Friday, June 12, 2009

She Is Breeding Again!

A couple of days ago Mary Rae posted a great poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that he wrote to his eldest son, Hartley. Please take a look at it before you read the following.

Take a moment, having read that poem, to wish that your father had written something like it to you when you were but a diapered doll. If he did, please tell us about it! We would love to hear!


That poem shows Samuel Taylor Coleridge at his parental best! He is a loving father delighting in his child!

But six years later when he began to suspect that his wife, Sara, was pregnant with a fourth child, he spoke in a decidedly different tone. "Mrs. Coleridge is indisposed, and I have too much reason to suspect that she is breeding again." After the birth of his fourth child, a daughter, we would surely have hoped to hear his tone changed. Instead we hear: "I had never thought of a Girl as a possible event--the words child and man-child were perfect Synonimes in my feelings--however I bore the sex with great Fortitude, and she shall be called Sara."

Unfortunately I cannot relate that his love for Sara grew with her years. Biographers all seem to agree with the assessment of Sara, that she never in her life spent more than a couple of weeks at a time in his company.

She was his daughter, yet they were practical strangers.

So now, my question is this: Did this distance from her father make her more (or did it make her less) eager to imitate his style of poetry?

Hartley, who seems to have been STC's favorite child, his very pet, seems to have little imitated his father, either in life or in the manner of his poetry.

But the eagerness to earn a parent's love can work just as strongly as the gratitude for getting such love. So, did Sara Coleridge write in a similar voice in an attempt to gain that intimacy that he had denied her?

Would withholding love gain him the successor that overflowing love (and doting) had not been able to produce?

To this I don't yet have an answer, but it is the question with which I am now beginning to read the poetry of Sara Coleridge. I will begin with her long work, PHANTASMION. Then I will read the other poems that she wrote over the years.

PHANTASMION is not published as a poem, but I can tell from the outset that she wrote it poetically. Indeed it seems to have been written in the same line structure as Milton's PARADISE LOST; but then it was typeset to look like simple prose. It is only when reading it aloud that one realizes that it is all written in blank verse. The main deviations from blank verse (so far, for I've only begun it) are when Sara inserts individual poems in the flow of the story.

But my big question as I read it (aside from hoping to enjoy the story) is whether or not I hear echoes of her father in her writing.

The STC quotes above are here quoted from Johnathan Wordsworth's introduction to PHANTASMION.

1 comment:

Mary Rae said...

Your posts have definitely piqued my interest in Coleridge's family life. I read that when Sara was close to dying she chose to work on collecting and editing her father's work, rather than completing her own. This speaks to the times in which she lived--the difficulty of claiming importance as a woman--as well as to her own father's neglect.