The Eolian Harp by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Analysis

The Eolian Harp published in 1795 has been called 'the most perfect' of Coleridge's early poems. It is one of his conversation poems. Most of the poems of this group belong to the years 1795-93, but Coleridge used the form intermittently over a period of twelve years, the last of them, To William Wordsworth being written in 1807. For Coleridge the form of a conversation poem had some attraction in his early years.

S. T. Coleridge (1772-1834)

He was volatilely incapable of making the sustained effort essential to produce a great philosophic poem. By writing Conversation poems in his early years he kept alive his poetic powers and continued to hope that someday he would be fit to undertake a great work. Then, in a Conversation poem themes could be taken up, developed, dropped and resumed, and shifts of tone could be made, much more acceptable than in most other poetic forms. These early poems are remarkable for their sensitive recording of nature, their tentative exploration of ideas and concern for self-analysis. The Conversation poems are addressed to some person. The poet speaks as if he is talking to that person, although that person may not speak a single word. In The Eolian Harp the person addressed is Sarah Fricker. The poem does not possess a unity of thought or theme. The poet's mind shift from one idea to another, and ultimately the poem closes with the poet's accepting the traditional orthodox Christian beliefs of his beloved.

The Eolion Harp celebrate the poet's first happiness in love. He had fallen in love with Sarah Fricker. The poem begins and ends with a reference to Sarah Fricker. Its theme shows enormous range and variety. It moves from the tranquil beauty of the cottage at Clevedon to 'all of animated nature', from the simple lute clasped in the casement to a Paradise FairyLand, from an intuition of life's oneness to personal confession of weakness and a need for religion. The sudden transitions and varied themes come from the associations formed in the mind of the poet as he contemplates his surroundings.

The greater part of the poem makes an immediate impact on the reader by its individual, emotionally direct use of language. Coleridge expresses positive faith that God is present at the heart of all His creation. This intuition of life's ultimate wholeness and oneness, which is of absolute importance to our understanding of all Coleridge's poetry, is re-affirmed in the four magnificent lines that were later added to the poem:

-0! the one life within us and abroad, Which meets all motion and becomes its soul, A light in sound, a sound-like power in light, Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere-

So far from being a mere statement that life is a dynamic principle, the poetry embodies this principle in terms of metaphor and paradox, assisted by the rising rhythm, which gathers to triumphant emphasis on the major image:

‘‘A light in sound, a sound-like power in light."

The poem shows Coleridge's deep love for Nature and a close and minute observation of her different and changing phenomena. At the very beginning of the poet refers to the white-flowered jasmines and broad-leaved myrtles which are growing all around the cottage where the poet is sitting with his beloved. The lovers are watching the clouds which, a little while ago, were radiant with sunlight, but which are now darkening. In the opposite direction the evening star is serenely and brilliantly shining. Thus we see that the poem contains some very beautiful word-pictures of the scenes of nature. The poet greatly enjoys the company of his beloved in this beautiful atmosphere and attractive surroundings. The poem also shows the poet's sensuous apprehension of the beauties of nature. The poet greatly enjoys the scents that are coming from the nearby bean-field. A little further in the poem there is another beautiful word-picture in the following lines:

"The sunbeams dances, like diamonds, on the main."

The poet also identifies the beauties of nature with human emotions. At the beginning of the poem the poet says that white-flowered jasmines and broad-leaved myrtles are appropriate symbols of Innocence and Love. Then, seeing the serene and brilliant light of the evening star, the poet says that Wisdom should also be similarly serene and brilliant.

The poem is full of philosophical speculation of the poet. He meditates upon the nature of this universe and comes to the conclusion that there is only one Life in the universe. It exists within us as well as outside of us. It is the essence of all motion in the universe. It illumines all sounds and gives the power of sounds to all light, which makes all thoughts rhythmical. It is the source of joy everywhere. The poet says that it is impossible for a man not to love all things in a world which is so permeated by the Divine Spirit. In another passage of the poem the poet says that all the objects of this living universe may be regarded as organic Harps of different shapes and sizes. Just as at the tow-h of the breeze the strings of the harp come to life and produce sweet musical notes, in the same manner all the objects of this universe are stimulated and inspired to thought when they are swept over by the molding and shaping spirit of God. Coleridge's views that the spirit of God pervades the whole universe, inspiring different objects to life and thought is a pantheistic view.

In the conclusion to the poem, Coleridge leaves aside his pantheistic views and expresses his conformity to Sara's views. When the poet was expressing his pantheistic views, he saw that the looks of his mistress darkened, and she showed disapproval of his views. She, being a devout Christian, cannot accept his non-Christian views. The poet has such a deep love for her that he cannot displease her, and leaving aside his philosophical views, he expresses his conformity to her traditional orthodox Christian views. He says that philosophical speculations have no worth or permanence. They are as short-lived as bubbles of water. They cannot compare with the permanent and deep rooted beliefs of religion. The nature of God is incomprehensible. Man should not try to understand Him. He should accept religious beliefs as they are, without questioning them. The poet expresses his deep faith in God and His mercifulness. In the closing part of the poem, therefore, the poetry suffers and becomes stilted in manner.

The poem shows the poet's sensuous enjoyment of nature. All the similes are appropriate, sensuous, and appealing. The poem makes a great impact on the reader by its simple and direct language, the poet's sensuous enjoyment of nature, its beautiful and charming word-pictures, its music, and the poet's fleeting philosophical speculations and his intuitive realization of life's ultimate wholeness and oneness. Indeed, it is one of the most perfect of his early poems.

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Shrestha, Roma. "The Eolian Harp by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 7 Nov. 2017,