The poet sees the old moon in the lap of the new and this, according to an old belief, foretells the coming, of rain and a furious storm. In a few moments, the wind actually develops into a storm and rain starts falling with a loud sound, The sounds of rain and storm have often in the past raised the poet’s spirits, though at the same time they filled him with awe. He welcomes the rain and the storm now because it is possible that their sounds might awaken his dull pain and make it move and live.
The poet then describes the kind of grief that has been weighing upon his heart. It is a dark, dear, drowsy and unimpassioned grief. Although the poet has been gazing at the western sky and ‘its peculiar hue of yellow-green throughout the peaceful and balmy evening, he has been in a cheerless and spiritless mood. He has watched the beauty of the clouds and the stars but he has not been able to feel that beauty because of the grief that has taken a firm hold on his mind. The poet laments of all happiness and joy in his life. His spirits are drooping. All the beautiful objects of Nature are unable to remove the weight of this grief from-his heart. Indeed, it is not from external objects that happiness can flow to a man’s heart. The heart itself is the real source of animation and excitement. When this inner source of animation and excitement, had dried up, a man cannot expect to experience these feelings by gazing at the’ beauty of external objects.
Addressing his wife Sara’, the poet says that we get from Nature what we give to Nature. Nature seems to be full of life because we ourselves endow it with life. In our life alone does Nature live? If we find Nature to be in a joyful or festive mood, it is because we are ourselves in that mood. If we find Nature in a mood of mourning, it is because we are ourselves in that mood. The objects of Nature themselves are cold and lifeless. If we want to see anything noble or sublime in Nature, our own souls must send forth light, a lustre, or a radiance to envelop the objects of Nature. Our own souls must send forth a sweet and potent voice which will endow the sounds of Nature with sweetness and power. This light or this glory which our souls can send forth is not only beautiful in itself but it enables us to create beautiful things also. The Source of this light or glory is joy in the heart. This joy is given by Nature to pure-hearted persons only. All the sweet sounds that delight the ear, and all the beautiful sights that delight the eyes, flow from the joy in our hearts. All music is an echo of that sweet voice, the source of which is the joy in our hearts, and all beautiful paintings are the reflection of the light which flows from the joy in our hearts.
The poet then recalls the time in his past life when, though there were difficulties in his way, the joy in his heart enabled him to make light of his distress. In those days even his misfortunes served as material for his fancy to weave Visions of delight. That was the time of hopefulness. But now the sorrows of life have crushed him. But it is not the loss of his joy that makes him sad. What grieves him is the decline and the weakening of his inborn gift of the creative power of imagination. His mind is now chiefly occupied with metaphysical speculation which tends to suppress his poetic imagination. Metaphysical thinking has taken almost complete possession of his soul and is crushing his poetical powers.
The poet then dismisses the depressing thoughts that have been haunting his mind and turns his attention to the storm that has been raging outside. Hearing the sound produced by the wind blowing against the strings of the lute, he feels that it is like the prolonged scream of a human being who is being tortured and who cries in his agony. He thinks that it would have been much better if the wind, instead of playing upon the lute, were to blow against a bare rock, a mountain lake, a lightning-struck tree, a high Pine-grove, or a lonely house haunted by evil spirits. It seems – to him that the wind is celebrating a devils’ Christmas. He addresses the wind as an actor and as a mighty poet who can reproduce kinds of tragic sounds. The sounds that the wind is producing are compared by the poet to those produced ‘by the panicky retreat a defeated army and to the cries of pain uttered by trampled men groaning in their pain and shuddering with cold. Then there is a pause, a brief interval at deep silence. This pause is followed again by sounds which are this timeless deep and less loud than before. These sounds are compared by the poet to the pathetic poem written by Thomas Otway about a lost child sometimes crying in bitter grief and fear and sometimes screaming aloud in the hope that its mother would come to its rescue.
It is midnight, says the poet, but there seems to be little possibility of his falling asleep. He would not like his beloved wife to have such an experience of sleeplessness. He would like her to enjoy a sound sleep and to forget her worries. He ends the poem with a prayer for her happiness and joy.
1. What does the appearance of the new moon in the lap of old moon signify?
Ans. The appearances of the new moon in the lap of old moon signify the coming of rain and a furious storm. In a few moments, the winds actually develop into a storm and rain starts falling with a loud sound.
2. Why is the poet in a mood of dejection?
Ans. The poet is in a dejected mood because he fears that he has lost his creative faculty.
3. To whom does the poet address the second stanza of the poem?
Ans. The poet addresses his wife Sara in the second stanza of the poem.
4. What is the conviction of the poet in the poem about Nature?
Ans. The poet says that nature is inanimate and it reflects our mood only. If we are in a cheerful mood, we will find nature also in harmony with our mood. If we are sad and dejected then the whole nature also appears gloomy to us.
5. Write a critical appreciation of the poem.
Ans. Critical Appreciation of the poem- The Poem Ode to Dejection, is a confession of the poet Coleridge’s failure, and one of the saddest of all human utterances. The poem is written in the year 1802, in a way it is considered to be a swan song. In the poem, Coleridge laments the loss of his creative imagination and also mourns his moral and spiritual loss. It is a deeply personal and autobiographical poem which depicts the poet’s mental state at the time. It records a fundamental change in his life and is a lament on the decline of his creative imagination.
The Quality of the Poet’s Grief
Coleridge at this time felt that his inborn gift of imagination was decaying and that his interest was shifting to philosophy. In other words, he found that he was becoming more and more of a philosopher or thinker and less and less of a poet. This change greatly distressed him. He was grief-stricken at the thought that his interest in abstruse research was crushing his poetic talent. The poem is an expression of that grief-
A grief without a pang, void, dark, and A stifled, drowsy, an unimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
In word, or sigh, or tear
Seldom has grief found such tragic expression as in this poem which has been called “the poet’s dirge of infinite pathos over the grave of creative imagination”. The poem proceeds with an ever-deepening sadness, each stanza charged with heavy gloom. “Sadder lines than these were never perhaps written by any poet in description of his own feelings.” It is much sadder and more tragic than Shelley’s Stanzas Written in a Near Naples.
Attitude to Nature
A very important point about this poem is that Coleridge here contradicts his own previous view of Nature, thus challenging Wordsworth’s Nature creed also. In The Eolian Harp and Frost at Midnight, Coleridge had expressed a belief in pantheism—the view that Nature is a living whole, that a Divine Spirit passes through all objects of Nature, that man can establish a spiritual intercourse with Nature, and that Nature exercises an ennobling and educative influence upon man. But in this poem, Coleridge completely denies this belief. Here he asserts that Nature has no life of her own—that it is we who attribute life to her
0 Lady! We receive but what we give
And in our life alone does Nature live
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud.
No longer can Coleridge gain from Nature the- joy used to give him because he has no joy in his heart to meet half-way. He has discovered that Nature can give no joy to these who have no joy already in their hearts. Joy, Lady ! is the spirit and the power
Which wedding Nature to us gives in dower
The ode contains some very vivid and concrete imagery. The poet sees the new-moon winter bright with the old moon in her lap; the swelling storm with night shower falling loud and fast; the stars gliding behind or between the stars
‘I see the old Moon in her lap, foretelling
The coming-on of rain and squally blast.
And oh! that even now the gusts were swelling,
And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!’
More vigorous and forceful are the lines where the sounds of the storm are compared first to the rushing of a defeated army, with groans of trampled and wounded men and then to the alternate moaning and screaming of a frightened child who has lost its way home:
What tell’ st thou now about?
‘Tis of the rushing of a host in rout,
With groans of trampled men, with smarting
At once they groan with pain and shudder cold
Here in these lines also he has used beautiful imagery-
Tis of a little child
Upon a lonesome wild,
Not far from home, but she hath lost her way;
And now moans low in bitter grief and fear,
And now screams loud, and hopes ‘to make her mother hear.
Nor are these the only pictures in the poem. We have also the images of the storm raging over a rock or a tree, a pine-grove or a haunted house, and of its celebrating the Devil’s Christmas in the “month of showers, of dark-brown gardens, and of peeping flowers.”
Note of Tenderness
The poet ends on a note of tenderness for his wife. He prays to sleep to visit his beloved. May she rise with light heart, gay fancy, cheerful eyes! These are the only lines which to some extent lighten the heavy gloom of the whole poem.
Interesting points of comparison and contrast at once occur to us between this ode and Wordsworth’s Ode on the Intimations of Immortality. As in Wordsworth’s poem, we have here the poet’s reference to his past joy and a description of his present mood of grief. There was a time when even misfortunes an aspect of happiness, but now had “afflictions bow me down ‘to earth.” These lines also remind us of similar lines in Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind
If even I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed
In Wordsworth’s ode, grief finds relief and ends in joy; in Coleridge’s poem grief finds no relief and ends in dejection. It is morning in Wordsworth’s Ode, midnight in Coleridge’s. In the former and it is May and the sun shines warm; in the latter it is the month of showers.