Coleridge’s Mixed Message and National Poetry Day, 6th October, 2016

I have written here previously about my involvement in the Coleridge Memorial Trust and a short piece of writing I am pleased to have on a tourist lectern at the Land of Canaan, Ottery St Mary, the town of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s birth.

I have written on that board about Coleridge’s troubled childhood but even more troubled later life and how his reflections as an adult on his time in Otter St Mary are, by comparison, viewed fondly as positive. This is seen sweetly in his sonnet To the River Otter:

Dear native brook! wild streamlet of the West!
How many various-fated years have passed,
What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! Yet so deep impressed
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray,
But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that, veined with various dyes,
Gleamed through thy bright transparence! On my way,
Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled
Lone manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs:
Ah! that once more I were a careless child!

I am referring to this again, so to speak, as I begin thinking about writing workshop ideas for this year’s National Poetry Day in October and its theme of Messages.

One of my ideas is to encourage and provide support for writing found poetry under the theme of Mixed Messages. This is facilitated by the use of word generators/mixers and, although quite challenging, can provide the stimulus and content for the writing of wonderfully original found poems/meanings from original sources.

As an example, but not one I would probably use with young students, is the following which is ‘found’ by using Coleridge’s original sonnet. For those interested in the process of this, I will actually print the mixed text from the poem before the found poem itself to give an idea of what a text mixing programme can generate:

The West! How many various-fated years manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs: breast, Numbering its light leaps! Its light leaps! Yet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes ray, But straight with all their And bedded sand that, veined with have passed, What happy and what I never shut amid the sunny the smooth thin stone along thy plank, thy marge with willows grey, Ah! Willows grey, Ah! That once more I were various dyes, Gleamed through thy bright Dear native brook! Dear native brook! Wild streamlet of childhood! Streamlet of childhood! Oft have ye beguiled Lone mournful hours, since last I skimmed so deep impressed Sink the sweet transparence! The sweet transparence! On my way, Visions of tints thy waters rise, Thy crossing. Rise, Thy crossing.

My found poem has been crafted from this, and I was able to ‘find’ patterns and phrases that more explicitly present Coleridge as writing knowingly about the façade of reminiscing fondly where he instead foregrounds how his age and experience of a difficult life sees through the rose-tinted nostalgia:

Mixed Message

Streamlet of
childhood

gleamed through
mournful hours –

various-fated
manhood’s sighs –

I am numbering
its light leaps

beguiled so deep
with willows grey;

and native brook,
mine eyes

skimmed
various dyes

to sink the
sweet transparence,

and never shut
but veined with what

has passed when I am
on my way.

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