Saturday, December 31, 2005

Water and windmills

Richard Holmes’ anthology of Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems is notable for its inspired thematic arrangement and the inclusion of some of Coleridge’s more obscure but intriguing verse and fragments. These lines were written in 1828 when Coleridge, reconciled with Wordsworth, toured through Germany and Holland with him:

Water and windmills, greenness, Islets green; -
Willows whose Trunks beside the shadows stood
Of their own higher half, and willowy swamp: -
Farmhouses that at anchor seem’d – in the inland sky
The fog-transfixing Spires

The MS. contains two more lines, which appear to be the false start of a second stanza, “Water, wide water, greeness and green banks…”

Holmes thinks “this fragment of Dutch landscape is an almost perfect imagist poem”. This is interesting given the Imagists’ dislike of Romantic poetry; it is true that Coleridge’s poem achieves a direct treatment of the Dutch landscape and has none of the “magnificent and sonorous” generalisations that Imagism rejected. The Imagists were interested in the idea of fragments (as in Sappho for example) and here it feels as if the poem's incompleteness preserves Coleridge’s experience of the landscape intact, giving it a similar modern appeal to that of the vivid oil sketches made by contemporaries like Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes and Thomas Jones.

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