chapter  7
48 Pages

Coleridge

This description, eloquent as a Rembrandt self-portrait, tells us a good deal about Coleridge, not only in his physical appearance but also in his attitude to himself: the self-deprecating, half-humorous characterization o f his face as ‘a mere carcase o f a face’ and the admission that it is ‘fat, flabby, & expressive chiefly o f inexpression’, these are evidence of an endearing refusal to take himself too seriously. Coleridge is the most unthreatening o f Romantic poets: the one whose riches o f mind and sensibility are displayed most unceremoniously, the one who least claims the prophetic fire; and yet his poems are curiously and quintessentially Romantic, for two reasons. The first is that he captures, better than any o f the others except Shelley, the strange magic of the world of the supernatural; the second is that his poems have a remarkable and touching intimacy, a revelation o f personal feeling and circumstance which makes Coleridge known to his readers in a way that is quite different from the way that the others are known. Coleridge’s own difficulties and hesitations, his aspirations and failures, his limitations, his family problems, his hopes and fears - all can be discovered in his poetry, in the letters and notebooks, and in what we can deduce from other evidence: the result is a figure whose life and work arouse admiration and pity - admiration for the extraordinary mind that he obviously possessed and for the amount that he did achieve, pity for his distress, for his unfinished work, and for the mess that he often got himself into.