Summary of "The Eolian Harp" by Coleridge

by Thomas Colbyry
Coleridge compares silence to the music of a lute in

Coleridge compares silence to the music of a lute in "The Eolian Harp."

Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images

Samuel Taylor Coleridge published "The Eolian Harp" in his 1796 collection of poems. The poem's title refers to an Aeolian harp, a musical instrument named for Aeolus, the Greek god of wind. Coleridge finished "The Eolian Harp" after his marriage to Sara Fricker, and the poem reflects his felicitous view of marital love and his interest in nature. Literary critics consider it an early example of Coleridge's conversation poems, poems in which he uses conversational language to discuss many complex themes.

Background

"The Eolian Harp" is a lyric poem comprised of 64 lines. Coleridge divided his poem into five stanzas, and the meter throughout is regular iambic pentameter. The term iambic pentameter refers to lines composed of five iambs. An iamb is a metrical "foot" made up of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. As with his other conversation poems, Coleridge did not employ a rhyme scheme in "The Eolian Harp." Literary critics call iambic pentameter lines that do not rhyme blank verse.

Stanza 1

Coleridge begins "The Eolian Harp" by addressing his wife Sara. Literary critics call this formal type of address an apostrophe. He describes a scene in which he and Sara spend time together outside, appreciating the beauty of the natural world. He gives us details about the sights, smells and sounds that surround them. This technique in which Coleridge presents different kinds of sensory perceptions is called synesthesia. Sara rests her cheek on Samuel's arm, and they watch the clouds, smell the beanstalks nearby and listen to the silence.

Stanza 2

Coleridge uses his second stanza to make a very long, elaborate comparison between silence and music. Literary critics call this kind of extended comparison between two unlike things a metaphysical conceit. Coleridge suggests that silence flows just like a melody does, and that, like music, it possesses a rhythm. He compares silence specifically to music played upon a lute, and he maintains that the "music" of silence is so beautiful that no one could fail to appreciate it.

Stanzas 3 and 4

Though we do not realize he is doing so until the stanza's last line, Coleridge continues to make use of the lute analogy in the third stanza. Here he compares the variety of thoughts that occur to him, in their seemingly haphazard but actually ordered fashion as he lies on the side of the hill, to the variety of notes that a lute player strikes while playing a melody. In the next short stanza that follows, Coleridge asks himself if nature itself is just the immanent manifestation of God's transcendent creative intelligence.

Stanza 5

In the final stanza, Coleridge begins with another apostrophe to Sara. He praises her for her simple but stolid faith. He contrasts her faith to his fanciful, questioning nature and thanks her for chastising him in the middle of what he now considers his idle speculations. He expresses a simple hope that he may return to modest, orthodox Christian faith and offers his gratitude to Christ, whom he says he accepts as his savior, for the peace he now feels, for the world's beauty and for Sara.

References

  • "The Major Works"; Samuel Taylor Coleridge and H.J. Jackson (ed.); 2009
  • "A Handbook to Literature"; William Holman; 2011

Resources

  • "The Eolian Harp"; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; 1796

About the Author

Thomas Colbyry is a writer living in Marquette, Mich. Currently pursuing a B.A. in English, he works as a writing tutor and contributes book reviews to several publications. Colbyry often covers topics related to literature, specializing in early modern, Restoration, 18th-century and Victorian British literature, as well as the literature of Japan.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images