Crisis of Creativity: “Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Muse & the Albatross”, an Essay by Jenny Fabian

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“The Mad Poet” by Michael Whelan, 1992.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Muse & the Albatross

Jenny Fabian, 2011

In 1800, when William Wordsworth rejected Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Christabel’ from the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, it precipitated a crisis of creativity for Coleridge. It would be another sixteen years before ‘Christabel’ was finally published in Sibylline Leaves, aptly-named, for Coleridge’s poetry is curiously prescient, particularly in his representation of women as portents of his own fear of failure.

This essay will examine how Coleridge’s imagination is driven by this fear of failure, the extent to which the women in his poetry are polarised, and the power they hold over speech, both to inspire and suppress. In ‘The Eolian Harp’ and ‘Kubla Khan’ I will examine the conflict between the earthly and the transcendental and the emergence of the Abyssinian maid as muse, with the idea that Coleridge sacrifices himself to her power. I will show how the fear of failure becomes represented as an inability to speak in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, and how polarisation of women appears in the form of ‘Heaven’s Mother’ and ‘Life-in-Death’. Rituals of crime and punishment in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ illustrate the implicit symbolic violence of Coleridge’s imagination that exists beyond the threshold of consciousness.

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Facsimilie title page from the 1816 edition.

The motif of thresholds is further explored in ‘Christabel’, which I will link with the Gothic symbolism that Coleridge employs to demonstrate the effects of evil on innocence; here Geraldine is the ultimate seducer in Coleridge’s pantheon of female representations, a lamia-like figure with hypnotic powers. Finally, in ‘Dejection: An Ode’, I will argue how, by acknowledging his loss of the transforming power of the imagination, this loss becomes transformed into a presence that enables Coleridge to explore his creative failure.

J.B. Beer, who describes Coleridge as a ‘visionary’, writes: ‘at times, he hoped to discover the ideal woman, who should be his inspiration; and at times the “Ideal woman” became, like Solomon’s Beloved, or the celestial bride of Jacob Boehme, the image of a psychological state – the recovery of Wisdom and the lost Shechinah’. (1) (Beer 1959, 270)

If Coleridge’s women represent a sense of divine knowledge, such as the sibyls of antiquity or the Abyssinian maid, they also represent the polar extreme of evil intention, like the intimidating Life-in-Death and the hypnotic Geraldine. Conflict between active and passive is intrinsic to the dynamics of Coleridge’s poetry and represents the competing desires for freedom and engulfment. Camille Paglia argues that ‘Coleridge’s protagonists are always sexually dual…The poet is feminine because passive to his own vision’. (Paglia 1991, 328-9) For the poet to abandon himself to his muse involves a form of active submission, and beneath the passive surface there is deep mental activity; consequently, the movement in Coleridge’s poetry oscillates between the doing and being done to, and it is hard to be sure who is ultimately in control.

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A beautiful antique cloth-bound edition of a selection of Coleridge’s work, ed. by Andrew Lang. The illustrations in this edition were astounding. 

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Ten Disturbing Scandinavian Folktales

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Enchanted Wood. Artist unknown. (Scandinavian Folklore/Pinterest)

 

Many folktales are concerned with magical tales of heroism and grandeur. Young people head out on a journey of discovery that makes them a better person. They vanquish evil, help others, and make the world a better place. In the end, the dashing young man usually gets the beautiful girl, and everyone lives happily ever after.

However, some folktales don’t have happy endings. Some folktales can be downright disturbing. Many of the tales in Scandinavian folklore, for instance, are not only grim; some are absolutely terrifying. We selected 10 of the most disturbing for you to enjoy…but, keep a candle burning…


#10. The Sacrificial Beggar Child (Sweden)

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The story goes that there was a town named Dalland that was suffering from a disease that was wiping out much of the population and causing many people to flee. The townsfolk were beside themselves with worry about how to stop it, until an old man from Finland came along with sage advice on how to stop the disease.

He told them that only a sacrifice would put an end to it, and explained that they would need to bury a living thing in the ground. The villagers were desperate to stop the disease, so they took his advice. They began by burying a rooster alive in the ground, but their cruel act failed to produce any results, so they upped the ante by burying an entire goat alive. Unfortunately, this also failed.

Feeling there were no other options left, they decided that the only sacrifice worthy enough to end the spread of the disease would be an actual human being. In order to accomplish this, they set their sights on an orphaned boy and offered him bread as bait for their trap. The unassuming child fell for their trap completely and was dropped in a prepared hole.

The villagers immediately began shoveling dirt on top of the hapless child. The boy was terrified and tried to plead with them to stop burying him alive, but they continued on with their work without mercy. Before long, the job was done and the child was simply left to die, in the hopes he would end the spread of the deadly disease.

Some villagers claimed that they could hear his cries from under the ground, even after his death, decrying the cruel act that had been done to him.


#9. The Christmas Ghosts (Sweden)

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This tale begins with a woman who was preparing to head to a midnight Christmas Mass.

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Zombies, Encounters with the Hungry Dead, ed. and with Commentary by John Skip, 2009

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Table of Contents

9 • Introduction: The Long and Shambling Trail to the Top of the Undead Monster Heap • essay by John Skipp
19 • Lazarus • (1921) • short story by Леонид Андреев? (trans. of Елеазар? 1906) [as by Leonid Andreyev]
39 • “… Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields” • (1929) • short story by William B. Seabrook [as by W. B. Seabrook]
51 • The Return of Timmy Baterman • (1983) • short fiction by Stephen King
65 • The Emissary • (1947) • short story by Ray Bradbury
75 • A Case of the Stubborns • (1976) • short story by Robert Bloch
95 • It • (1940) • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon
121 • Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed • (2007) • short story by Steve Duffy
155 • Bitter Grounds • (2003) • novelette by Neil Gaiman
177 • Sea Oak • (1998) • novelette by George Saunders
203 • The Late Shift • (1980) • short story by Dennis Etchison
221 • A Zombie’s Lament • short fiction by S. G. Browne
227 • Best Served Cold • short fiction by Justine Musk
249 • The Dead Gather on the Bridge to Seattle • (2008) • short fiction by Adam Golaski
271 • The Quarantine Act • short fiction by Mehitobel Wilson
289 • The Good Parts • (1989) • short story by Les Daniels
295 • Bodies and Heads • (1989) • short story by Steve Rasnic Tem
315 • On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks • (1989) • novelette by Joe R. Lansdale
359 • Like Pavlov’s Dogs • (1989) • novella by Steven R. Boyett
423 • Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy • (1989) • novelette by David J. Schow
465 • The Visitor • (1998) • short story by Jack Ketchum
473 • The Prince of Nox • (1992) • short story by Kathe Koja
485 • Call Me Doctor • short fiction by Eric Shapiro
491 • The Great Wall: A Story from the Zombie War • (2007) • short story by Max Brooks
499 • Calcutta, Lord of Nerves • (1992) • short story by Poppy Z. Brite
515 • God Save the Queen • (2006) • short fiction by John Skipp and Marc Levinthal
541 • Eat Me • (1989) • short story by Robert R. McCammon
555 • We Will Rebuild • short story by Cody Goodfellow
571 • Sparks Fly Upward • (2005) • short story by Lisa Morton
583 • Lemon Knives ‘N’ Cockroaches • short fiction by Carlton Mellick, III
601 • Zaambi • (2006) • short fiction by Terry Morgan and Christopher Morgan
629 • The Zombies of Madison County • (1997) • novella by Douglas E. Winter
665 • Dead Like Me • (2000) • short story by Adam-Troy Castro
675 • Zombie Roots: A Historic Perspective • (2009) • essay by Anthony Gambol and Christopher Kampe
685 • They’re Us and We’re Are Them: Zombies in Popular Culture • (2009) • essay by Cody Goodfellow and John Skipp

Tales from a Talking Board, a Horror Story Anthology, ed. by Ross E. Lockhart, Word Horde, 2017: Introduction & TOC

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Cover Art & Design by Yves Tourigny.

“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.”

— Deuteronomy, Chapter 18, Verses 10–12, Holy Bible (New International Version)

“Ages 8 to Adult.”

— Ouija board packaging, 1972

Table of Contents

  • Other books by Ross E. Lockhart
  • Full Title Page
  • Frontmatter
  • Dedication
  • Epigram
  • A Brief History of Talking Boards – Ross E. Lockhart
  • “YesNoGoodbye” – Kristi DeMeester
  • The Devil and the Bugle Boys – J. M. McDermott
  • Weegee Weegee, Tell Me Do – Anya Martin
  • When The Evil Days Come Not – Nathan Carson
  • Grief – Tiffany Scandal
  • Spin the Throttle – David James Keaton
  • Pins – S.P. Miskowski
  • Deep into the skin – Matthew M. Bartlett
  • The Burnt Sugar Stench – Wendy N. Wagner
  • Worse than Demons – Scott R Jones
  • The Empress and the Three of Swords – Amber-Rose Reed
  • Questions and Answers – David Templeton
  • Haruspicate or Scry – Orrin Grey
  • May You Live In Interesting Times – Nadia Bulkin
  • Copyright Acknowledgments
  • About the Editor

Introduction: A Brief History of Talking Boards by Ross E. Lockhart

Not long before the Civil War, a movement swept across the United States, one that held the belief that not only did the soul continue to exist after the death of the body, but that these souls, these spirits, could be communicated with, and could impart wisdom, warnings, and pathways to better connect the living with a supernatural, infinite intelligence. This movement, known as Spiritualism, flourished, boasting nearly eight million followers worldwide by the turn of the twentieth century, despite holding no central doctrine, no canonical texts, and no formal organization. Initially appearing in upstate New York, birthplace of religious movements such as Millerism, Adventism, and Mormonism, Spiritualism boasted its celebrities—the Fox Sisters, Cora L. V. Scott, Achsa W. Sprague, and Paschal Beverly Randolph, to name a few—but a big part of its appeal was its promise to put the power of spirit communication into the hands of its adherents. Advancing technology and American entrepreneurial spirit intervened, and complex divinatory systems like spirit cabinets, table turnings, and alphabetical knockings soon gave way to simpler, more foolproof methods. First came the planchette in 1853, a “little plank” of heart-shaped wood with a pencil incorporated, a means of channeling spirits through automatic writing.

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The Vampire Witch with the Pale White Eyes…

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Die Hexe by A. Fuseli. (Public Domain)

Shtriga

A shtriga (Latin: strix; Italian: strega; compare also Romanian: strigă; and Polish: strzyga) is a vampiric witch in traditional Albanian folklore. It is said that the shtriga sucks the blood of infants at night while they sleep, and then turns into a flying insect (traditionally a moth, fly, or bee) and flies away. Only the shtriga itself can cure those it has drained. The shtriga is often pictured as a woman—with a hateful stare (sometimes wearing a cape) and a horribly disfigured face—however, the possibility of a male shtriga (male nouns would be shtrigu or shtrigan) is just as likely.

In Legend

According to legend, only the shtriga itself could cure those it had drained (often by spitting in their mouths), and those who were not cured inevitably sickened and died.

The name can be used to express that a person is evil. Northern Albanian folklore says that a woman is not born a witch; she becomes one, often because she cannot have babies or they die and the envy makes her evil. A strong belief in God could make people immune to a witch as God would protect them.

Usually, shtrigas were described as old or middle-aged women with grey, pale green, or pale blue eyes (called white eyes or pale eyes) (sybardha) and a crooked nose. Their stare would make people uncomfortable, and people were supposed to avoid looking them directly in the eyes because they have the evil eye (syliga) [1]. To ward off a witch, people could take a pinch of salt in their fingers and touch their (closed) eyes, mouth, heart and the opposite part of the heart and the pit of the stomach and then throw the salt in direct flames saying “syt i dalçin syt i plaçin” or just whisper 3–6 times “syt i dalçin syt i plaçin” or “plast syri keq.”

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Shtriga (striga) handprint, burned into the windowsill of a child’s upstairs bedroom. These vampiric witches from Albanian legend feed off of children’s lifeforce, leaving them comatose and eventually dead. It is said a shtriga can take the form of a winged insect, such as a month or a fly. (Supernatural, Season 1, “Something Wicked)*

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A Bloody-Good Little Werewolf Story by Lincoln Michel

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Art by Matt Rota for Buzzfeed. 

“I used to wake up in strange places. I’d be covered in blood, but alive…”

I used to wake up in strange places. Park benches in new cities, orange groves among the fallen globes, motel parking lots at the edge of the dark woods. I’d be covered in blood, but alive. Now, I barely get down the block. I awake in the neighbors’ flower bed. The laundry room. The garbage bag by the door that I forgot to take downstairs before the moon took over the sky.

A kind stranger finds me, or a neighbor wakes me with a nasty voice. Today, it’s the school playground down the street and a policeman shaking his head. “Don’t make me haul you downtown, gramps. Go home and sober up.”

A dog walker passes me, a half-dozen mutts barking and straining at their leashes, their young canine bodies filled with energy. My body used to have that power. Now, it takes me a half hour to get home. My knee is enflamed, my hip aches, and sleeping on the slide has left me stooped over like the question mark. A small child, barely a snack, has to help me cross the street.

I’ve always feared the moon, ever since I got lost on a family camping trip and heard the howl. The reason for that fear has changed. It used to mean I’d hurt other people, now it just means I hurt myself.

What do I even look like now when the time comes? Mangy grey fur on wrinkled skin that clings to my skeleton like a dirty towel. Liver spots on my hairless belly. Cracks in my calcium-deficient claws.

I once was a monster, now I’m more waif than wolf.

I shower off the blood, put on a new pair of khakis, a fresh sweater. I grab my cane and hobble to Walgreens. They sell Luna bars. MoonPies. My monthly nightmare repackaged as tasty treats.

My trembling hands drop the items on the counter: Advil, Pepto-Bismol, Bengay, Band-Aids, ice pack, knee brace. “Looks like grandpa’s having a party tonight!” the cashier says with a wink. “Don’t get too crazy with this stuff. Haha.” He has a flush, round face. Just the right amount of marbling in the muscle.

When I was younger, I would’ve hidden in the park until he walked home.

I was a full of life back then, my whole future ahead of me like a wide open field to sprint through with the wind in my fur.

But now? Now all I can do is pretend to laugh, slide my card through the swiper, scribble on the receipt. Head home to await my sad transformation in my cramped apartment.

Perhaps this is what we all transform into, in the end: a tired old dog, alone and unloved, barking impotently at the dark sky.

-End-

(Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/)


(This piece was originally written for and performed at Symphony Space’s Selected Shorts: Flash Fiction event in partnership with BuzzFeed Books.)

About the Author

Lincoln Michel is the author of the story collection Upright Beasts (Coffee House Press, 2015), and the co-editor of the sci-fi flash-fiction anthology Gigantic Worlds (Gigantic Books, 2015). His stories and criticism have appeared in a number of publications, including The New York Times, Granta, Vice, Guernica, The Guardian, and the Pushcart Prize anthologies.

Website/Twitter: lincolnmichel.com;
@thelincoln

To learn more about Michel’s story collection, Upright Beasts, click here:

“Long Lamkin” —- a Folk Murder Ballad Collected by Francis J. Child (Child Murder Ballad)

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Art by Aranda Dill for Folk Song, “Long Lamkin”. (Arandadill/Tumblr)

Long Lamkin

IT’S Lamkin was a mason good
As ever built wi stane;
He built Lord Wearie’s castle,
But payment got he nane.

‘O pay me, Lord Wearie,
come, pay me my fee:’
‘I canna pay you, Lamkin,
For I maun gang oer the sea.’

‘O pay me now, Lord Wearie,
Come, pay me out o hand:’
‘I canna pay you, Lamkin,
Unless I sell my land.’

‘O gin ye winna pay me,
I here sall mak a vow,
Before that ye come hame again,
ye sall hae cause to rue.’

Lord Wearie got a bonny ship,
to sail the saut sea faem;
Bade his lady weel the castle keep,
ay till he should come hame.

But the nourice was a fause limmer
as eer hung on a tree;
She laid a plot wi Lamkin,
whan her lord was oer the sea.

She laid a plot wi Lamkin,
when the servants were awa,
Loot him in at a little shot-window,
and brought him to the ha.

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