In Coleridge's "Dejection: An Ode, strophe 4, 11. 47-55, both the most hopeful and the most arcane of Dejection: An Ode, Coleridge propounds the solution to his spiritual drougnt (even if he is unable to take advantage of it himself) but leaves the reader wondering about what kind of oasis he can possibly be talking. Coleridge believes that nature contains some numinous power source which humans can tap if they realize that to receive they mus first give ov their own selves. The soul must be induced to "issue forth/A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud," the arbiter of human-nature relations, but Coleridge never idicates how one does this. His emphatic mode of address — "O Lady" — demonstrates the importance of such a mystical union, but it remains unavailable to the reader because Coleridge is "waxing poetic" (albeit in an aesthetically pleasing manner) rather than systematically explaining a new spirituality.

If Coleridge cannot therefore be accused of a didactic approach to poetry, neither is he a feminist polemicist. In fact, just the opposite: this passage's personification of nature as female betrays an attitude which feminist theologians have called the ethic of the eternal feminine. Nature is an all-encompassing, nourishing, compassionate presence, the stereotypical bourgeois mother writ large. Coleridge also inherits from the Greeks the tendancy to see psyche — "the soul herself" — as a feminine aspect of human being.

If I fault this passage for its sexist constructions, I can at least support its overall positive outlook: even if nature is mommy, at least she cares, and actively desires spiritual intercourse with her children. This is the ode's most hopeful moment, and the only indication within the poem itself that the blessing at the end could be at all effectual.


Website Overview Screen Before Victoria British Romanticism

Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000