It can be difficult to read the collected works of a poet. It also may do a disservice to the poet if the work was put together after they’ve died. It might not be in the order they want and it will almost always group better works with lesser ones. But I thoroughly enjoyed Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Golden Book of Coleridge, published by Everyman Library (1945). A great introduction by Stopford A. Brooke provides a reverential yet solid introduction to the man and his works.
Frost at Midnight (1798) is beautiful, combining nostalgia and the present, love and an argument for country and nature over city life. It is simply wonderful. The Nightingale (1798) is serenity in writing. The emotional impact of Ode on a Departing Year was powerful for me. Emotion just poured off the page. It even required me to dig up my copy of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, in order to translate the Classical Greek in the introductory quote.
I love the Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1817 version in this edition), but I prefer the original from Lyrical Ballads (1798). The one included here uses less archaic language in the body of the poem but includes a gloss that destroys the flow of the story (think footnotes as opposed to endnotes). The story itself is still wonderful, enchanting and frightening, in an early 19th century way.
The Three Graves (1797-1809) was very haunting and faced paced. Like many of his other dark works, Coleridge didn’t finish this piece and I feel sad that there isn’t more of it for me to savor.
In 1816, Coleridge published three poems in a pamphlet, Christabel, Kubla Khan and The Pains of Sleep. Oh, if only I could have been there when this “hit the stands.” Christabel blew me away. I could see the influence this poem had on later writers, especially J. Sheridan Le Fanu and Edgar Allan Poe. Coleridge evokes a dark and delightful mood. I might like it better than The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and wonder what Christabel would have been like if it had been finished. The Pains of Sleep (1803) was excellent and visceral. Kubla Khan was enjoyable the first time I read it, but upon a second reading, I felt it never opened up fully for me. The memorable first stanza grabs your attention with its rhyme and pacing, but the rest of the unfinished work is slower.
All in all, this was a wonderful collection of Coleridge’s work in an edition I picked up at Red Letter Secondhand Books in Boulder, Colorado.