Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849) was the oldest son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He inherited much of his father’s talent and brilliance but also some of his lack of discipline, which resulted in the forfeiture for intemperance of his Oriel fellowship. He wrote biography for money and is often felt to have largely squandered his considerable talents. His friends were always impressed with his originality and brilliance, though Hartley himself felt himself only a reflection of his father. Nonetheless, in limiting himself to less grandiose and “important” poems, he often surpassed his father if only in the exquisite quality of his compositions.
Here are a few sonnets:
Full well I know – my friends – ye look on me
A living specter of my Father dead –
Had I not bourne his name, had I not fed
On him, as one leaf trembling on a tree,
A woeful waste had been my minstrelsy –
Yet have I sung of maidens newly wed
And I have wished that hearts too sharply bled
Should throb with less of pain, and heave more free
By my endeavor. Still alone I sit
Counting each thought as miser counts a penny,
Wishing to spend my pennyworth of wit
On antic wheel of fortune like a zany:
You love me for my sire, to you unknown,
Revere me for his sake, and love me for my own.
No Life Vain
Let me not deem that I was made in vain,
Or that my being was an accident,
Which fate, in working its sublime intent,
Not wished to be, to hinder would not deign.
Each drop uncounted in a storm of rain
Hath its own mission, and is duly sent
To its own leaf or blade, not idly spent
‘Mid myriad dimples on the shipless main.
The very shadow of an insect’s wing,
For which the violet cared not while it stayed,
Yet felt the lighter for its vanishing,
Proved that the sun was shining by its shade:
Then can a drop of the eternal spring,
Shadow of living lights, in vain be made?
If I have sinned in act, I may repent;
If I have erred in thought, I may disclaim
My silent error, and yet feel no shame ;
But if my sou], big with an ill intent,
Guilty in will, by fate be innocent,
Or being bad, yet murmurs at the curse
And incapacity of being worse,
That makes my hungry passion still keep Lent
In keen expectance of a Carnival;
Where, in all worlds, that round the sun revolve
And shed their influence on this passive ball,
Abides a power that can my soul absolve?
Could any sin survive and be forgiven,
One sinful wish would make a hell of heaven!
Was it a fancy, bred of vagrant guess,
Or well-remember’d fact, that He was born
When half the world was wintry and forlorn,
In Nature’s utmost season of distress?
And did the simple earth indeed confess
Its destitution and its craving need,
Wearing the white and penitential weed,
Meet symbol of judicial barrenness?
So be it; for in truth ’tis ever so,
That when the winter of the soul is bare,
The seed of heaven at first begins to grow,
Peeping abroad in desert of despair.
Full many a floweret, good, and sweet, and fair,
Is kindly wrapp’d in coverlet of snow.