"France: an Ode"

This ode was written in February, 1798, and first printed in the "Morning Post" for April 16 of that year, under the significant title of "Recantation." In the autumn it was printed with its present title in a pamphlet together with "Fears in Solitude," another political poem, and "Frost at Midnight," a poem on his infant child. In October, 1802, it was reprinted in the "Post" with a prose "Argument" (see notes), less necessary for the readers of that time than it may be now. Coleridge, like Wordsworth, had welcomed the French Revolution as ushering in an era of light and love in human society; both, though Wordsworth more profoundly, had been depressed by the excesses of 1793-4, and by the lust of conquest which became more and more evident under the Directory; and when at last in February, 1798, the French armies invaded Switzerland, the ancient sacred home of liberty in Europe, Coleridge "recanted" in this ode.

Political poetry is likely to lose its power with the passing of the events and passions that give it birth; it retains its power just in proportion as it is built on lasting and universal interests of the heart of man. That "France" has retained its position as one of the great odes of the English language is due not only to the loftiness of its thought and the splendor of its imagery, but even more to the fact that it turns from the political excitement of the hour to the grandeur and beauty of nature and to those aspirations and ideals whose home is "in the heart of man."