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Pride Of Individuality: A New Critical Reading Of "The Eolian Harp"

2319 words - 10 pages

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the original poets and thinkers of the Romantic movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Though Coleridge co-authored The Lyrical Ballads with William Wordsworth, a foundational collection of poems that helped to define Romanticism, Coleridge was unique in his poetic style. While Wordsworth set forth the importance of writing with "a selection of language really used by men" (Leitch 650), Coleridge enjoyed the musical effects of language in their own right. Furthermore, his unique portrayal of the mind and its movement helped to define the emotional intimacy of the Romantics (Phillips). "The Eolian Harp" was Coleridge's first major achievement in ...view middle of the document...

Accordingly, critics should examine a text for its own artistic merit, ignoring the author's life, historical studies, or any other external method. Any personal biases, emotions, or reactions of the critic should be removed, making criticism a more scientific venture. Thus, judgments about an author's artistry should be based purely on the unity, form, and technique of the text itself. New Critics were especially interested in ambiguity, paradox, metaphor, rhythm, and imagery, looking for seeming incongruities in a text for an emerging unifying theme. The New Critics were the originators of the "close reading" that has since been popular among English teachers, especially in the United States (Lynn 37-46). Unfortunately, the validity of their criticism is sometimes limited by their refusal to examine biography, history, or personal reactions. Ignoring integral factors such as these can lead to an incomplete analysis of a given text.In its intriguing complexity, Coleridge's "The Eolian Harp" has offered critics much material for analysis. Many have focused on the image of the Eolian Harp, an instrument common in 18th and 19th century homes that produces music when wind blows on its strings. If the breeze represents the power of nature, most interpret the harp to be the poet and the resulting music to be his poetry. Coleridge is thus examining the relationship between the poet and his muse, which is, in this case, nature (Weissman). Ronald Ecker of the University of Florida focuses on the spontaneity of the breeze. Romantics were rebelling against the rigid formalities of the Neoclassicists, and Coleridge's Eolian harp symbolized a poet inspired by nature into a "spontaneous overflow" (qtd. in Leitch 661) of feeling. In this poem, Coleridge contemplates the impermanence and mutability of the reflective workings of his mind in moments of tranquility (Ecker). Brian Phillips broadens his focus to include how Coleridge defines the relationship between the mind and nature, specifically rejecting false versions of this relationship. According to Phillips, Coleridge shows how "the mind must be so suffused with its own joy that it opens up to the real, independent, 'immortal' joy of nature." Each of these critics has examined "The Eolian Harp" in the historical context of both Romanticism and Coleridge's personal biography. New Critics would reject such approaches and focus strictly on the poem itself.Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, "The Eolian Harp," does indeed capture some of his musings on the relationship between the human mind, nature, and God. From the beginning of the poem, Coleridge sets up several key paradoxes. He uses extensive imagery, sprinkled with numerous similes and various metaphors, to show the contrasts between day and night, sound and silence, and the desultory and the sequacious. His subject for the poem is the image of the breeze, symbolizing nature, arousing music (poetry) from the Eolian harp (the poet). After extensively...

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