Coleridge’s subtitle was Aria Spontanea, and this poem seems to have originated in a rhythm, set out in one manuscript version, and described in a notebook just before the first draft: ‘An Air, that whizzed … right across the diameter of my Brain … exactly like a Hummel Bee, alias, Dombeldore, the gentleman with Rappee Spenser, with hands Red, and Orange Plush Breeches, close by my ear, at once shapr and burry, right over the Summit of Quantock, at earliest Dawn …’
CN IV 499; PW 592; 1823
Verse, a breeze mid blossoms straying,
Where Hope clung feeding, like a bee—
Both were mine! Life went a maying
With Nature, Hope, and Poesy,
When I was young!
When I was young?—Ah, woful When!
Ah! for the change 'twixt Now and Then!
This breathing house not built with hands,
This body that does me grievous wrong,
O'er aery cliffs and glittering sands,
How lightly then it flashed along;—
Like those trim skiffs, unknown of yore,
On winding lakes and rivers wide,
That ask no aid of sail or oar,
That fear no spite of wind or tide!
Nought cared this body for wind or weather
When Youth and I lived in 't together.
Flowers are lovely; Love is flower-like;
Friendship is a sheltering tree;
O! the joys, that came down shower-like,
Of Friendship, Love, and Liberty,
Ere I was old!
Ere I was old ? Ah woful Ere,
Which tells me, Youth's no longer here!
O Youth! for years so many and sweet,
'Tis known, that Thou and I were one,
I'll think it but a fond conceit—
It cannot be that Thou art gone!
Thy vesper-bell hath not yet toll'd: —
And thou wert aye a masker bold!
What strange disguise hast now put on,
To make believe, that thou art gone?
I see these locks in silvery slips,
This drooping gait, this altered size:
But Spring-tide blossoms on thy lips,
And tears take sunshine from thine eyes!
Life is but thought: so think I will
That Youth and I are house-mates still.
[The following are the final version of lines that concluded ‘Youth and Age’ in 1825, 1829 and 1832. Their mood is out of tune with Dombeldore’s Aria Spontanea, and indeed much closer to ‘Work without Hope’ (PW 606) and ‘Duty Surviving Self-Love’ (PW 627)]
Dew-drops are the gems of morning,
But the tears of mournful eve!
Where no hope is, life's a warning
That only serves to make us grieve,
In our old age!
That only serves to make us grieve
With oft and tedious taking-leave,
Like some poor related guest,
That may not rudely be dismist;
Yet hath outstay'd his welcome while,
And tells the jest without the smile.
O! might Life cease, and selfless Mind,
Whose Being is Act, alone remain behind!