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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“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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“Little Morning Prose Poem” by Mick Albright

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The chill air is coming in through the window this morning fresh from its frolick down the mountain; it’s damp and crisp and carrying the scent of pine on its back, fall grass, and blue spruce. The muted chirping of small birds tells me they are farther away than they seem. I can hear the sound of tires on the Interstate, miles away; it’s a warm thrumming. There’s another sound out there; a tight barking: I’d say prairie dog, but it’s bigger. A raven, too, is playing on the windstream, whorls of wisdom for the Wanderer. I feel…not “other-than”; but, rather, “part-of”, “one-with”; laying here with Nature’s “good morning” rustling the hairs on my chest, knowing the best part of it all is the recognition of belonging.

“I Want to Say”…a Poem by Natalie Goldberg

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Galaxy Petunias. Photographer unknown. (Pinterest)

Before I’m lost to time and the midwest
I want to say I was here
I loved the half light all winter
I want you to know before I leave
that I liked the towns living along the back of the Mississippi
I loved the large heron filling the sky
the slender white egret at the edge of the shore
I came to love my life here
fell in love with the color grey
the unending turn of seasons

Let me say
I loved Hill City
the bench in front of the tavern
the small hill to the lake
I loved the morning frost on the bell at New Albin
and the money I made as a poet
I was thankful for the white night
the sky of so many wet summers
Before I leave this world of my friends
I want to tell you I loved the rain on large store windows
had more croissants here in Minneapolis
than the French do in Lyons
I read the poets of the midwest
their hard crusts of bread dark goat cheese
and was nourished not hungry where they lived
I ate at the edges of state lines and boundaries
Know I loved the cold tap of bare branches against the windows
know there there will not be your peonies in spring
wherever I go
the electric petunias
and your orange zinnias

– Natalie Goldberg

(from Good Poems, American Places, Selected and Introduced by Garrison Keillor, as heard on The Writer’s Almanac; Penguin, 2012)

(Originally published in Top of My Lungs, Poems and Paintings by Natalie Goldberg, Overlook Press, 2002)

Smoke Glass Stained Bright Colors, A Stream-of-Conciousness Poem by Mick Albright

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Smoke Glass Stained Bright Colors

Mick A. Quinn, 2017


I wanna touch the earth. I wanna take it in my hands. I wanna grow something wild and unruly. I wanna sleep on the hard ground, in the comfort of your arms, on a pillow of blue bonnets, under a blanket made of stars…It’s thundering. I’m a tad psychotic. The A/C is off. I hate this coffee. Nothing tastes good. My bird finger is blue. I think I lost five pounds. Having a hairy chest makes a cool day feel like Hell’s armpit. I started cataloging the books in my library. I have a lot of books. I miss my daughter. I miss my grandson. The house is haunted by a nasty ghost. I put licorice on my thumb. I need more friends closer to my age. I prayed for the world today. The haze from the wildfires has been slowly dissipating. When I think about Virginia Woolf I get depressed. I think too much about anodynes, and salves, and balms in Gilead. And Anne Sexton haunts me with her shock of black hair. I wanna sleep on the hard ground, in the comfort of your arms, on a pillow of blue bonnets, under a blanket made of stars, oh, it sounds good to me. Bipolar people can’t be alone. Yellow like fresh butter. It’s the only color I want, like the offstripe of a bumblebee, a little old lady’s tea room, or a Daisy button. The color of red wine is good, too. Burgundy or maroon, deeper than a bruise, but lighter than dead blood. I can’t relate to other humans. Bipolar people have to be alone. I got my love, and I took it down. Climbed a mountain and I turned around. And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills, then the landslide brought me down. Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? Mmm, mmm, mmm. My new sheets are dove grey, like absolution; or city puddle water—they are a thousand thread count; they kept touching me at Dawn and wouldn’t let me get out of bed. The dawn sun was a fuzzy peach. Sail into tomorrow, living day to day, that’s all I can afford to do, and all I’ll ever pay…is a song to sing to thank you, for making me alive, and a prayer to bring you comfort, Lord, help us to survive. I feel closed in. What I don’t want I have. What I want I can’t find. I think I’ve been abducted by aliens. I miss my old wood-burning fireplace. I want to fuck that big hairy hunter in that Pam Houston story, right there astride his pleasure on that bear rug, burnt red in the firelight where we’d never run out of wood. I want a pair of Stevie Nicks’ velvet high-heeled boots. And her black, ribboned tambourine. Well, I’ve been afraid of changing, cause I built my life around you. But time makes you bolder, children get older. And I’m getting older too. I want electric. Like Walt Whitman electric. Wise and far-reaching, pale pink, eggshell, moody blues. I want a kiss from time. A long kiss, tongue included. Drink me and know me, I’ll say to time. And time will chuckle and float away like a gold cloud, blurred and dusty. I’ve looked at clouds from both sides, now, from up and down, and still, somehow, it’s cloud illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all. I want love to take on flesh, like the Christ claims He did; put on flesh, and come and find me, deep in the evergreens; tethered to a mountain; nothing but stones to eat and river water to drink. Come and find me and let me eat of thy flesh, and drink of thy blood, love. Don’t be dark. Don’t be edgèd. Don’t be silent. Don’t swaddle me in expectation. But enter me, the same. When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know. No walls. Put me in a room with four sides of stacked books…they may not be as sturdy, but they are easier to stare down, blankly, and, if they come tumbling down and crush my five-foot-7-inch frame—well, at least I’ll die being smothered by something I love. Little boys are always trying to be grown men. I believe it was Cormac McCarthy who said that, three—no, four—times. Be good, little cowboy. God may not be listening anymore. All your teachers have blown away, like dust in the wind. The evening light still dies with the sun. But, Oz never did give nothing to the Tinman, that he didn’t, didn’t already have. And cause never was the reason for the evening. Or the tropic of Sir Galahad. So, please…It’s raining now, cold drops on my back and my bare butt, my pale feet; it’s wetting the hair on my arms and my chest—sweet, Rocky Mountain rain… Who needs salvation…when you can kiss the tip of every mountain? So, please…believe in me, when I…say I’m spinning round, round, round, round, smoke glass stained bright colors ooo image going down, down, down, down, soapsud green like bubbles oooo…

(C)2017 by Mick A. Quinn. All Rights Reserved.

[Acknowledgements: “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the Dixie Chicks; “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac; “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks; “Sail Into Tomorrow” by Olivia Newton-John; “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, “Tinman” by America.]

 

Rain-washed, a Poem by Mick Albright, 2017

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Rain-washed

Today, wool-grey
Rain leans into its
Falling; every struck
Surface sings, a
Needle-song of plinks
and plings. And
Hollow things pull
Apart—red and naked
Like a heart.

Accept this rain-washed
Art. Every stroke
Untethers hope and
Flings it, flying,
Toward the Sun.

There is nothing that
Remains undone.

Heaviness falls, the
Rain cries,
Like Sin, wheeling.

Summer, now, a
Withered petal-
Dream of crisper air.
Heft and harrow disappear.
Little mirror-drops,
Languish like stars on the
Roof of my car. And
Light’s promise is
Crawling, like a
Thief at night,
Quietly away.

Mick A. Quinn
Lone Tree, Colorado
August 24, 2017

(C)2017 by Mick A. Quinn. All Rights Reserved.

Why You Shouldn’t Delay Reading The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson…

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There are various editions of Dickinson’s Complete Poems. This is my favorite edition, numbered by Thomas H. Johnson.

‘I’m embarrassed by how long I resisted Emily Dickinson’s “Complete Poems,” and I’m struck by how much my copy means to me now. As a daft young punk I too often sought out reckless emotion and vulgar effects, the same way one sometimes wants, when callow and feckless, to date a person with obvious physical attributes. Dickinson’s famous line — “I’m nobody! Who are you?” — is not what you want to hear when you are younger than 30, or, in my delayed maturity, closer to 40. It should have helped, but did not, when one of my favorite high school English teachers, Donald Glancy, explained that you could sing nearly all of Dickinson’s verse to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

I keep a commonplace book, a place where I write down passages that matter to me from the books I read. It’s packed with Dickinson, from her poems and her letters. These lines come to me, in my daily life, both in their intended contexts and quite far out of them. She explains why we read: “I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” She underscores my sense of what it is like to watch cable news: “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.”

She suggests what I am thinking when I order a Negroni:

“Bring me the sunset in a cup.” She catches why gay marriage took so long: “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind.” Her sarcasm rings down the ages: “They say that ‘home is where the heart is.’ I think it is where the house is, and the adjacent buildings.”

Few writers circled religion with more wary alertness: “They say that God is everywhere,” she said, “and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse.” She wrote: “The only commandment I ever obeyed — ‘Consider the Lilies.’ ” And:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church;
I keep it, staying at Home,
With a Bobolink for a Chorister,
And an Orchard, for a Dome.

I could not stop for Emily Dickinson, but she kindly stopped for me. Her raw, spare, intense poetry was written as if carved into a desktop. Now that I am older and somewhat wiser, what I prize about Dickinson is that she lives up to her own observation:
“Truth is so rare, it is delightful to tell it.”

(from an article by Dwight Garneraug published in The New Yorker, August 2015)
(Art: Pinterest)