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

michael whelan_fantasy_the mad poet (1)

“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.


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.


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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Thoughts about the Person from Porlock, a Poem About Coleridge by Stevie Smith

In 1797, Romantic port Samuel Taylor Coleridge was living at Nether Stowey, a village in the foothills of the Quantocks; but due to ill health had “retired to a lonely farm house between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire”. It is unclear whether the interruption of his working on writing down Khbla Khan by a man from nearby Porlock, took place at Culbone Parsonage or at Ash Farm. Coleridge described the incident in his first publication of the poem, writing about himself in the third person:

“On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!”

Thoughts about the Person from Porlock

Coleridge received the Person from Porlock
And ever after called him a curse
Then why did he hurry to let him in?
He might have hid in the house.

It was not right of Coleridge in fact it was wrong
(But often we all do wrong)
As the truth is I think, he was already stuck
With Kubla Khan.

He was weeping and crying, I am finished, finished
I shall never write another word of it,
When along comes the Person from Porlock
And takes the blame for it.

It was not right it was wrong,
But often we all do wrong.


May we inquire the name of the Person from Porlock?
Why Porson, didn’t you know?
He lived at the bottom of Porlock Hill
So had a long way to go.

He wasn’t much in the social sense
Though his grandmother was a Warlock
One of the Rutlandshire ones I fancy
And nothing to do with Porlock.

But he lived at the bottom of a hill as I said
And had a cat named Flo
And had a cat named Flo.


I long for the Person from Porlock
To bring my thoughts to an end
I am becoming impatient to see him
I think of him as a friend

Often I look out of the window
Often I run to the gate
I think, He will come this evening
I think it is rather late.

I am hungry to be interrupted
For ever and ever amen
O Person from Porlock come quickly
And bring my thoughts to an end.


I felicitate the people who have a Person from Porlock
To break up everything and throw it away
Because then there will be nothing to keep them
And they need not stay.


Oh this Person from Porlock is a great interrupter
He interrupts us for ever
People say he is a dreadful fellow
But really he is desirable.

Why should they grumble so much?
He comes like benison
They should be glad he has not forgotten them
They might have had to go on.


These thoughts are depressing, I know. They are depressing.
I wish I was more cheerful it is more pleasant
Also it is a duty, we should smile as well as submitting
To the purpose of One Above who is experimenting

With various mixtures of human character which goes best
All is interesting for him it is exciting, but not for us.
There I go again. Smile smile and get some work to do
Then you will be practically unconscious without positively having to go.

– Stevie Smith

“Old Meat”, a Short Werewolf Story by Stephen Graham Jones


Werewolf pencil sketch by “Q” (2006). (Pinterest)


Original PDF Source:

ACC687D3-C138-4F23-89C3-6E5A066719DDAbout the Author

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of sixteen novels and six story collections, and, so far, one comic book. Most recent are Mapping the Interior, from and the comic book My Hero, from Hex Publishers. Stephen’s been an NEA recipient, has won the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Fiction and the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction, has won a few This is Horror Awards, and he’s been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award and the Shirley Jackson Award a few times each. He’s also made Bloody Disgusting’s Top Ten Horror Novels. Stephen lives in Boulder, Colorado. (Courtesy of the author’s website)


Author Website/Twitter: (aka. (@SGJ72)

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


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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Miss Ebony Allan Poe—Vampire Cat—Wishes You a Happy Halloween🎃!


Hope your Halloween, Samhain, Harvest, Wicca celebrations were wonderful! Fall is a time of year for fiery leaves, jack o’ lanterns, crisp apples, pumpkin pie, and, yes, vampires.

I asked my long-haired black cat, Miss Ebony Allan Poe, what she thought of this time of year—-she twisted her dark fluffy frame, bared her pearly fangs, and hissed at the camera.

“Call me what you will,” she said, claws extended. “But, my true name will always be: “Daughter of Darkness!”



A merry Autumn to you and yours.

– SW🍁

Artwork for Lovecraft’s Story “Dreams in the Witch House” by Ronan McC