This Penguin Poetry Library edition, Coleridge: Selected Poetry and Prose, offers 80 pages of poetry (nearly fifty poems) and 200 pages of prose (letters, notes, lectures, and other writings). My interest was the poetry; I anticipated only skimming the prose. Unexpectedly, I found myself reading nearly every letter, essay, and lecture note in this collection.
The poetry selection is quite good. However, some poems may require multiple readings, but this should not be surprising as Coleridge once wrote, "Poetry gives most pleasure when only generally and not perfectly understood." The selections are arranged chronologically.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge produced nearly all of his best poetry in a two year period, 1797-1798. In 1802 he penned Ode to Dejection, his farewell poem to the Muse of Poetry. Thereafter, he concentrated on literary criticism, as well as political, philosophical, and theological topics.
Coleridge apparently developed a reputation for launching ambitious projects which were seldom completed. For example, in a letter Coleridge says: But if it please the Almighty ... before my thirtieth year I will thoroughly understand the whole of Newton's works. At the present I must content myself with endeavoring to make myself complete master of his easier work, that on Optics.
Elsewhere he outlines a monumental effort to systematically analyze each scene from every play by Shakespeare, as well as plays by other Elizabethan dramatists for comparison purposes. He may not have fully achieved this goal, but Coleridge is still recognized today for his major influence on Shakespearean criticism.
There are gems scattered throughout his writings. In a postscript to a letter he writes: I have this morning been reading a strange publication - poems with very wild and interesting pictures ... printed and painted by the author W. Blake. He is a man of genius, and I apprehend, a Swedenborgian - certainly, a mystic emphatically.
I especially enjoyed his lecture notes on Shakespeare's plays, and his commentary on Spenser, Jonson, Milton, Chaucer, and Swift. His short autobiography was also fascinating.
In her introduction Kathleen Raine writes: "There is no major poet who has not also been a man of the highest intelligence, and in consequence, of wide knowledge beyond the frontiers of literature." Coleridge certainly fits her description.
This collection was first published in 1957 and has been reprinted many times. My copy is the eleventh printing. Used copies should be widely available.