NEGLECTED FIELDS OF COLERIDGE STUDY
WALTER B. CRAWFORD
(The Coleridge Bulletin No 3, Winter 1990, pp 30-48)
(Partly a two-projector, two-screen slide-lecture, edited for publication)
Today I want to share
with you some of my conclusions about what I have found in my work on
the Coleridge Bibliography since
1967. In that year Richard Haven, at the University of
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: An Annotated Bibliography of
Criticism and Scholarship. Volume I, 1793-1899. By Richard and
Josephine Haven and Maurianne Adams.
The Crawfords, and
Edward S. Lauterbach at
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism and Scholarship. Volume II,
1900-1939 (with additional entries for 1795-1899). By Walter B. Crawford and
Edward S. Lauterbach, with the assistance of Ann M. Crawford.
That volume includes 2811 substantially annotated items, 833 for the years 1795 to 1899, and 1978 items for the years 1900 to 1939. Its 862 pages consist of 580 pages of text, preceded by 50 preliminary pages (for the 16-page preface, and for acknowledgments, list of principal sources,
abbreviations, and master list of periodicals) and followed by 232 pages of 7 indexes (authors, titles, periodicals, book reviews, subject proper names, subject titles, and the main subject and category index).
Volume III, which we are now completing, picks up at the year 1940, but it also includes a large number of additional entries for 1793 to 1939 and separate sections for ten special categories of material from 1793 to about 1990. These categories include Coleridge-related art and music, fiction, non-fiction narrative, verse, parodies and imitations, continuations and completions of Coleridge's unfinished poems, cartoons (political and humorous), audio and audiovisual material, and a wide variety of verbal and non-verbal artifacts and phenomena not fitting into the other special categories.
Given the riches recorded in the Coleridge Bibliography, you will not be surprised to learn that we have found much, often-fruitless, re-cultivation of the same old ground, and occasional outright duplication, or that we have noticed some areas of Coleridge study that have been neglected. If one reason for that neglect is that the needed materials have not been identified, the multi-volume Coleridge Bibliography is removing that reason. In addition, the Coleridge Collection at my university, is now making a wealth of these materials available to scholars.
The Fields, and the Scholarly Qualifications Needed
Extremely rare in literary scholarship generally, and non-existent in Coleridge scholarship, are objective, comparative studies of the way interpretation and criticism of individual Coleridge poems is presented in (1) individual works of art, or (2) individual musical settings, or (3) individual translations, or (4) individual editorial treatments in annotated school editions and anthologies. Even the non-verbal interpretations can be
at least as illuminating as many a traditional piece of literary criticism.
To work in these fields, a scholar should first be fully qualified as a historian and critic of English poetry generally and Coleridge's poetry in particular, and then be similarly qualified in art, or music, or have a linguist's complete fluency in both English and at least one other language, or be a practising teacher of poetry who is especially interested in pedagogical methods and materials. Of course, studies in the interrelations of poetry and art or music could be collaborations by qualified scholars in the two disciplines involved.
Because of the special mix of qualifications needed for scholars to undertake interdisciplinary studies of the kind I am encouraging, only a few established scholars are likely to engage in them, at least not as solo investigators and writers. But they can be on the lookout among their best students, including undergraduates, for those with the beginnings of the special talents needed. Then today's mentors can encourage these doubly talented students to undertake these studies, on a simple level to begin with but always on a level that will challenge the students and produce in them a sense of special achievement in fields not already heavily tilled by many competing young scholars.
Administrative cooperation between academic departments should also be encouraged, so that patterns of interdisciplinary concentration can be developed for students with these special talents.
The Specific Kinds of Study
You will have noticed that I am not, at this time, encouraging general studies, studies oriented to whole genres. My reasons? Good studies of this kind must be based on a solid foundation of knowledge gained from a wide variety of specifically objective studies focused on particular poems
and particular productions by artists, composers, translators, and editors. Studies not thus solidly based may sound impressive, as generalizations often do, but they will treat the subject on such a high level of abstraction as to be of little down-to-earth use to readers. Most valuable are comparative studies -- comparisons of the treatments by many artists, composers, translators, or editors, of the same poem or the same passage in a poem.
Studies of these kinds involve both the relevant technical concerns and the more subjective concern about how the artist, composer, translator, or editor may change what might seem to others the poet's intended meaning and feeling to something that conforms to the interpreter's taste and attitudes or to what the interpreter considers to be those of the interpreter's expected viewers, listeners, or readers.
The Resources and Materials Needed
Such objective, comparative studies require a scholar to have ready access to sizeable, organized collections of appropriate materials (art, music, translations, or school editions and anthologies) treating the same poems. My experience over 23 years as a Coleridge bibliographer has been that sizeable, organized collections of such materials are extremely few, regardless of the subject author, and not readily accessible. Most such materials are widely scattered and are cataloged poorly if at all. But Coleridge scholars are now provided -- by the Coleridge Bibliography and the CSULB Coleridge Collection -- with materials that can give them a relatively fast head start in these studies.
The Coleridge Bibliography
Now, if we can turn on the projectors and turn out the lights, as I
comment on the Coleridge Bibliography I'll show you some of these materials that we have annotated.
(The paired slides showed illustrated editions of Coleridge's poems, illustrations in anthologies, a portfolio of drawings, a work of sculpture, a ceramic mural, a Punch cartoon and a political cartoon from Time, musical settings of Coleridge's poems, and translations in Dutch, Japanese, French, Russian, and German.)
Volume II of the Coleridge Bibliography includes (to the year 1939), and volume III will include (up to date), hundreds of works of art, musical settings, translations, school editions, and anthologies for the period 1793 to 1990. Many languages other than English are represented -- 23 so far. In the Bibliography these works are substantially annotated and extensively indexed and cross-indexed. Even partial translations are indexed, by poem and line numbers. Illustrations are annotated by poem and line number, indexed by poem and artist.
1. Materials for comparative studies of the interrelations of poetry and visual art. To date, we have seen and annotated between 2500 and 3000 individual artist's treatments of Coleridge's works. Volume II (to 1939) indexes (and volume III will include at least an equal number of such items), There are 38 illustrated editions of collected & selected poetry of Coleridge; 71 illustrated editions of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, including 4 French and 1 each Dutch, Friesian, German, Hungarian, Italian, Pennsylvania-German, and Russian; 14 illustrated editions of other individual works; and 19 anthologies with Coleridge-related illustrations. Also indexed in volume II are 15 separate works of art. Some 119 artists are indexed by name (8200, 8220); many others are anonymous. Altogether, 319 art-related entries are indexed in volume II.
Volume III will also have complete lists of cartoons and of audio and audiovisual treatments of Coleridge's life and works, including live and recorded stage performances -- treatments other than musical settings.
2. Materials for comparative studies of the interrelations of poetry and music. Allowing for some uncertainties about compositions not yet seen, some 280 composers have written or arranged music for 43 Coleridge poems and 1 prose passage, all to be listed in volume III of the Coleridge Bibliography. Of these, 17 have been set only once, but the others have been set 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 16, 21, 27, 30, 48, and 50 times! Here is ample material for the comparative study of the function of musical settings as criticism and interpretation of poetry,
3. Materials for comparative studies of translations of poetry. Volume II indexes translations numbering 73 by title or category of Coleridge work; 167 by individual titles or passages translated, and 71 translators. The translations are in 14 languages, including 29 German, 25 French, 7 Italian; 3 each Dutch, Latin, and Russian; 2 each Czech and Greek; and 1 each Friesian, Hebrew, Hungarian, Pennsylvania-German, Spanish, and Swedish. Volume III will contain an even larger number of translations, including in some additional languages, for example, Punjabi.
4. Materials for comparative studies in the study and teaching of poetry. Volume II has 427 index entries for the study and teaching of Coleridge's works, including 118 for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, including 2 German and 1 each French and Hebrew, and 83 for other works or publications.
The CSULB Coleridge Collection
Even more immediately helpful is the fact that a very large number of these materials is now being organized in the Coleridge Collection in the Special Collections Department of the CSULB University Library, where they may be consulted by any scholar. The Collection also has a record of locations of hard-to-find items not in the Collection.
1. Materials for comparative studies of the interrelations of poetry and visual art. The Coleridge Collection includes many illustrated editions of Coleridge's poems, anthologies with illustrations of the poems, and other books reproducing illustrations and separate works of art. Hundreds of illustrations, including those found in books not in the Collection, are collected in the form of photocopies, photographs, microfilms, and more than 1500 color slides. On hand for comparison, therefore, are many treatments by artists, of the same poem or poetic passage.
2. Materials for comparative studies of the interrelations of poetry and music. At CSULB is what is now almost certainly the most complete collection of Coleridge-related music in any one place in the world. The music consists chiefly of settings of Coleridge's poems (or parts of poems), but also some instrumental pieces inspired by Coleridge. Of the more than 300 such compositions to be included in volume III of the Bibliography, the Coleridge Collection now contains more than 225, in manuscript or published versions, originals or photocopies. Included are all the settings of 24 of the 44 works set, and nearly all of another 10 or so. Only for 7 poems are known settings not yet in the Collection.
3. Materials for comparative studies of translations of poetry. The Collection has, in original editions and many photocopies, many translations of Coleridge's poetry and prose, including multiple translations of the same works or passages. Most of the translations are in German and French, but numerous other languages are represented as well.
4. Materials for comparative studies in the study and teaching of poetry. No matter how good a school text might be, educational administrators and publishers seem to think that frequent change is required. So the number of such publications is enormous. Libraries tend to discard those more than just a few years old, and few booksellers have
any interest in them. School editions and anthologies any older, therefore, are very hard to find. Nonetheless, of the hundreds of such publications annotated in the Bibliography, many are now in the Collection.
Now let's turn on the lights again and turn off the projectors, and I'll give you some examples of the kinds of studies I am talking about.
First, I should point out that my attempts in these fields are not those of an expert in the disciplines other than literature. But it is quite possible that I have examined more source materials in these fields --certainly more Coleridge-related source materials -- than anyone else. I have always made a special study of poetry and so am professionally qualified to deal with it. I am not, however, a similarly qualified scholar in the fine arts, just a partially self-educated, long-observant, student of them. In childhood and youth I had some elementary performance training and several years performance experience in piano, woodwinds, and voice, but I have had no formal instruction in harmony or music history. Some of you here today may well have better interdisciplinary qualifications than I, but even my tentative efforts might be suggestive to those of you first turning your thoughts to this matter.
Comparative Studies of the Translations of Poetry
I can offer only one example relevant to objective, comparative studies of translations of poetry.
When the Crawfords were working on Coleridge at the
United States -- at the
Comparative Studies of Trends in the Study and Teaching of Poetry
As for comparative studies of trends in the study and teaching of poetry, a small number of journal articles talk about how to teach particular Coleridge poems, as do many teaching aids in various forms, and there are many more-or-less heavily annotated editions in English. There are even some especially heavily annotated editions published abroad, in other languages as well as in English. Of the many possible examples of such publications which could be analyzed in comparative studies of trends in the study and teaching of poetry, I will describe just two, published abroad.
The Charles Alfred Barbeau edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Paris, 1910; rev. ed. 1947) prints the poem in English with the editorial matter in French. Barbeau treats the life of Coleridge; publishing history, circumstances of composition, and sources of the poem; its language; and its metrics. Included is a full range of explanatory footnotes, exceeding the poem in bulk.
Even more elaborately annotated is Albert Eichler's The Ancient Mariner und Christabel, mit
literarhistorischer Einleitung und Kommentar (Wien & Leipzig, 1907;
in schools. He discusses rather fully the origin and sources of both poems; analyzes (in greater detail than any other school edition seen) their meter, language, and style (41 pages); and discusses reflections of the poems in works by Scott, Byron, and Keats (5 pages). Eichler prints the 1798 and 1817 versions of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner on facing pages, Christabel with its preface, and footnotes to both poems listing and analyzing variant readings. Following the poems are vocabulary and other explanatory notes (27 pages). Eichler's text is in German, Coleridge's in English.
Comparative Studies of the Interrelations of Poetry and Music
The best, most scholarly, most poetically and musically informed, and most objective study I have seen of the interrelations of poetry and music is Bertrand Bronson's landmark article, "The True Proportions of Gay's Acis and Galatea," MLA, 80 (1965), 325-31. Although he is not writing about a musical setting of a poem written to be a poem and not a song, his general remarks are almost wholly applicable to musical settings of poems.
"There is," says Bronson, "a special professional myosis that overtakes literary critics in the presence of a text of any length deliberately contrived for union with music. By the very practice of their craft sensitive judges of poetry are unfitted for a just estimate of the merits of such a text. It is not simply that they continue, as-they do, to evaluate on the same level of poetic excellence as usual, but that they insist on the same kind of superiority as that required for words alone. Such a procedure is necessarily mistaken, because by the nature of the case other standards are requisite," Bronson insists.
After illuminating this problem with reference to other 17th- and 18th-century poems, masques, and pastoral operas, Bronson focuses on the explication de texte of "one," he says, "who can teach us how to read such a
document [as Gay's Acis and Galatea] in the spirit in which we may suppose it was intended to be received" -- namely, the composer George Frederick Handel. I urge you to read this article, preferably with the score in front of you and a recording of the music to listen to at the same time.
Another example, with a different focus, is Ralph Tracy Webb's Handel's Oratorios as Drama, a 1981 Master's thesis jointly supervised by a music professor and me at my university. In his analysis of the way Handel's music relates to aspects of drama in selected oratorios, Webb is very specific and objective about the music, somewhat less so about the dramatic aspects. Both the music professor and I enjoyed enormously working with Webb on this study. He would prepare extremely detailed analytical tables of the musical elements and then in a draft of a chapter discuss their interrelation with aspects of drama in the oratorio. Then we professors would meet him at his home where we would all -- a score in front of us --listen to and exchange thoughts about the oratorio section-by-section in the light of Webb's analyses and discussion. A most enjoyable and enlightening experience it was for all!
Another example consists of a commentary of my own. Bronson says, speaking of Nahum Tate's text of Dido and Aeneas, "the text is there for the composer, not to change but to fulfill; to express, and to magnify to the measure of its inherent capability." Perhaps it was with that idea in mind that I recorded my initial impressions of The Dead Men Sing, by Reginald C. Robbins (1922), a low baritone setting of lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This piece was performed at my university on the occasion of the 27 April 1989 lecture-recital, "Two Centuries of Musical Settings of the Romantic Poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge." Professor of Music Kristine K. Forney and I shared the lectern at this event, featuring the University Collegium Musicum, Women's Chorus, Men's Chorus, and a junior high school
chorus, as well as soloists. The Coleridge Collection has both a video and an audio recording of this event.
I begin my essay with an exposition of what I consider the general principles of musical interpretation of poetry, and then I try to apply these principles to the Robbins composition:
Robbins's The Dead Men Sing as Interpretation of Coleridge's Lines
Musical Interpretation of Poetry: General Principles
The central purpose of literary criticism of a poem is to enhance both the critic's and the reader's apprehension of the experience conveyed in the poem. As Walter Pater wrote in his Appreciations (1889),
Literary art [which he also calls "the literature of the imaginative sense of the fact"], like all art which is in any way imitative or reproductive of fact -- form, or color, or incident -- is the representation of such fact as connected with soul, of a specific personality, in its preferences, its volition and power.
Literary commentary aims to sharpen our perceptions of the form and color of the fact, to make us imaginative participants in the incidents, to humanize the fact and make its intangible soul and personality palpable to us, to extend our understanding of motives and ambivalences involved, and to make us receptive to the power of the art.
Clearly, musical interpretation of a poem -- whether it be purely instrumental or a setting of the words in song -- functions in the same way. The medium of literary criticism is words in syntactic and rhetorical patterns. The medium of musical interpretation is musical tones in rhythmic and harmonic patterns. Because their media differ, the means and the effects of literary and musical interpretation differ as well. But both have the same basic aims with regard to the work of literary art which is their subject.
Accordingly, both the literary critic and the composer should study a
poem in the same way. Their procedure should involve both analysis and synthesis, sometimes alternately, sometimes simultaneously, interspersed with frequent readings aloud. They should pay close and imaginative attention to the individual building blocks of the poem -- its vocabulary, its imagery -- considering denotations, connotations, associations, and phonological qualities. They should attend imaginatively to syntactic, rhetorical, rhythmical, and sound patterns of the verbal structures. They should attend imaginatively to contexts -- literary, cultural, historical, biographical.
At each stage, they should also consider how the elements they have attended to have contributed to the imaginative sense of the fact they are beginning to apprehend in the poem. Their aim is to re-create imaginatively in themselves the experience bodied forth in the poem.
Their final effort, of course, is to help others to achieve similarly that imaginative re-creation of the poetic experience. Sadly, too much interpretive commentary, both verbal and musical, is superficial. Too often the verbal interpreter focuses more on a display of his own supposed intellectual subtlety than on the objective work of art which is ostensibly his subject. Substitute "musical" for "verbal" and "intellectual" and the charge can be applied to musical interpreters as well.
A good song requires good words (in every sense of that phrase with reference to poetry) and good music. Ideally, the words should constitute a good poem when read aloud, and, I suppose, the music should similarly stand on its own as good music if it were produced in some way without articulating the words. Ordinarily, however, a song means words and music inextricably intermingled.
Inextricable though the intermingling might be, since the words
inevitably have both conceptual and emotional meaning, if both words and music be attended to, the music must somehow support or enhance the meanings of the words, somehow help bring the verbal experience more vividly to our minds and senses.
At this point, an audio tape of the performance of the Robbins composition was started. After hearing the audience's response to about a minute of it, the speaker stopped the tape and said, "Well, I can see that you've had enough of that, so I'll continue."
Whereas my first impressions of the Kubla Khan cantata by Cecil Forsyth are that, for the most part, the music very effectively and beautifully enhanced the words and conveyed a keen sense of the verbal experience to our minds and senses, my first impressions of the Robbins composition are quite different.
It seems to me now that the Robbins piece is a good example of about the worst that a composer can do to a piece of good poetry. In the first place, Robbins made a bad selection of lines to set: the five stanzas of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner from line 350 to line 372 make a unified poem about the "sweet sounds [that] rose slowly through their mouths," and to add two more stanzas was anticlimactic and destroyed the unity.
In the second place, Robbins chose the wrong voice to produce the music. A modicum of attention to the poetic images should tell anyone that a baritone voice can hardly be expected to convey musically the sounds indicated in Coleridge's aural imagery, even with piano accompaniment.
In the third place, Robbins quite mismanaged the musical elements of pitch, tempo, volume, and so on, to harmonize with the phonological, emotive, and conceptual freight carried by the words. The variations in the musical line are quite artificial in that they do not correspond in any sense to what is going on in the verbal line.
What ought a composer to consider in setting the unified set of five
stanzas? First, a variety of voices, human and instrumental, are needed to suggest something of the variety of voices and instruments and sounds imaged in Coleridge's words. No single voice could do the job, let alone a low baritone voice.
The first of these stanzas is a narrative introduction, to be set accordingly. Not being a musician, I don't know what to suggest specifically, but -- to use what may be a poor analogy -- this stanza strikes me as more suited to recitative than aria.
The four remaining stanzas, however, are full of imagery demanding quite specific kinds of musical enhancement. Again, I can't authoritatively specify the kinds, but a composer with imagination should think about each individual image (I've underlined key images that could be represented somehow, as part of the representation of the composite images).
Here are some of the stanzas set by Robbins:
Around, around, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted to the Sun;
Slowly the sounds came back again,
Now mixed, now one by one.
Sometimes a-dropping from the sky
I heard the sky-lark sing;
Sometimes all little birds that are,
How they seemed to fill the sea and air
With their sweet jargoning!
[Note the etymology here: the OED says that the verb jargon is from Old French words meaning "to warble, twitter, or chatter," and it quotes this line as an example!]
And now ‘twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute;
And now it is an angel's song,
That makes the heavens be mute,
It ceased; yet still the sails made on
A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
singeth a quiet tune.
Think of all the varied tempos, pitches, pauses, changes, voices, and instruments suggested in those images -- the intricate harmonies, contrasts, modulations, and so on. How could a composer have gone so far astray as Robbins?
Beyond what is conveyed by the imagery of the poetry is the overall sense of one aspect of the strange events the Mariner recalls for the Wedding Guest. The crew, when they partook of the Mariner's crime -- the failure to recognize the sanctity of life and the oneness of God's creation -- were struck dead. Yet we discover later that though they were dead, their souls had not yet departed their bodies. And these beautiful stanzas help us to realize that the crew, though dead, were not damned -- damned to Hell -- any more than was the perpetrator of the crime.. Coleridge's poetic attempt to give us an imaginative sense of the traditional departure of the souls of the dead -- issuing from the mouths to rise to Heaven and return to the God whence they came -- is marked by affirmation, peace, release, beauty, love, forgiveness, reunion with the Divine Creator. Somehow or other, to join harmoniously with Coleridge in conveying that imaginative sense of this aspect of the Mariner's tale is the ultimate challenge to the composer.
Even making the risky assumption that this tentative little essay is good as far as it goes, a more useful essay would include comparisons of the Robbins setting of this part of the poem with the other settings of it, which we have in the CSULB Coleridge Collection.
Comparative Studies of the Interrelations of Poetry and Visual Art
Finally we come to comparative studies of the interrelations of particular poems and particular visual art. Let's turn on the projectors and turn out the lights again so that we can look at some pictures as I
talk. [The paired slides showed illustrations in editions of Coleridge's poems and anthologies, separate drawings, and poems in calligraphy.]
I have seen no studies of this kind, let alone Coleridge studies, so I will tell you about, and present part of, my own two-screen slide lecture first presented at an MLA meeting in New York and several times thereafter at my own university. The outline of the lecture is as follows:
HOW ARTISTS TREAT POEMS -- AS SEEN IN COLERIDGE-RELATED ART
A two-projector, two-screen slide-lecture
I. The artist may work outside of the text of the poem -‑
A. Embellishing the physical object -- the book or page
B. Responding to the author rather than to the poem
II. The artist may produce adjunctive art, more or less interpretive, more or less expressive of feeling, mood, or atmosphere.
A. The decorations may be more or less in harmony with the poem.
B. The art may visualize the poet's verbal images -‑
natural or fantastical -- objects, characters, scenes --single or multiple, simple or complex -- giving details denoted or suggested by poet's words,
or details neither denoted nor suggested by poet.
C. The art may be more or less representational (objective), or
abstract, or non-objective.
D. The art may contain elements more or less symbolic.
III. Literature-related art may be evaluated by various criteria.
A. Accuracy -- faithfulness to the facts of the poem
B. Quality of interpretation
C. Suitability for intended audience
D. Quality of expressiveness
E. Effectiveness of visualization of the supernatural
F. Unified effect -- as a set -- of all of an artist's illustrations for a single literary work
IV. Artists' interpretations inevitably result in certain kinds of distortion.
A. Necessary selection stresses the given, minimizes the omitted.
B. Visualizing similes and metaphors emphasizes the peripheral.
V. The best poem-related art can stand alone, like "history" painting.
VI. Poem-related art may be like impressionistic criticism, when its subject is not the literary work but the artist's personal responses and thus the artist's own psyche, his own vision as prompted by or modified by the poem.
VII. The artist may produce an integrated verbal/calligraphic/pictorial construct different from either the poem or the art alone.
A. The words of the poem, when seen, have an important calligraphic dimension.
B. The experience of such a construct is a second-generation experience different from the experience of either the poem or the art alone.
Conclusion: Condensed form of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner read while viewing pages from Pogany 1910 limited edition.
Today I will conclude my presentation to you with a cut version of section III, A to E, the part about evaluating literature-related art.
[Commentary and slides omitted here]
Well, that sampling will have to do for our final example. I hope that what I have said and shown today will stimulate some of you to undertake, or encourage your students and younger colleagues to undertake, objective, comparative, interdisciplinary Coleridge studies of the kind I have described -- much neglected fields inviting new cultivation. Thank you all for your patience.
Walter B. Crawford is Emeritus Professor of English at
© Contributor 1990–2004