Of the romantic poets of the first half of the 19th century who have handled the supernatural vision, Coleridge stands out prominently. In fact, his vision of the supernatural may well be described as the arch-stone on which his poetry stands. His great poems, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan, testify to his power to represent the mystic world of the supernatural in a most natural way and to create an environmental effect that suspends disbelief for the time being.
[ Importance of the supernatural in Coleridge ]
Coleridge’s importance in the romantic poetry of the early 19th century is found to lie mainly in his superb delineation of the supernatural, with perfectly natural ease. His theme embraces the world of mystery and the atmosphere created is surcharged with suspense and strangeness. Yet, his presentation keeps every sense of disbelief in suspense and rouses the curiosity, necessary to the poetic faith. What is important here is not the matter that he presents, but the manner in which he presents and produces the effect which overpowers all rational calculations and considerations in a pall of mystery and suspense.
In Christabel Part I, the poet’s theme is the attempt of an evil spirit Geraldine to possess the soul of an innocent lady Christabel. The sudden appearance and the strange beauty of that unknown lady, Geraldine, her queer conduct, both outside and inside the castle of Christabel, and her strange utterances after entering Christabel’s bed-chamber, are full of supernatural suggestions. Again, the suggested conflict between the evil spirit of Geraldine and the good spirit of Christabel’s mother is somewhat mystical and awe-inspiring, but this is simply suggested, and not shown.
[ Kubla Khan ]
The theme of Kubla Khan, a story suggested by some old legend, of course, has not the ghostliness of other poems, but the mystic suggestiveness and the sensation of fear and suspense remain here all through operative. The poem has no less the quality of enchantment and seems more puzzling with the only difference that it is a less universal and more personal experience. Composed under the effect of an opium dream, its psychological effect is more impressive though this is not marked significantly in the other two famous Coleridgean works – Christabel and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
[ Ancient Mariner ]
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the ghostly tale is never made to cross the limit of credibility. The old mariner’s experience is definitely strange, and may even appear to a rational mind quite absurd. At the same time, the poet has created the environment and the psychological sensation in such a manner as to make the mariner’s whole experience credible and convincing, though definitely peculiar.
[ Coleridge’s art ]
Indeed, in the depiction of the supernatural, Coleridge’s art is really rare, yet, as already indicated, he is no author of cheap thrillers and possesses his own machinery that is distinctly different from what is found in the Gothic romances of the late 18th century. Coleridge does not relate anything horrible physically or beyond the credibility of human thinking. He makes his supernatural real and convincing and allows it to grow out of the natural. What he succeeds in creating is not the scenes of physical sensationalism or ghostly fearfulness, but the environmental effect and psychological suspense and thrill.
In fact, Coleridge weaves an atmosphere of mystery and fear, without showing anything horrible or dreadful. He succeeds in presenting thereby a horror-stricken atmosphere -a state in which the mind wavers in doubt and mystery.
[ Coleridgean machinery ]
Coleridge’s machinery also includes his selection of time and place. His place of action is hardly known to a modern reader. The tale of Christabel belongs to the mystic romantic medieval world, whereas Kubla Khan has the background of some shadowy, somewhat unknown land. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner relates no specific place, age, or personality. Coleridge’s enchantment remains here thoroughly shrouded in the mystery of the unknown, unfamiliar, far-off place on an unchartered sea.