Critics have disagreed on which poem in the group is strongest. "Frost at Midnight" is usually held in high esteem, while "Fears in Solitude" is generally less well regarded.


2. M.H. Abrams's comment on the conversation poem


The speaker begins with a description of the landscape; an aspect or change of aspect in the landscape evokes a varied by integral process of memory, thought, anticipation, and feeling which remains closely intervolved with the outer scene. In the course of this meditation the lyric speaker achieves an insight, faces up to a tragic loss, comes to a moral decision, or resolves an emotional problem. Often the poem rounds itself to end where it began, at the outer scene, but with an altered mood and deepened understanding which is the result of the intervening meditation.


3. Pantheism(Wiki)


The belief that the universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity, or that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent God. Pantheists thus do not believe in a distinct personal or anthropomorphic god. Some Eastern religions are considered to be pantheistically inclined.

Pantheism was popularised in the West as both a theology and philosophy based on the work of the 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, whose book Ethics was an answer to Descartes' famous dualist theory that the body and spirit are separate. Spinoza held the monist view that the two are the same, and monism is a fundamental part of his philosophy. He was described as a "God-intoxicated man," and used the word God to describe the unity of all substance. Although the term pantheism was not coined until after his death, Spinoza is regarded as its most celebrated advocate.


4. Harold Bloom's comments on Coleridge's palinode(a poem in which a poet retracts something said in an earlier poem):  "a dialectic between two Coleridges, the imaginative and intellectually daring poet, and the timidly orthodox young husband, glad to submit to the mildly reproving eye of his 'Meek daughter in the family of Christ!'"


*The commentary a couple of quotes come from was made by John Spencer Hill at 


5. Paul Magnuson’s comment on ‘The Eolian Harp’


In the ‘Conversation’ poems, Coleridge adopts a natural symbolism in which the perceiving, remembering, imagining mind searches for images of itself and God in nature.  Most of the poems begin with the poet in a state of repose, receiving sensations from nature. Receptivity changes to active speculation on the relation of the poet to nature and society, and activation of the imagination is often presented by the image of the Eolian Harp. The harp is a stringed instrument with sound box, which, when placed where the wind can blow over it, emits a natural music. In the eighteenth century it was an image of nature’s music, but Colerige transformed it into an image of inspiration in which the poet was a harp over whom the winds of inspiration below.

From “‘The Conversation’ poems” in The Cambridge Companion to Coleridge.








   Related Keyword : Coleridge Eolian Harp