During university, I spend an almost inappropriate time investigating on a paper on Gray and Tennyson. – Which was rad, because my work on Gray was the foundation on which this page is built. Now, I recently mentioned one of Gray’s more famous odes, “The Bard”, and how I humbly theorize that “Kubla Khan” could have being a thematically similar – maybe equally prophetic – poem, probably even comparable to Walter Scott’s later The Vision of Don Roderick.
Now, what did Coleridge himself think of “The Bard”, given how we usually simplify that Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s generation of poets is said to have rejected Gray’s work?
This quote by Mr C himself might serve to give a first understanding of what Coleridge’s real thoughts were, especially when juxtaposed with another, more generalizing statement by later English critic George Saintsbury.
“An Author is obscure, when his conceptions are dim and imperfect, and his language incorrect, or unappropriate, or involved. A poem that abounds in allusions, like the Bard of Gray, or one that impersonates high and abstract truths, like Collins’s Ode on the poetical character, claims not to be popular — but should be acquitted of obscurity. The deficiency is in the Reader. But this is a charge which every poet, whose imagination is warm and rapid, must expect from his contemporaries. Milton did not escape it; and it was adduced with virulence against Gray and Collins. We now hear no more of it; not that their poems are better understood at present, than they were at their first publication; but their fame is established; and a critic would accuse himself of frigidity or inattention, who should profess not to understand them…”
George Saintsbury, 1911.
“In a letter to West, when the writer was about six-and-twenty, we find it stated with equal dogmatism, truth, and independence of authority that ‘the language of the age is never the language of poetry except among the French, whose verse, where the thought or image does not support it, differs nothing from prose,’ with a long and valuable citation, illustrating this defence of ‘poetic diction,’ and no doubt thereby arousing the wrath of Wordsworth. Less developed, but equally important and equally original, is the subsequent description of our language as not being ‘a settled thing’ like the French. Gray, indeed, makes this with explicit reference only to the revival of archaisms, which he defends; but, as we see from other places as well as by natural deduction, it extends to reasonable neologisms also. In this respect Gray is with all the best original writers, from Chaucer and Langland downwards, but against a respectably mistaken body of critics who would fain not merely introduce the caste system into English, but, like Sir Boyle Roche, make it hereditary in this caste not to have any children…”
I think it’s Saintsbury’s phrase, because it’s so quotable, that has led people to generally assume there was more contrast between the poetic generations that I have really perceived. I wonder how I will think about the connection between Coleridge and Gray when I am more into the matter…
Quotes taken from The Spenserian Archive.
I am not going to re-post the entire poem, but here, my favorite lines from it: The beginning verses, indeed!