In “To Nature,” Coleridge upholds the Romantic practice of worshipping Nature as an actual God. Hence, it can be considered to be the expression of one of the central tenets of the Romantic movement itself.
About the Poet:
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, literary critic, and philosopher. Along with his friend William Wordsworth, he was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. His critical work, especially on Shakespeare, was highly influential. He also helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. He coined many familiar words and phrases, such as suspension of disbelief. Coleridge was a major influence on Emerson and American transcendentalism.
Throughout his adult life, Coleridge suffered from crippling bouts of anxiety and depression. It has even been thought that he had bipolar disorder, but this was not confirmed. He was treated for these afflictions with laudanum, which led to lifelong opium addiction.
Coleridge was born on 21st October 1772 in the country town of Ottery St Mary in Devonshire, England. At Cambridge, he was introduced to political and theological ideas then considered radical, including those of the poet Robert Southey. Coleridge, in fact, joined Southey in a plan, which was soon abandoned, to found a utopian commune-like society, called Pantisocracy, in the wilderness of Pennsylvania. Coleridge also made plans to establish a journal called The Watchman, to be printed every eight days to avoid a weekly newspaper tax. The first issue of this short-lived journal was published in March 1796, but it had ceased to be published by May of that year.
The years 1797 and 1798 were among the most fruitful of Coleridge’s life. In 1795, Coleridge met the eminent poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. Besides the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, he also composed the symbolic poem Kubla Khan, said to be written as a result of an opium dream, in “a kind of a reverie,”; and the first part of the narrative poem Christabel. During this period, he also produced his “conversation” poems such as This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, Frost at Midnight, and The Nightingale.
In 1798, Coleridge and Wordsworth published a joint volume of poetry entitled Lyrical Ballads, which proved to be the starting point for the English romantic age. Wordsworth had written more poems, but Coleridge’s first version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was the real star of the collection. It was the longest work, and it drew more praise and attention than anything other than poems in the volume.
In the autumn of 1798, Coleridge and Wordsworth also left for a stay in Germany. Coleridge soon spent much of his time in university towns. During this period, he became interested in German philosophy, especially the transcendental idealism and critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the literary criticism of 18th-century dramatist Gotthold Lessing. He continued to pioneer these ideas through his own critical writings for the rest of his life, sometimes without attribution.
Much of Coleridge’s reputation as a literary critic is founded on the lectures he gave during the winter of 1810–11, sponsored by the Philosophical Institution and given at Scot’s Corporation Hall off Fetter Lane Fleet Street. These lectures were presented in the prospectus as “A Course of Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton, in Illustration of the Principles of Poetry.” However, the lecture on Hamlet given on 2nd January 1812 was considered the best and has influenced Hamlet studies ever since. Coleridge finished his major prose work, the Biographia Literaria, in the year 1817, and it was a volume composed of 23 chapters of autobiographical notes and dissertations on various subjects.
Coleridge died in Highgate, London, on 25th July 1834 as a result of heart failure. This was compounded by an unknown lung disorder, possibly linked to his use of opium.
To Nature: Setting
This poem is set firmly in the physical world, unlike most of Coleridge’s poems which have some supernatural element or the other. This physical world is what inspires the poet to offer a prayer to Nature, and it is also the church where that prayer is offered.
To Nature: Summary
“To Nature” consists of 14 lines in total. A poem like this, which is composed of 14 lines, is generally called a sonnet. A sonnet is usually divided into an eight-line unit known as an octet and a six-line unit known as a sestet. The octet and sestet can together form a single stanza (which is the case in this poem) or appear as two separate stanzas. Here the 14 lines are divided into meaningful segments for the purposes of this summary in order to make the poem easier to follow and understand.
Lines 1 – 5:
“It may indeed be fantasy when I
Essay to draw from all created things
The deep, heartfelt, inward joy that closely clings;
And trace in leaves and flowers that round me lie
Lessons of love and earnest piety.“
In these lines, the poet says that only his imagination lets him draw joy from all earthly things. This joy is felt deep within his heart, and it never leaves his side. He further adds that mere leaves and flowers become his teachers in his imagination, and these teachers teach him both how to love and how to have faith. However, in truth, none of this happens.
Lines 6 – 8:
“So let it be; and if the wide world rings
In mock of this belief, it brings
Nor fear, nor grief, nor vain perplexity.“
In these lines, the poet says that he does not mind reality turning out the way it is. The whole world might make fun of his beliefs since they are not based on any reality, but this does not shake his faith in any way. He is not afraid that it will become untrue. He is not saddened that no one else understands it. And he also does not believe that it will not come to any purpose.
Lines 9 – 14:
“So will I build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wildflower yields
Shall be the incense I will yield to Thee,
Thee only God! and thou shalt not despise
Even me, the priest of this poor sacrifice.“
In these lines, the poet gives us a valiant assertion that he will build his own church in the lap of nature. In this church, the dome will be constituted by the open sky. He will worship only with the scent of flowers, which will serve as incense for him. Nature is the only God that exists for the poet. And that God will love even a man like him, who has made a very humble offering to him. You can also refer to To Nature: Analysis here.
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