May 27th, 2010

breaking bad

Coleridge: Early Visions

I don't generally like biographies, just as I don't like meeting famous people. It's not as if you get any kind of picture, from either experience, of the real person, and it's all horribly stilted. However, I have really enjoyed Early Visions, which is the first part of Richard Holmes' two-part biography of Coleridge (first published in 1989).

It's a very accomplished biography. Coleridge is an exceptionally complex subject. I think with Blake and Yeats he forms a trilogy of Idealist poets. He isn't off happily in his own world like Blake, or a confident real-world operator like Yeats. Instead he was perpetually embarrassed, weak, overwhelmed, struggling to stay afloat. I think he was always battling his own subconscious. It's obviously impossible to know how accurately Holmes has captured his life, but I feel he likes and admires Coleridge without having any illusions about what an idiot (brainy intuitive idiot) he was. The account feels sound, and it is also illuminated by and illuminating of the work.

Some of Coleridge's work seems to be weighed down with plonking conventionality. But I think this is a way of trying to build dams against the sea inside. His notebooks, which Holmes quotes, read like modernism, 100 years early. He compared his mind to a flock of starlings, with only the appearance of cohesion in its churning energy.
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