Wednesday, 11 May 2016

An Untraced Allusion in Coleridge's 'Allegoric Vision' (1795/1811/1817)

Coleridge's 'Allegoric Vision' is an odd piece: four and a half pages of prose telling how the narrator meets a pilgrim on his travels, and whilst sheltering from a storm with him in a cave hears him relate an allegorical dream-vision about the 'valley of life', wherein is a luxurious building seeming to contain 'MYSTERIES' but actually containing 'SENSUALITY', 'BLASPHEMY' and 'a monster bi-form and Janus-headed', called 'SUPERSTITION'. Coleridge originally included it as part of a lecture delivered at Bristol in 1795, where (in the words of J. C. C. Mays) 'it contributes to his aim of upholding the golden mean of Unitarian orthodoxy against the superstition and materialism of the Church of England' [Mays, Poems 1:197]. He later printed a revised version in The Courier in 1811, and a third (again revised) version in his second Lay Sermon (1817). It was reprinted yet again in his Poetical Works (1829). This is how it begins:
A feeling of sadness, a peculiar melancholy, is wont to take possession of me alike in Spring and in Autumn. But in Spring it is the melancholy of Hope: in Autumn it is the melancholy of Resignation. As I was journeying on foot through the Appennine, I fell in with a pilgrim in whom the Spring and the Autumn and the Melancholy of both seemed to have combined. In his discourse there were the freshness and the colors of April:
Qual ramicel a ramo
Tal da pensier pensiero
In lui germogliava.
But as I gazed on his whole form and figure, I bethought me of the not unlovely decays, both of age and of the late season, in the stalely e!m, after the clusters have been plucked from its entwining vines and the vines are as bands of dried withies around its trunk and branches.
The Italian means 'As a twig buds off from a branch, so in him thought budded from thought'. No Coleridge editors have hitherto traced the source of this quotation. But fear not: I'm here to tell you it's from Canzone XXXII ‘Alla Beatissia Vergine nel Presepio’ (1685), a poem by the Tuscan poet Vincenzo da Filicaja (1642-1707).

You can see the quoted lines at the bottom of the second page, there. 'Alla Beatissima Vergine nel Presepio' means 'To the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Nativity'. The poem begins: 'How fortunate the sight!/Here we are, my Love,/You whom my feet follow, Love, companion and guide,/Yours was the blind air,/You tarry here with me.'. The larger passage from which Coleridge has quoted his lines is:
Qual ramicel a ramo
Tal da pensier pensiero
In lui germogliava; e tra se forse or dice:
Oh quant’io debbo, Adamo,
Al tuo non so s’ I’ chiamo
Fallo , o pur mio destin!
Which means:
As branchlet from branch
So thought from thought
Burgeoned in him; and perhaps he says to himself:
Oh how much I owe to you, Adam,
Though neither you nor I can say it,
Or do it, or ever guess my destiny!
Vincenzo da Filicaja was a nobleman from a very ancient Florentine family. He married for love, and when his wife died he refused thereafter to write love poems. He did, however, write poems urging the unification of Italy as well as odes celebrating military triumph (for example the deliverance of Vienna from the Turks in 1683) and, as here, religious poetry.

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