Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We Grappled Like Two Wrestlers

Two brothers, intimate companions in their early years, had hardly seen each other for twenty years. One, Derwent Coleridge, had grown into a stalwart pastor, a teacher of the eternal truths of Scripture. The other, Hartley Coleridge, had become something of a recluse, though not at all an outcast, from society. He kept himself, of his own volition, apart from the crowd. Derwent, the prosaic teacher, and Hartley, the poetic mystic: polar opposites except that they shared a common ideological and biological heritage. When they met at last, Hartley "was at once excited and embarrassed." (Derwent's description) It was both a joyous reunion, and also an awkward one, for Hartley felt overwhelmingly that he had let their parents down in their hopes for him. This guilt had oppressed him for many years.

After the meeting Hartley composed the following verses, which he sent to Derwent.

We grappled like two wrestlers, long and hard,
With many a strain and many a wily turn;
The deep divine, the quaint fantastic bard,
From night to night we did the strife adjourn.

The one was stiff as any bending reed
Is stiff with ice, with frosty mail emboss'd,
By nature flaccid as the lank sea-weed,
But seeming stanch--by might of brittle frost.

The other, like a pine, was like to yeild,
But upward sprang, and heavenward pointed still:
The reed and the pine to every blast reveal'd
How weak is wilfulness, how strong is will.

Thou wert the pine, and I, with woeful ruth,
Confess myself the reed: ah ! woe is me,
If such be all the banded hosts of Truth,
Of Justice, Freedom, and Humanity.

I borrowed this from Derwent's memoir of his brother. It is an exceptional read for anyone interested in the gospel, in psychology, in interpersonal relations, or in poetry. Beyond that it is a delightful and heavy piece of biography that any reader would enjoy. Derwent writes such lucid and inciteful prose that I would have liked to post a quote from almost every page, but that I could not pause to make the entry here.

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