Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849)

"Hartley Coleridge now ranks among the foremost sonneteers in our language: as in the case of Charles Tennyson-Turner, his reputation rests solely on his sonnet-work. Notwithstanding the reverent admiration he had for his more famous father, Hartley's work betrays much more the influence of Wordsworth than of S. T. Coleridge. In this a wise instinct indubitably guided him. His father was not a sonneteer. There is a firmness of handling, a quiet autumnal tenderness and loveliness about Hartley's sonnets that endows them with an endless charm for all who care for poetic beauty. Students should consult the notes in Mr. Main's Treasury and the interesting ana in Mr. Caine's Sonnets of Three Centuries. Of the sonnets I have quoted, the first is specially noteworthy. A friend has recorded the interesting fact that Hartley Coleridge's sonnets were all written impulsively, and never occupied more than ten minutes in composition. Probably, however, they were carefully revised at the author's leisure. A sonnet is not like a lyric proper--best in its very spontaneity and unguardedness. The impulse should be as keen, but the shaping power of the artist should come more into play. A sonnet is also the least likely of any poetic vehicle to be spoilt by discriminative revision; in nine cases out of ten it is greatly improved thereby." (Sharp)

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The Birth of Speech

What was't awakened first the untried ear
Of that sole man who was all human kind?
Was it the gladsome welcome of the wind,
Stirring the leaves that never yet were sere?
The four mellifluous streams which flowed so near,
Their lulling murmurs all in one combined?
The note of bird unnamed? The startled hind
Bursting the brake, in wonder, not in fear,
Of her new lord? Or did the holy ground
Send forth mysterious melody to greet
The gracious pressure of immaculate feet?
Did viewless seraphs rustle all around
Making sweet music out of air as sweet?
Or his own voice awake him with its sound?


There is an awful quiet in the air,
And the sad earth, with moist imploring eye,
Looks wide and wakeful at the pondering sky,
Like Patience slow subsiding to Despair.
But see, the blue smoke as a voiceless prayer,
Sole witness of a secret sacrifice,
Unfolds its tardy wreaths, and multiplies
Its soft chameleon breathings in the rare
Capacious ether,--so it fades away,
And nought is seen beneath the pendent blue,
The undistinguishable waste of day.
So have I dreamed!--oh may the dream be true!--
That praying souls are purged from mortal hue,
And grow as pure as He to whom they pray.


The crackling embers on the hearth are dead;
The indoor note of industry is still;
The latch is fast; upon the window-sill
The small birds wait not for their daily bread;
The voiceless flowers--how quietly they shed
Their nightly odours;--and the household rill
Murmurs continuous dulcet sounds that fill
The vacant expectation, and the dread
Of listening night. And haply now She sleeps;
For all the garrulous noises of the air
Are hush'd in peace; the soft dew silent weeps,
Like hopeless lovers for a maid so fair:--
Oh! that I were the happy dream that creeps
To her soft heart, to find my image there.

Not in Vain

Let me not deem that I was made in vain,
Or that my being was an accident
Which Fate, in working its sublime intent,
Not wished to be, to hinder would not deign.
Each drop uncounted in a storm of rain
Hath its own mission, and is duly sent
To its own leaf or blade, not idly spent
'Mid myriad dimples on the shipless main.
The very shadow of an insect's wing,
For which the violet cared not while it stayed
Yet felt the lighter for its vanishing,
Proved that the sun was shining by its shade.
Then can a drop of the eternal spring,
Shadow of living lights, in vain be made?


The mellow year is hastening to its close;
The little birds have almost sung their last,
Their small notes twitter in the dreary blast--
That shrill-piped harbinger of early snows;
The patient beauty of the scentless rose,
Oft with the morn's hoar crystal quaintly glassed,
Hangs, a pale mourner for the summer past,
And makes a little summer where it grows:
In the chill sunbeam of the faint brief day
The dusky waters shudder as they shine,
The russet leaves obstruct the straggling way
Of oozy brooks, which no deep banks define,
And the gaunt woods, in ragged scant array,
Wrap their old limbs with sombre ivy-twine.