Monday, October 04, 2010

Wordsworth & Coleridge

"an experiment, which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain, how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted. . ." (Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1800)

The first edition of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads was published on this day in 1798. A historic moment in poetry, it is the high-water mark of perhaps the most famous collaboration and friendship in literary history. The two remained close for another decade, but the fault lines were by then well established. Dorothy Wordsworth took up much of her brother’s emotional life, and after Wordsworth married (on this day in 1802) there was even less room for Coleridge. This became especially clear when Coleridge attempted to live in the same house with the other three, while maintaining his old, opium-fueled pattern of wild plans and dark moods. The poetic record shows the strain: in 1807, while Coleridge was publicly proclaiming his love and need for “O Friend! My comforter and guide! / Strong in thyself, and powerful to give strength!” (lines from “To William Wordsworth”), Wordsworth was penning:

A Complaint

There is a change—and I am poor;
Your love hath been, nor long ago,
A fountain at my fond heart's door,
Whose only business was to flow;
And flow it did; not taking heed
Of its own bounty, or my need.

What happy moments did I count!
Blest was I then all bliss above!
Now, for that consecrated fount
Of murmuring, sparkling, living love,
What have I? shall I dare to tell?
A comfortless and hidden well.

A well of love—it may be deep—
I trust it is,—and never dry:
What matter? if the waters sleep
In silence and obscurity.
—Such change, and at the very door
Of my fond heart, hath made me poor.


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