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This Lime-tree Bower my Prison

[Addressed to Charles Lamb, of the India House, London]

Well, they are gone, and here must I remain,
This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost
Beauties and feelings, such as would have been
Most sweet to my remembrance even when age
Had dimm’d mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,
Friends, whom I never more may meet again,
On springy heath, along the hill-top edge,
Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance,
To that still roaring dell, of which I told;
The roaring dell, o’erwooded, narrow, deep,
And only speckled by the mid-day sun;
Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge;—that branchless ash,
Unsunn’d and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne’er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still,
Fann’d by the water-fall! and there my friends
Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds,
That all at once (a most fantastic sight!)
Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge
Of the blue clay-stone.
                        Now, my friends emerge
Beneath the wide wide Heaven—and view again
The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow! Yes! they wander on
In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad,
My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined
And hunger’d after Nature, many a year,
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! Ah! slowly sink
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun!
Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,
Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds!
Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!
And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend
Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence.
                        A delight
Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad
As I myself were there! Nor in this bower,
This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark’d
Much that has sooth’d me. Pale beneath the blaze
Hung the transparent foliage; and I watch’d
Some broad and sunny leaf, and lov’d to see
The shadow of the leaf and stem above
Dappling its sunshine! And that walnut-tree
Was richly ting’d, and a deep radiance lay
Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps
Those fronting elms, and now, with blackest mass
Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue
Through the late twilight: and though now the bat
Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters,
Yet still the solitary humble-bee
Sings in the bean-flower! Henceforth I shall know
That Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty! and sometimes
‘Tis well to be bereft of promis’d good,
That we may lift the soul, and contemplate
With lively joy the joys we cannot share.
My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory,
While thou stood’st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creeking o’er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.
I will not bore the readers with a critical appreciation of the poem, with years of doing that I think I have come to hate it on so many levels. But yes, I leave with the reader my thoughts on the poem and how it has influenced me in my life.
 This poem by Coleridge has remained my favorite since the undergraduate days. I had been introduced to Coleridge with the “Ancient Mariner” when in High School and frankly, it seemed to dreary and dark for me to like. As a young person, too young perhaps to recognize that darkness exists everywhere and most often we do not notice it because of the light. The significance of this poem came to me one dreary afternoon working in my first job, straight out of a B-School. I yearned to be with my friends in the dingy canteen of my institute filling up on egg fried rice or biriyani, with a bottle of thumbs up, catching up on the latest movies on a sleepy afternoon after bunking off classes, gossiping during group study in a friend’s home. I didn’t want to wade through hundreds of badly typed, framed, misspelled resumes and sort them in order of whether they came from North or South of the city.
This poem has graced my cubicle wall for years behind calendars, post it notes, notices, labor laws, minimum wage declarations and what not. It has shared space with photos of boy friend, heart-throb, sometimes a deity of some importance. It has remained in my heart and pops up in my head from time to time.
It is usually a time when I am feeling down, unhappy with my current location and circumstance, wishing for being somewhere else, seeing in my mind’s eye the fantastic opportunity for enjoyment that I am missing by not being somewhere that I want to be. That’s when like Coleridge I have my tiny bit of epiphany, I see myself in the wider context of my life and where I stand today and how much I have gained and how little I have suffered in comparison to so many I know… and these sober me. They leave me a little more thankful for the life I am lucky to live. For that moment, at least, I am not unhappy, nor craving to be somewhere, for that moment I am okay where I am because at that moment I see how my imagination will always be with me and if ever I want to visit a place I miss, it will be clear and true in my memory. I will see it in my mind and I will not be saddened by the distance between us. I will only think of the happy memories that place in my mind has created and left with me.
Coleridge’s poem has touched me on a deeper level than I can fully describe. It remains one of my absolute favorites.
Reference Sources: poetryfoundation.org, Image Courtesy [Copyright not held by me]

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