“This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison”

 

This piece was written for a Literary Masterpiece course. The assignment was the analyze and interpret a piece of poetry, I chose “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

“This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the summer of 1797. “In the June of 1797, some long-experienced Friends paid a visit to the author’s cottage; and on the morning of their arrival, he met with an accident, which disabled him from walking during the whole time of their stay. One evening, when they had left him for a few hours, he composed the following lines in the garden bower (Coleridge 254).” Throughout the poem, Coleridge discusses despair and appreciation in nature, self, and others. Coleridge’s descriptions bring life to a new wave of ideas connecting despair and happiness; that beauty and God can be seen in all things, both good and bad. It is the beauty in the world as well as the imperfections that make life exciting and meaningful.

As discussed in the epigraph preceding the poem, “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” is composed of lines written down freely by Coleridge while he sat in the garden. The spontaneity of the poem makes it difficult to analyze because it is written in blank verse, meaning without a definite rhyme scheme, an unrhymed iambic pentameter. The poem consists of three stanzas each containing a different number of lines; the first containing nineteen lines, the second containing twenty-four lines, and the third containing thirty-four lines. Coleridge uses the first stanza to describe his disappointment in being left behind, and uses imagery to describe what he imagines his friends seeing. Such descriptions can be seen in line 13, “Flings arching like a bridge;- that branchless ash,” which also contains a simile and ends in a caesura, line 14, “Unsunned and damp, whose few poor yellow leave”, line 17, “Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds,” and line 20, “Of the blue clay-stone.” Coleridge goes onto the second stanza by using a boat as a metaphor to describe his appreciation for nature, as well as how he hopes his friends would appreciate it, with more imagery to help paint a picture for the reader in lines 23-26, “With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up/ The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles/ Of purple shadow! Yes! They wander on”. The speaker goes on the address Charles Lamb in line 28 using the apostrophe and caesura, “My gentle-hearted Charles!” Coleridge gives recognition to Charles due to his great admiration for him, having been deprived of nature do to his love of cities, as well as his strength through the “calamity” life has handed him including the murder of his mother just ten months prior at the hand of his sister. Coleridge uses irony in calling Charles Lamb “gentle-hearted,” making him sound like an actual lamb. Coleridge ends the stanza with the allusion to God’s presence in nature in line 43-44, “As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes/ Spirits perceive his presence.” Coleridge goes on to the third and final stanza, this time imagining himself in nature. He goes on to say that it is good to miss the beauty of nature, as Charles Lamb did, so that you might appreciate it more as well as think about its beauty while you are gone. The final lines, 73-76, describe the “not so beautiful” things in nature as well as in life. “While thou stood’st gazing; or when all was still,/ Flew creeking o’er thy head, and had a charm/ For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom/ No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.” Coleridge uses these final lines to show admiration for Charles, once again, due to his ability to deal with his less than beautiful circumstances that life has handed him. He goes on to say that both the good and the bad are what make life itself so beautiful.

The speaker in the poem is not directly stated, but it can be inferred that it is Coleridge, himself, speaking. The poem is addressed to the visiting friends, William and Dorothy Wordsworth and Charles Lamb. Coleridge uses a number apostrophes to specify that the speaker is in fact addressing Charles Lamb, as seen in line 28 and 68, repeating his exclamation, and arguable caesura, “My gentle-hearted Charles!” Coleridge continues this pattern as seen in line 75, “For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles…” Preceding the poem, the reader learns that the speaker was injured, preventing him from going walking with his friends. This injury forced him to wait in the bower filled with lime trees located next door to Coleridge’s cottage at Nether Stowy, England, in June 1797. In his poem, “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” Coleridge tackles topics such as love, admiration, isolation, and time changing his tone throughout the poem from sad and passive to appreciative and hopeful.

The title of the poem comes from the caesura at the beginning of the second line in the first stanza, “This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost”. Literally speaking, the title sets the scene for the reader, introducing the setting where the poem takes place. Coleridge makes a comparison between the lime trees and a prison to dramatize his condition and disappointment because he is not able to go walking and see all of the beautiful things that his friends are; the speaker uses imagery to describe all of the things he imagines them seeing. Coleridge surprises his readers in the first stanza by describing the garden, not as a paradise as he does when speaking of his friends, but rather as a prison. He does this because of how he feels trapped there while his friends are out. It is ironic that he describes his setting in a negative light and his friends’ setting as positive. In the opening stanza, Coleridge describes his disappointment of being left in his “prison” while his friends are out walking. He uses imagery to describe, in a sad, lonely, sorrowful tone, everything that he imagines them seeing. He then goes into the second stanza, describing how happy his friends must be looking at the beauty that nature has to offer, but that Charles Lamb must be the happiest of all. His love for cities and tragic life circumstances put him furthest away from the beauty of nature; this is to say Charles has been in his own “prison” as the speaker is now. In line 38-44, Coleridge explains how he wants Charles Lamb to react to the beauty, specifically the sunset, as he had once before; “So my Friend/ Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,/ Silent with swimming sense;”. He closes the second stanza by explaining how Charles will react to the sunset; he will have an out of body experience, seeing God’s presence in the beauty, and by that, making the beauty of nature a body of its own. The third stanza is where the speaker comes to his epiphany; he has spent a majority of the poem imagining happiness for his friends, so now he imagines the same scene as if he were there himself, and describes in lines 44-45, “A delight/ Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad/ As I myself were there!” Coleridge uses these lines as a metaphor connecting to the “veil” described in line 42; the veil of his disappointment has been lifted and he can now see the goodness of God in all things. His epiphany is in lines 59-64 which reads, “Henceforth I shall know/ That Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure;/ No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,/ No waste so vacant, but may well employ/ Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart/ Awake to Love and Beauty!” In these lines, the speaker realizes that the beauty, nature, and possibly God, are in all things; none will leave those who are “wise”, “pure”, and appreciate the beauty of it all. I chose to analyze this poem because I like Samuel Coleridge as well as many other poets of the Romantic period. I enjoy his blank verse and spontaneous style of writing as well as use his of imagery in describing nature. This poem was difficult to interpret at first, but I was able to dissect it as much as possible and ended up enjoying myself. The poem brought me to a better appreciation and understanding of the little things in life both good and bad and helped me to look at the world somewhat differently.

Coleridge uses beautiful imagery in this poem; his descriptions of despair and happiness help to bring out all of the different emotions in the poem. Lines 1-5 show the speaker’s emotions of hopelessness and isolation, “Well, they are gone, and here must I remain,/ This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost/ Beauties and feelings, such as would have been/ Most sweet to my remembrance even when age/ Had dimmed mine eyes to blindness!” In contrast, Coleridge uses his imagery to describe the beauty of nature in lines 32-37, “Ah! slowly sink/ Behind the western ridge, thou glorious sun!/ Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,/ Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds!/ Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!/ An kindle, thou blue ocean!” Coleridge uses exclamations such as caesuras in this poem to emphasize the point that it is all going on inside his head as his own thoughts. The poem is written is blank verse because originally, Coleridge wrote only a few ideas down, giving the poem its spontaneity.

Coleridge uses his words to bring the reader from darkness into light. The tone of the poem changes from isolation to admiration and gives the reader a sense of gratitude and appreciation. The emphasis on appreciating the beauty of nature is obvious at first glance, but what Coleridge also emphasizes is the beauty and admiration of the human struggle. The beauty and God can be seen in all things, both good and bad. It is the beauty in the world as well as the imperfections that make life exciting and meaningful.

Works Cited

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison.” The Norton Anthology of

Literature: Major Authors. 9th Edition. New York: Norton. 2013.

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