Thursday, April 24, 2014

Epitaph - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Stop, Christian passer-by! - Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast.  Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S.T.C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise - to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ.  Do thou the same!

In composing an epitaph for himself, Coleridge exhorts the reader to offer a prayer for peace and rest, and to ask forgiveness for themselves so that they too may find "life in death."  Most interesting to me is the way in which Coleridge imagines himself and his posthumous image.  Specifically, the image that Coleridge "found death in life."

Through much of Coleridge's poetic canon, he is concerned with the imagination, and often takes flights of fancy, rising from some sort of grounded reality into a world of dream and possibility.  The ultimate flight of fancy is trying to imagine what sort of, if there is any, afterlife exists.  Coleridge, a devout man of Anglican upbringing and some Unitarian bent, imagines that as an existence of peace and Mercy after the body is buried.  Indeed, in this poem Coleridge disassociates the body with the self.  "Beneath this sod a poet lies, or that which once seemed he."  The body beneath that soil used to be a poet, but it is no longer him is the essential message.

Coleridge also sets up a struggle between the effort of life and the peace found in death.  As a poet, he labored "many a year with toil of breath."  For him to find "death in life" was a struggle, a burden, but now that he imagines himself under the ground, he finds life, Mercy, and peace.  Overall, the message of the epitaph is the eternal hope of a better existence beyond the grave.  The trappings here are of Christianity, but also of some sort of larger inclusiveness, for he addresses the reader as "child of God."  It seems like a broad net Coleridge casts in addressing the reader, because he cuts himself off after saying "Christian passer-by" and widens his scope to "child of God."  While the poem is undoubtedly rooted in Christian ideals of salvation through Christ's Love, the humanistic sentiment at its core is that we remember our fellow man and wish for their peace and new life after their struggle upon this Earth is over.

1 comment:

  1. Call for Papers
    Kyoto Conference on Coleridge and Contemplation, 27-29 March, 2015

    Abstracts are welcome for this international, interdisciplinary conference on Coleridge and Contemplation

    Further details and a downloadable cfp poster here:

    Confirmed speakers:

    Jim Mays (Literature, UCD): 'Coleridge and Contemplation in Poetry’

    Douglas Hedley (Philosophy / Divinity, Cambridge): ‘Coleridge and Contemplation’

    David E. Cooper (Philosophy, Durham): ‘Meditation on the Move: Walking and the Appreciation of Nature’

    James Kirwan (Literature / Philosophy, Kansai): ‘Aesthetics and Contemplation in the Early Nineteenth Century’

    Andy Hamilton (Philosophy, Durham): ‘Coleridge, Mill, and Conservatism

    Joseph S. O’Leary (Literature, Sophia Univ.): ‘Plotinus and Romantic Thinkers’

    Setsuko Wake (Literature, Kobe College): ‘Contemplating Genius: Coleridge on Shakespeare’

    Kaz Oishi (Literature, Tokyo): ‘Coleridge’s Contemplative Social Vision'

    Mark Lussier (Literature, Arizona State): topic tbc

    David Vallins (Literature, Hiroshima): topic tbc

    All the best,

    Peter Cheyne

    English Dept
    Kyoto Notre Dame University