The Romantic image of the Aeolian lute that appears in "Dejection: An Ode" also appears in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Eolian Harp" (1796). The Aeolian lute and the Eolian harp are names for the same instrument, which produces music when the wind blows on its musical chords. Both poems are in first-person, and the narrator's voice is clearly that of the poet. The two poems use the same imagery; the breeze represents the creative power of nature acting as a muse for the poet, and the harp represents the poet who responds to nature by creating poetry. Coleridge wonders about his individuality in "The Eolian Harp," asking what if he is only another harp treated by nature in the same way as all other harps.
The question of the poet's relation to nature arises in the ode as well. Coleridge supplies somewhat of an answer in his later poem when he writes, in effect, that each Eolian harp gives and takes differently from nature. However, Coleridge, having figured this, finds himself faced with a new dilemma, also expressed figuratively with the image of the harp. In "Dejection: An Ode" the harp's music reflects Coleridges dejection with rakes and moans "which better far were mute."
The solution to the current problem in each poem is found, to some degree, outside the poet, in the silent audience the poet addresses. Coleridge turns to Sara Fricker in the earlier poem, and later to Sara Hutchinson, leaving both poems somewhat open-ended. The solution offered in the poems is that the problem itself is an egotistical one, and that Coleridge must think of someone else to gain a wider perspective and relieve himself of the dilemma.
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000