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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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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The Diary of Xander Tully, a Novella-in-Progress by Sanguine Woods, Coming Winter, 2018

22FE38E1-A688-4586-AA8C-B3C173D42767Dear Book Lovers and Ardent Readers,

RE: A quick note from the writer’s desk…

Greetings!

Working on my novella The Diary of Xander Tully. It is a frightening tale set in the years before America had become a nation, up in the woods of what is now the border between Michigan and Canada, where French-Canadian settlers have started a fledgling colony led by two old families.

Xander Tulley is a stranger here. His origins are not known to the community. But he is a clever man; he shows the world a practical and rational side; a lover of facts and the path they reveal to truth. But Tulley has other sides. He hails from a foreign land, across the sea. His people are tall, fair of hair and pale of skin. He appears as an artisan printer in the colony of River Raisin, where the villagers have a respect for the past and their heritage (one of the families traces its roots all the way back to a French king).

When Tulley becomes curious about a tale of an odd grouping of stones located in the deep woods that begin about a mile northeast of the village, he is drawn to the site. There is no visible path to the outcropping, and reaching it is difficult unless you know the woods, and the way. The stones circumscribe what appears to be a gash in the earth, an opening some five paces across at its widest. The villagers don‘t appear to know of the spot, its history, or the fact that a grove of trees surrounds the area in almost a perfect circle. They are deciduous trees, “evergreens”—-and they are the only trees in the wood that turn the color of glowing embers when autumn steals the light from summer and creeps toward the winter solstice.

The story of the woods is old. Some things—some geographies, secrets—-some stories—-lay quiet and undisturbed for a reason. Xander Tulley has been dreaming about the burning trees. His preoccupation with learning the history of the Wood leads him to seek out an indiginous tribe that once dwelt near the area, but has since moved higher north. It is in the tribe’s legends, wrapped tight within in an ancient language, that Tulley begins to see a story form in the forgotten shadows of time, one that once breathed life, and should now be left alone.

Xander Tulley reaches a proverbial fork in the road, where he may learn more about himself than he ever cared to know; and where he will be faced with making the hardest decision he will ever have to make.

Stay tuned for more!

SW

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“The Wild Man”—a Greek Fairy Tale

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Art by Todd Yeager.

Once upon a time there was a king and a queen, and they had an only son. This king was always sorrowful because he foresaw that, as he had neither soldiers nor money, if any other king were at any time to declare war against him, he would take away his kingdom from him. This worm continually gnawed him, and so his lips never smiled; and every day he walked out into the country to dispel the gloom which was in his heart.

One day as he was out walking, a monk met him on the road, and, seeing the king so moody, he asked him, “Sir King, what is the matter that thou art so sad? Always moody is your majesty!”

“Eh, my good monk,” says the king to him, “Every stick has its own smoke, you know. I am moody because one day I shall be undone; they will take from me all my towns, because I have no soldiers.”

“Oh! Is that why thou art sorrowful, my king? I will tell thee what to do. In a certain place there is a wild man whom all the world fears for his strength. Collect thy soldiers, and send them to seize him; and when thou possessest such a wild man, no king can menace thee.”

Then the king was somewhat heartened and said, “My good monk, I will give thee whatever thou may’st desire, if only this is accomplished and the wild man brought to me, as thou sayest.”

And when he returns to the palace, he calls immediately his twelve councillors and tells them what the monk had said to him. The twelve, when they heard his words, rejoiced on the one hand, but looked grave on the other, for how was it possible to bring that wild man?

So they said to the king, “O Sir King, thou sayest that in a certain place away in the wilderness is to be found a wild man; but we must see if it is possible to bring him hither. We see no easier way than that he who told thee of this man should himself bring him.”

The next day, accordingly, very early in the morning, the king gets up and goes to seek the monk; and when he had arrived at the same spot, the monk again presented himself, and said, “Eh, what hast thou done, my king?”

Then the king replies, “Alas, my good monk, I have done nothing. For I told my twelve, and they said to me that no other could bring him save he who had given me the tidings.”

“Very well, Sir King, if thou biddest me, I will bring him to thee. Give me forty thousand soldiers; make me a chain of copper weighing a hundred thousand kantars, and an iron cage each bar of which must be like a column; and then I will bring him to thee, otherwise nothing can be done.”

“I will gladly make for thee,” said the king, “anything thou askest me.”

And he takes him, and brings him to the palace, and at once gives orders to the Gypsies to collect all the copper in the city for the chain. In a week all is ready. And the monk takes the soldiers, the chain and the cage, and goes for the wild man; and after two or three months’ time they arrive at the place where he was to be found. The soldiers immediately set to work and encircled the mountain with the chain, and took every precaution against his escaping at any spot. They did in fact everything the monk told them. And about noontide they felt the mountain tremble, and from that they understood that the wild man was coming forth. They look this way and that, but see nothing; but when they look upwards, they see — my eyes! — they see coming down from the summit the wild man, a sight which made them tremble. But the monk encouraged them.

“Ah, my pallikars, let us seize the monster! Bring hither the chain!”

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