The Eolian Harp by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Summary

The poem The Eolian Harp addressed to Sarah Fricker whom the poet was about to marry, was composed in August, 1795 since the time of Thomson. An eolian harp was considered an indispensable possession for every poet. It was usually placed in a casement. The poets loved and valued it greatly. The music drawn from it by the breath (inspiration) of nature was identified with the natural genius of the poet.

S. T. Coleridge (1772-1834)

In this poem also Coleridge says that the lute is lying lengthwise in the window. lt is lovingly touched by the wayward wind and is producing a sweet musical sound The music is sometimes low and sometimes loud, depending on the force of the wind. The music is as sweet and charming as the one produced by the fairies in the evening, when they glide on gentle winds from fairy land. The poem shows the wayward nature of the poet. He does not concentrate on any one point. His mind drifts from one subject to another.

The poem is addressed to Sara Fricker, the poet's beloved, who sits in a thoughtful mood with her cheek resting on the poet's arm. The poet is enjoying her company. They are sitting by the side of his cottage which is overgrown with white-flowered jasmines and broad-leaved myrtles which are appropriate symbols of Innocence and Love. The two lovers are watching the clouds which, a little while ago, were shining with sunlight, but which are now darkening In the opposite direction the evening star is serenely and brilliantly shining. They poet wishes that wisdom should also have the same character, i.e. serene and brilliant. The sweet smell coming from the bean-field is sweet and pleasing. There is silence all around and the quiet murmur of the distant sea indicates how profoundly silent is the world at this time.

The poet now sees the lute which is lying lengthwise in the window. It seems to the poet as if the lute is in the close embraced race of the window. The poet asks his wife to listen to the lute which is lovingly touched by the wayward wind and is producing a sweet musical sound. The poet compares the music of the lute with the light protestations of a shy young girl, objecting to her lover's embrace and yet yielding to his solicitations. Her protestations encourage the lover to embrace her further and with greater vigor and passion. In the same manner the musical sounds produced by the lute tempt the wind to pass through it more forcibly and produced a louder musical sound. The next moment the wind blows more forcibly and the strings of the lute produce a louder music. The long musical notes rise and fall in the current of the air. The music is so sweet that it can be compared with the music produced by the fairies when in the evening they travel on light and gentle breezes from fairyland, a place which is full of heavenly melodies, which move around honey dropping flowers. The fairies walk here and there in a wild and wayward manner like the birds of Paradise. They do not stop or sit anywhere but wander here and there on wings which cannot be checked.

The poet now becomes conscious of the one Life which 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 sound to all light, which makes all thought 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 infused by the Divine Spirit; where the breezes seem to be singing, and the silent, motionless air is like music sleeping on her instrument, and ready to wake up any moment. The world is so good and enjoyable because it is permeated by the spirit of God. It is present everywhere and it imparts joy and inspiration to all the objects of nature.

The poet then speaks of the pleasure which he experiences by lying down at noon-time on the midway slope of the yonder hill. There he often lies with his eyes half-closed and enjoys the beauty of the sunbeams dancing, like diamonds, on the sea. There, in a calm and quiet mood, he meditates upon the profound silence which pervades the whole scene. Many spontaneous and uncontrolled thoughts and many idle fancies pass through his idle and Passive mind. These thoughts and fancies are as wild and various as the breezes which blow unsystematically and rise and flutter on the lute, and make it produce different kinds of sweet musical notes.

The poet's mind is passing from one thought to another. Now he thinks that all the objects of this living universe be regarded as organic Harps of different shapes and sizes. Just at the touch 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. This vast one soul of this universe may be regarded as an intellectual breeze. It is the spirit of God which gives life and movement to all the objects of nature. They are subordinated to it in the same manner as the lute is subordinated to the breeze.

There is now a change of idea in the poem. The looks of Sara darken. She locks at him in a serious mariner which shows that she is reproving him. She is a devout Christian and does not appreciate his pantheistic ideas about the all-pervading one Soul in this universe. The beliefs of Pantheism differ from those of Christianity. The darkened looks of his beloved seem to be saying to him that he should leave all such ideas and be faithful to his God The poet accepts his beloved's reproof and says that she should reject his vague and unholy thoughts. His pantheistic ideas are as short-lived as bubbles of water that are formed and instantly destroyed on the fruitless fountain of philosophy which is noisily flowing forever. Philosophy, he says, is futile its speculations have no value, or permanence. The transitory ideas of philosophy cannot compare with the lasting and deep rooted beliefs of religion. The incomprehensible nature of God cannot be understood by anybody. Philosophy fails because it tries to understand God by reasoning; religion succeeds because in place of argument and questioning it accepts God as he is believed to be. Man should not try to understand the incomprehensible. He should accept religious beliefs as they are, without inquiring their worth or validity. The poet also expresses his firm faith in religious beliefs. He says that he does not feel guilty only when he praises God with fear and accept His reality in his heart. God has always been merciful to him. It shows the greatness of God that He has been merciful to the poet who is a very sinful, miserable, bewildered, and ignorant man. God has been kind and merciful enough to the poet to grant him peace of mind, his cottage, and Sara, his heart-honored beloved. God has granted him perfect happiness in his life.

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