Coleridge: Dejection: an Ode, Notes

Updated May 6, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Dejection: an Ode

55, 1 of motto-*yestreen*. Abbreviation of "yester-even," yesterday evening.

58, 82-*But now afflictions*, etc. In March 1801 Coleridge wrote to Godwin: "In my long illness I had compelled into hours of delight many a sleepless, painful hour of darkness by chasing down metaphysical game, and since then I have continued the hunt, until I found myself unaware at the root of pure mathematics.... The poet is dead in me." And years afterward in a letter to an artist friend, W. Collins (December, 1818): "Poetry is out of the question. The attempt would only hurry me into that sphere of acute feelings from which abstruse research, the mother of self-oblivion, presents an asylum."

95-*Reality's dark dream*! In the earlier forms of the poem the lines corresponding to 94-5 stood thus:

"Nay, wherefore did I let it haunt my mind,
This dark, distressful dream?"

He seems to mean, "This loss of joy, of poetic power, is, must be, only an evil dream, and I will shake it from my mind;" but he knows that it is a reality, and so turns to forget it in the sensuous intoxication of the wind's music. Or perhaps-for Coleridge is already a metaphysician-reality is used here in opposition to ideality or imagination; the truth of philosophy (cf. ll. 89-90) and the metaphysic habit of mind that the study of it induces-what we call reality-is a dream that has come between him and the world of the ideal in which he had and used his "shaping spirit of imagination." The passage is obscure.

100-*Bare crag*, etc. The scenery here is that of the Lake country where Coleridge and Wordsworth were then living-the former at Keswick in Cumberland, the latter at Grasmere, Westmoreland.

59, 120-*Otway*. Coleridge wrote originally, "As thou thyself [i.e. Wordsworth-see next note] had'st fram'd the tender lay." This he changed to "Edmund's self" when he first printed the poem in 1802; and finally to "Otway's self." Thomas Otway was a dramatist of the time of Charles II (born 1651, died 1685). He wrote, among other plays, two tragedies of wonderful pathetic power, "The Orphan" and "Venice Preserved." The theme and style of the former of these, especially, no doubt suggested his name to Coleridge here. Otway's own career was pathetic; he died young, neglected, and according to one story, starved. To this story Coleridge alludes in one of his early poems, the "Monody on the Death of Chatterton:"

"While, 'mid the pelting of that merciless storm,
Sunk to the cold earth Otway's famished form!"

121-*'T is of a little child*, etc. Alluding to Wordsworth's "Lucy Gray," which had been published in the second edition of "Lyrical Ballads," 1800.

Sources +