"Dejection: An Ode"
The "Ode to Dejection," the earliest version of which was included by
STC in a letter to W. Sotheby on July 19, 1802, "was composed on Sunday
evening, April 4, and published six months later, in the Morning Post
of October 4, 1802 [WW's wedding date and STC's 7th anniversary].
It was reprinted in the Sibylline Leaves, 1817. A comparison
of the Ode, as sent to Sotheby, with the first printed version . . . shows
that it underwent many changes before it was permitted to see the 'light
of common day' in the columns of the Morning Post. The Ode
was begun some three weeks after Coleridge returned to Keswick, after an
absence of four months. He had visited Southey in London, he had
been a fellow guest with Tom Wedgewood for a month at Stowey, he had returned
to London and attended Davy's lectures at the Royal Institution, and on
his way home he had stayed for a fortnight with his friend T. Hutchinson,
Wordsworth's brother-in-law, at Gallow Hill. He left Gallow Hill 'on March
13 in a violent storm of snow, wind, and rain,' and must have reached Keswick
on Sunday the 14th or Monday the 15th of March. On the following
Friday he walked over to Dove Cottage, and once more found himself in the
presence of his friends, and, once again, their presence and companionship
drove him into song. The Ode is at once a confession and a contrast, a
confession that he had fled from the conflict with his soul into the fastnesses
of metaphysics, and a contrast of his own hopelessness with the glad assurance
of inward peace and outward happiness which attended the pure and manly
spirit of his friend" (Letters (1895), ed. Hartley Coleridge, vol.
In the winter of 1801-1802, the two causes of Coleridge's unhappiness,
opium and domestic discord, worked havoc with him and brought him to despair.
The wings of poesy were broken, as he realized full well. Meanwhile Wordsworth
was in high poetic activity, healthy, forward-looking, and happy. On April
4, 1802, when William and Dorothy were on a visit to Keswick, and could
judge for themselves of his misery, he composed, in part at least, the
poem `Dejection,' which is a confession of his own failure, and one of
the saddest of all human utterances. But it is a glorious thing, too, for
as the stricken runner sinks in the race he lifts up his head and cheers
the friend ... and this generosity is itself a triumph. On Oct. 4, Wordsworth's
wedding day and the seventh anniversary of Coleridge's marriage, the poem
was printed in the `Morning Post.' It is an ode in form only; in contents
it is a conversation. It is not an address to Dejection, but to [Sara Hutchinson].
As printed in the newspaper, it purports to be directed to some one named
Edmund; in Coleridge's editions of his collected works this name is changed
to Lady; ... In this sublime and heartrending poem Coleridge gives expression
to an experience of double consciousness. His sense-perceptions are vivid
and in part agreeable; his inner state is faint, blurred, and unhappy.
He sees, but cannot feel. The power of feeling has been paralysed by chemically
induced excitements of his brain. The seeing power, less dependent upon
bodily health, stands aloof, individual, critical, and very mournful. By
`seeing' he means perceiving and judging; by `feeling' he means that which
impels to action. He suffers, but the pain is dull, and he wishes it were
keen, for so he should awake from lethargy and recover unity at least.
But nothing from outside can restore him. The sources of the soul's life
are within. ...
In the poem, STC "expresses his experience through the interaction of
his thoughts and emotions with natural symbolism and imagery" (Fogle 73).
"Only a storm will clear the air, and only some violence of release
will rescue Coleridge [or the speaker] from the prison-house of his dejection"
Lines 37-38: Intellect vs. Feeling
Joy and Imagination = Active Agencies, Dejection=passive, inert, uncreative,
lifeless (Fogle 75).
"Understanding alone leaves the world essentially dead, inert, and inorganic"
Storm brings "action disorganized and painful, but action nonetheless,
and as such clearly preferable to the earlier deathlike lull" (Fogle 76).
"The mind, recalled to activity, has regained its wholeness" (76).
Imagination "is the faculty which enables us to escape the prison of
the self and participate in other lives and modes of being" (Fogle 77).
Thus in Fogle and in Tyler, there is a recognition akin to that revealed
in "Kubla Khan" that isolation represents a failure of the imagination
For Luther Taylor, the pivotal line is "We receive but what we give"
(47), which was originally addressed to Wordsworth, who had apparently
recited a version of his Intimations Ode on the night before Coleridge's
composition of the first version of the poem, "A Letter ___, April 4, 1802."
"Coleridge now believed that an imagination as blindly strong as Wordsworth's
must blind itself to its own activity. It [The motto] makes a myth
of essentially active Nature and essentially pasive mind, a myth that protects
the self from knowing that it created the world it recreates in poetry"