Coleridge: "Dejection: an Ode"

Updated May 6, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

"Dejection: an Ode"

This ode was written in April, 1802, at a time when, after sickness, opium, domestic unhappiness and the consequent paralysis of his poetic faculty had driven him to seek distraction in the study of metaphysics, he made a visit to Wordsworth at Dove Cottage and in that vitalizing presence experienced a brief return of his powers-enough to give wonderful expression to perhaps the saddest thoughts that ever visited ungoverned genius. The earliest known form of the poem, preserved in a letter to W. Sotheby of July 19, 1802, shows (what is apparent enough to one familiar with the relations existing between the two poets) that it was conceived as a letter to Wordsworth, who is addressed in this earliest version as "Dearest Poet," "Wordsworth," and "William." It was first printed in the "Morning Post" for October 4, 1802, with "Edmund" for Wordsworth's name and with some omissions, but with the strong personal feeling undiminished; and in its present form (that is, with the parts omitted in the 1802 print restored, but with the substitution of "Lady" for "Edmund" and with numerous other omissions and changes, notably in the last stanza, all tending to depersonalize the poem) in "Sibylline Leaves," 1816. In 1810 a hint given by Wordsworth, with the best intentions, to a third person concerning the real nature of Coleridge's troubles, was reported, or rather misreported, to Coleridge, and an estrangement fraught with deep grief to both ensued. The breach was healed, as much as such wounds may be, by the mediation of a common friend in 1812; but the old glad and fruitful fellowship could never be restored. Coleridge wrote to Poole, February 13, 1813: "A reconciliation has taken place, but the feeling, which I had previous to that moment, ... that, I fear, never can return. All outward actions, all inward wishes, all thoughts and admirations will be the same-are the same, but-aye, there remains an immedicable But."

"Dejection" is distinguished from the other poems in this volume by containing, along with its wonderful interpretation of outward nature into harmony with his own else unutterable sadness, Coleridge's-and perhaps all poets'-essential philosophy of poetry. It was natural that the metaphysics in which he had been immersed should color his thought; but literature affords few if any instances of metaphysics so transformed into poetry in the crucible of feeling as is afforded by stanza V. of this ode.

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