Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Coleridge, 'Lines on Zephyrs' (1814)

Not those kinds of Zephyrs.

So: this six-line poem was written in one of Coleridge's notebooks, probably in May 1814:
Zephyrs that captive roam among these Boughs,
Strive ye in vain to thread the leafy maze?
Or have ye lim'd your wings with honey-dew?
Unfelt, ye murmur restless o'er my head,
And rock the feeding Drone, or bustling Bees
That blend their eager, earnest, happy Hum!
It wasn't published in any of the collections of poetry Coleridge issued during his lifetime; although it was included in Ernest Hartley Coleridge's Anima Poetae: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1895). EHC glosses the poem, 'a bliss to be alive', but Kathleen Coburn disagrees: 'wide of the mark. One catches rather here the "I see, not feel, how beautiful they are" mood of Dejection.' [Coburn (ed), Notebooks, 4200]. Me, I think Coburn is wide of the mark, actually: this seems to me a lazy, loafing little thing. Nor would I deny that it is pretty marginal where the larger Coleridgean corpus is concerned (J C C Mays includes it in his edition of the Poetical Works (16:1.2, 911), but William Keach doesn't in his Samuel Taylor Coleridge: the Complete Poems).

Anyhow, I wonder (a little tentative, this) whether Coleridge wasn't loosely translating the poem 'In prato arboribus consito, viis, sedibusque diversis' ('The trees in the grassy garden, the paths, the many seats'), by Johannes Valentinus Andreae (1586-1654), one of the founding figures in the Rosicrucian movement. It may have been that Rosicrucianism and the Della-Crucian poets were on his mind at this time (Mays numbers this poem as 507; his 505 is a little Della-Crucian piss-taking squib called 'Maevius-Baevius Exemplum'). At any rate, there's this from Johannes Valentinus's poem:
Hic est grata quies, Zephyrus, flos, unda susurransa
Hic licet ambrosia commoditate frui.
Hincce redi; labyrinthus adest, nisi nubila tranans.
Daedalus, aut pennis Icarus esse velis.
Which means:
Here it is freely placid, Zephyr: flowers, the murmur of the stream,
Here honey dew is conveniently available for enjoyment.
And here you return to navigate the labyrinth, though the clouds float past.
Daedalus, wishing for the wings of Icarus.
There are no bees; although elsewhere in Andreae we find 'mella tegunt apes', covered in honeybees [3: nicked from Claudian, that phrase] and 'Hyblaeasque dabit lucus odorus apes', Hybla will donate an odorous grove to the bees [494]. Close enough, do we think?

Hmm. Maybe not.

It's a little odd that Coleridge's poem begins by addressing the Zephyr and ends by talking about bees. Maybe the bees come by a process of a kind of onomatopoeic back-formation. Lines on zephyrs has three lovely bee-like zzs in it ('lynz on zephyrz') and zephyrs that captive roam among these boughs has four ('zephyrz ... theez boughz'). The last typographic (whoreson) zed in the poem is the one in 'maze', and the last aural zeds are 'wingz' and 'Beez'; the later lines are mostly more wind-whiffling 's's. But maybe that's more than enough zz-ing to put STC in mind of buzzybees.

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