‘Love’ by Coleridge

A literary analysis of Coleridge’s “Love.”

“Love”


All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame.

Oft in my waking dreams do I
Live o’er again that happy hour,
When midway on the mount I lay,
Beside the ruined tower.

The moonshine, stealing o’er the scene
Had blended with the lights of eve;
And she was there, my hope, my joy,
My own dear Genevieve!

She leant against the arméd man,
The statue of the arméd knight;
She stood and listened to my lay,
Amid the lingering light.

Few sorrows hath she of her own,
My hope! my joy! my Genevieve!
She loves me best, whene’er I sing
The songs that make her grieve.

I played a soft and doleful air,
I sang an old and moving story—
An old rude song, that suited well
That ruin wild and hoary.

She listened with a flitting blush,
With downcast eyes and modest grace;
For well she knew, I could not choose
But gaze upon her face.

I told her of the Knight that wore
Upon his shield a burning brand;
And that for ten long years he wooed
The Lady of the Land.

I told her how he pined: and ah!
The deep, the low, the pleading tone
With which I sang another’s love,
Interpreted my own.

She listened with a flitting blush,
With downcast eyes, and modest grace;
And she forgave me, that I gazed
Too fondly on her face!

But when I told the cruel scorn
That crazed that bold and lovely Knight,
And that he crossed the mountain-woods,
Nor rested day nor night;

That sometimes from the savage den,
And sometimes from the darksome shade,
And sometimes starting up at once
In green and sunny glade,—

There came and looked him in the face
An angel beautiful and bright;
And that he knew it was a Fiend,
This miserable Knight!

And that unknowing what he did,
He leaped amid a murderous band,
And saved from outrage worse than death
The Lady of the Land!

And how she wept, and clasped his knees;
And how she tended him in vain—
And ever strove to expiate
The scorn that crazed his brain;—

And that she nursed him in a cave;
And how his madness went away,
When on the yellow forest-leaves
A dying man he lay;—

His dying words—but when I reached
That tenderest strain of all the ditty,
My faultering voice and pausing harp
Disturbed her soul with pity!

All impulses of soul and sense
Had thrilled my guileless Genevieve;
The music and the doleful tale,
The rich and balmy eve;

And hopes, and fears that kindle hope,
An undistinguishable throng,
And gentle wishes long subdued,
Subdued and cherished long!

She wept with pity and delight,
She blushed with love, and virgin-shame;
And like the murmur of a dream,
I heard her breathe my name.

Her bosom heaved—she stepped aside,
As conscious of my look she stepped—
Then suddenly, with timorous eye
She fled to me and wept.

She half enclosed me with her arms,
She pressed me with a meek embrace;
And bending back her head, looked up,
And gazed upon my face.

‘Twas partly love, and partly fear,
And partly ’twas a bashful art,
That I might rather feel, than see,
The swelling of her heart.

I calmed her fears, and she was calm,
And told her love with virgin pride;
And so I won my Genevieve,
My bright and beauteous Bride.

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss”
Sculpted by Antonio Canova (c. 1787) @ The Louvre.

Literary Analysis

1. The poet

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) was an English poet, literary critic and philosopher. Coleridge’s literary criticism, especially on William Shakespeare, was highly influential. In addition, he coined various phrases, including, “suspension of disbelief.” He was a contemporary of William Wordsworth — indeed they produced a number of collaborative works — and together they were amongst the key founding members of what we today class as the “Romantic Movement.”


The eye, it cannot choose but see;
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel, where’er they be,
Against or with our will.

— William Wordsworth

A poem of Coleridge’s, called “Christabel” is said to have had a major influence on Edgar Allan Poe — particularly Poe’s 1831 poem, “The Sleeper.”


For passionate love is still divine
I lov’d her as an angel might
With ray of the all living light
Which blazes upon Edis’ shrine.

— Edgar Allan Poe

One of Coleridge’s best known and most anthologised poems is called “Kubla Khan.” Listen to it here:

For all of his adult life Coleridge suffered from periods of intense anxiety and depression. Furthermore, he was physically unhealthy and, in attempting to overcome this used laudanum, which fostered a lifelong opium addiction (see: Lovelorn for more on opium and literature).

2. The poem

In Coleridge’s poem “Love,” the narrator (and read here: probably Coleridge writing about someone he himself was pining for) is attempting to win over a women by appealing to her tender emotions (her ‘soft spot’ so to speak). To do this he tells her a heart-wrenching story! He waxes poetic about the days of chivalry, in which a knight saved a lady from an “outrage worse than death” (let us presume it may well have been rape), is wounded in so doing and soon thereafter, dies in her arms. The women that the poem’s narrator fancies, on hearing the story, is deeply moved to tears and then — low and behold 😉 — succumbs to the narrator’s charms.

Each of this poem’s 24 stanzas is a quatrain (4 lines) and follows, I think, the ABCB rhyming pattern. The first three lines of each stanza — I’ve read it said — are written in iambic tetrameter (each line contains two sets of two beats, or “iambs” — firstly unstressed then stressed) each stanza’s last line contains only three iambs (i.e., it was written in “iambic trimeter”). [tri = three, think of a triangle!]


Learn more about literary analysis techniques:
Poetry & ProseLiterary devices
Poetry & ProseAnalytical techniques
Poetry & ProseGlossary of terminology

Theme

The theme of the poem is the glorification of love. Love, as a subject, is always engaging as it describes the most intense passion of the human heart (see: “Love letters”). In this poem there is only really a union of the hearts, and not of the body; there’s no suggestion of carnal passion. It is, in other words about love and not about sex.

Love, according to the poem’s narrator is the supreme passion of all human beings and all the other passions are slaves to it. These other passions and emotions, moreover, all contribute something to the passion of love. In their own ways they stimulate, inspire, and sustain love.

Coleridge’s “Love” has many thematic elements associated with the Romantic Period not least its stress of the emotional over the reasonable! This is evident from the second and final stanza. Another theme of poetry in the Romantic Period is the nostalgic view of past traditions such as e.g., the Medieval Era (the Middle Ages), as signified in the poem with the discussion of the knight, fighting for chivalry and a fair lady’s heart and honour:

for ten years he wooed the lady of the land

The the degree to which the poem’s narrator goes to win the heart of the woman he fancies — his true one & only — is the driving force of this poem. I say women, but maybe the narrator fancied a man… Love is Love; love is gender-blind.

Like a rainbow,
you come and go.

In the first stanza of “Love” the narrator begins by stating that every emotion one could experience influences and is influenced by love.

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame.

Love is given agency. In the second stanza the narrator goes on to refer to himself in the first person.

Oft in my waking dreams do I
Live o’er again that happy hour,
When midway on the mount I lay,
Beside the ruined tower.

This is he, this is Coleridge! His “waking dreams” his (opioid) day dreams… He recalls the “happy hour…”


I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows I’m miserable now

I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

In my life
Why do I give valuable time
To people who don’t care if I live or die?

Two lovers entwined pass me by
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

— Steven Morrissey / Johnny Marr

The sixth stanza of Coleridge’s “Love” describes how the narrator is using his language (words & tone) to woo his woman:

I played a soft and doleful air,
I sang an old and moving story—
An old rude song...

The next stanza — I think — is meant to tell us how the women he fancies is both aroused and saddened by the somewhat risqué and scandalous medieval tale:

She listened with a flitting blush,
With downcast eyes and modest grace;

The 17th stanza again describes how the narrator is using his language (words & tone) to woo his woman:

My faltering voice and pausing harp
Disturbed her soul with pity!

The poem ends with a neat – happy for ever after — ending… lovely but a fucking myth (ain’t it mate?)

I calmed her fears, and she was calm,
And told her love with virgin pride;
And so I won my Genevieve,
My bright and beauteous Bride.



Read more of and on The Romantics:
Poetry & ProsePoetsS. T. Coleridge
Poetry & ProsePoetsJohn Keats
Poetry & ProsePoetsP. B. Shelley
Poetry & ProsePoetsLord Byron


Rear view one (derrière wide-angle)
Rear view one (derrière wide-angle)
Rear view two (derrière macro)
Rear view two (derrière macro)
“Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss”
By François Gérard (1798)

* A symbolic butterfly hovers over Psyche in a moment of innocence poised before sexual awakening.

Author: Anna Bidoonism

You'll find poems, prose & literary analysis on my blog -- this is who I am.