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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

To a Gentleman

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834)

Composed on the Night after His Recitation of a Poem on the Growth of an Individual Mind

FRIEND of the Wise! and Teacher of the Good!

Into my heart have I received that lay

More than historic, that prophetic lay,

Wherein (high theme by thee first sung aright)

Of the foundations and the building up

Of a Human Spirit thou hast dared to tell

What may be told, to the understanding mind

Revealable; and what within the mind,

By vital breathings secret as the soul

Of vernal growth, oft quickens in the heart

Thoughts all too deep for words!

Theme hard as high!

Of smiles spontaneous, and mysterious fears,

The first-born they of Reason, and twin-birth;

Of tides obedient to external force,

And currents self-determined, as might seem,

Or by some inner Power; of moments awful,

Now in thy inner life, and now abroad,

When Power stream’d from thee, and thy soul received

The light reflected, as a light bestowed—

Of fancies fair, and milder hours of youth,

Hyblean murmurs of poetic thought,

Industrious in its joy, in Vales and Glens

Native or outland, Lakes and famous Hills!

Or on the lonely High-road, when the Stars

Were rising; or by secret mountain Streams,

The Guides and the Companions of thy way!

Of more than Fancy, of the Social Sense

Distending wide, and Man beloved as Man,

Where France in all her town lay vibrating

Like some becalmed bark beneath the burst

Of Heaven’s immediate thunder, when no cloud

Is visible, or shadow on the Main.

For thou wert there, thine own brows garlanded,

Amid the tremor of a realm aglow,

Amid a mighty nation jubilant,

When from the general heart of humankind

Hope sprang forth like a full-born Deity!

… Of that dear Hope afflicted and struck down

So summoned homeward, thenceforth calm and sure,

From the dread watch-tower of man’s absolute Self

With light unwaning on her eyes, to look

Far on—herself a glory to behold,

The Angel of the vision! Then (last strain)

Of Duty, chosen laws controlling choice,

Action and Joy!—An Orphic song indeed,

A song divine of high and passionate thoughts,

To their own music chanted!

O great Bard!

Ere yet that last strain, dying, awed the air,

With stedfast eye I viewed thee in the choir

Of ever-enduring men. The truly Great

Have all one age, and from one visible space

Shed influence! They, both in power and act,

Are permanent, and Time is not with them,

Save as it worketh for them, they in it.

Nor less a sacred roll than those of old,

And to be placed, as they, with gradual fame

Among the archives of mankind, thy work

Makes audible a linkèd lay of Truth,

Of Truth profound a sweet continuous lay,

Not learnt, but native, her own natural notes!

Ah! as I listened with a heart forlorn,

The pulses of my being beat anew:

And even as life returns upon the drowned,

Life’s joy rekindling roused a throng of pains—

Keen Pangs of Love, awakening as a babe

Turbulent, with an outcry in the heart;

And Fears self-willed that shunned the eye of Hope,

And Hope that scarce would know itself from Fear,

Sense of past Youth; and Manhood come in vain,

And all which I had culled in wood-walks wild,

And all which patient toil had reared, and all,

Commune with thee had opened out—but flowers

Strewed on my corse, and borne upon my bier,

In the same coffin, for the self-same grave!

That way no more! and ill beseems it me

Who came a welcomer in herald’s guise

Singing of Glory and Futurity,

To wander back on such unhealthful road,

Plucking the poisons of self-harm! And ill

Such intertwine beseems triumphal wreaths

Strewed before thy advancing!

Nor do thou,

Sage Bard! impair the memory of that hour

Of my communion with thy nobler mind

By Pity or Grief, already felt too long!

Nor let my words import more blame than needs.

The tumult rose and ceased: for Peace is nigh

Where Wisdom’s voice has found a listening heart.

Amid the howl of more than wintry storms,

The Halcyon hears the voice of vernal hours

Already on the wing.

Eve following eve,

Dear tranquil time, when the sweet sense of Home

Is sweetest! moments for their own sake hailed

And more desired, more precious for thy song,

In silence listening, like a devout child,

My soul lay passive, by the various strain

Driven as in surges now beneath the stars,

With momentary Stars of my own birth,

Fair constellated Foam, still darting off

Into the darkness; now a tranquil sea,

Outspread and bright, yet swelling to the Moon.

And when—O Friend! my comforter and guide!

Strong in thyself, and powerful to give strength!—

Thy long-sustained song finally closed,

And thy deep voice had ceased—yet thou thyself

Wert still before my eyes, and round us both

That happy vision of beloved faces—

Scarce conscious, and yet conscious of its close,

I sate, my being blended in one thought

(Thought was it? or Aspiration? or Resolve?)

Absorbed, yet hanging still upon the sound—

And when I rose, I found myself in prayer.