Coleridge: Fears in Solitude

goltzius 2

Hendrick Goltzius, Hercules Killing Cacus, 1588

excerpted from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Fears in Solitude (1798):

My God! it is a melancholy thing

For such a man, who would full fain preserve
His soul in calmness, yet perforce must feel
For all his human brethren-O my God,
It is indeed a melancholy thing,
And weighs upon the heart, that he must think
What uproar and what strife may now be stirring
This way or that way o’er these silent hills–
Invasion, and thunder and the shout,
And all the crash of onset; fear and rage;
And undermined conflict–even now,
Ev’n now, perchance, and in his native Isle,
Carnage and screams beneath this blessed sun!
We have offended, O my countrymen!
We have offended very grievously,
And have been tyrannous. From east to west
A groan of accusation pierces heaven!
The wretched plead against us, multitudes
Countless and vehement, the sons of God,
Our brethren! like a cloud that travels on,
Steam’d up from Cairo’s swamps of pestilence,
Ev’n so, my countrymen! have we gone forth
And borne to distant tribes slavery and pangs,
And, deadlier far, our vices, whose deep taint
With slow perdition murders the whole man,
His body and his soul! Meanwhile, at home,
We have been drinking with a riotous thirst
Pollutions from the brimming cup of wealth,
A selfish, lewd, effeminated race,
Contemptuous of all honourable rule,
Yet bartering freedom, and the poor man’s life,
For gold, as at a market! The sweet words
Of Christian promise, words that even yet
Might stem destruction, were they wisely preach’d,
Are mutter’d o’er by men, whose tones proclaim,
How flat and wearisome they feel their trade.
Rank scoffers some, but most too indolent.
To deem them falsehoods, or to know their truth.
O blasphemous! the book of life is made
A superstitious instrument, on which
We gabble o’er the oaths we mean to break;
For all must swear–all, and in every place,
College and wharf, council and justice-court;
All, all must swear, the briber and the brib’d,
Merchant and lawyer, senator and priest,
The rich, the poor, the old man and the young,
All, all make up the one scheme of perjury,
That faith doth reel; the very name of God
Sounds like a juggler’s charm; and bold with joy,
Forth from his dark and lonely hiding-place,
(Portentous sight!) the owlet, Atheism,
Sailing on obscene wings athwart the noon,
Drops his blue-fringed lids, and holds them close,
And, hooting at the glorious sun in heaven,
Cries out, “Where is it?”
Thankless too for peace,
(Peace long preserv’d by fleets and perilous seas)
Secure from actual warfare, we have lov’d
To swell the war-whoop, passionate for war!
Alas! for ages ignorant of all
Its ghastlier workings (famine or blue plague,
Battle, or siege, or flight thro’ wintry snows)
We, this whole people, have been clamorous
For war and bloodshed, animating sports,
The which we pay for, as a thing to talk of,
Spectators and not combatants! no guess
Anticipative of a wrong unfelt,
No speculation on contingency,
However dim and vague too vague and dim
To yield a justifying cause: and forth
(Stuff’d out with big preamble, holy names,
And adjurations of the God in Heaven.)
We send our mandates for the certain death
Of thousands and ten thousands! Boys and girls
And women that would groan to see a child
Pull off an insect’s leg, all read of war,
The best amusement for our morning meal!
The poor wretch, who has learnt his only prayers
From curses, who knows scarcely words enough
To ask a blessing of his heavenly Father,
Becomes a fluent phraseman, absolute
And technical in victories and defeats,
And all our dainty terms for fratricide,
Terms which we trundle smoothly o’er our tongues
Like mere abstractions, empty sounds to which
We join no feeling and attach no form,
As if the soldier died without a wound;
As if the fibres of this godlike frame
Were gor’d without a pang: as if the wretch,
Who fell in battle, doing bloody deeds,
Pass’d off to heaven, translated and not kill’d;
As tho’ he had no wife to pine for him,
No God to judge him–! Therefore evil days
Are coming on us, O my countrymen!
And what if all-avenging Providence,
Strong and retributive, should make us know
The meaning of our words, force us to feel
The desolation and the agony
Of our fierce doings?–

About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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