“This Lime-tree bower my prison” is one of the most quoted examples of romanticism. Throughout the three stanzas, many romantic ideologies can be identified including aspects such as the romantic’s view towards nature, the power of the imagination and the emphasis on the individual. Romanticism emerged against a time of increased urbanisation and industrialisation, where people sought instead an immersion in nature instead.
Coleridge’s poem exemplifies many of the feelings which the contemporaries of the time had towards nature, including impressions of its richness, its superiority to the city and the power of the divine reflected in nature. The countryside (nature) is portrayed as more valuable than the city, with Coleridge claiming that Charles “hunger’d after Nature, many a year, in the great City pent”, comparing the city to a prison, whilst nature is something to be desired.
Using colourful descriptions such as “and that walnut-tree was richly ting’d” and “ye purple heath flowers”, Coleridge stimulates the richness and beauty of nature in the reader’s mind. Nature is given a sense of grandeur, vibrancy and vitality, reflecting the elevation of nature common to the time, with even the simple rook becoming a thing of momentary glory as it “cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory”. Unlike in the Augustan age, where nature existed as something to be tamed by mankind, here nature exists in its own right.
In fact, it is even seen to be raised up to a religious level, with Coleridge using the vocative terms “thou” and “ye” in reference to the Sun and clouds, essentially lifting them to the level of a deity. Hence they are able to partake in the majesty of God. The Romantics also believed that as nature reflected the divine, they were able to gain a better understanding of God and themselves from it in the form of epiphanies. As Constable says, the sky was “the organ of the sentiment”.
Coleridge reflects this ideology in his own personal epiphany included in the poem, that sometimes one must “be bereft of promis’d good, that we may lift the soul, and contemplate with lively joy the joys we cannot share” and that “Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure. ” Through the power of nature, his own feelings and perceptions are gradually altered, with the changes in nature mirroring his inner changes. As the stanzas progress, he is less sorrowful for his situation and more appreciative.
In the same way the colours of nature turn from “poor yellow leaves” to “broad and sunny leaf”, reflecting the power of nature in his transformation. Also reflective of this is the way the lime-tree bower turns from being a prison, into “this little lime-tree bower” with “transparent foliage. ” In this way, nature is shown to echo his own experience, through the up and down notion of the poem, where the dell represents his frustrations and wistful longing before he comes up into the ‘wide wide heaven,’ signifying his newfound freedom and finally the serenity of nature shows his reflection.
The romantic ideology of the role which the imagination plays in life also comes into play during this poem. Like nature, the imagination can also be used as a tool to foster a greater understanding of things and to transform one’s emotional state, yet it can also be used as a method of escapism from the present situation. Coleridge has said that it is the “visionary faculty that enables spiritual insight into the ultimate truth” and that it is the “prime agent of all human perception”.
The romantics believed that the imagination held the power to reveal those things which we cannot ordinarily see with our rational minds. In “this lime-tree bower my prison” this takes place in the way his imaginative journey ultimately leads to a greater understanding of God and its power to change his perceptions about himself and his situation. It is through his imagination that his emotional state is transformed and he ultimately gains an intellectual and emotional release. This transformative power of imagination is similar to that of nature, being reflected in the evocative descriptions which appeal to the senses.
After travelling on his imaginative journey, Coleridge is led to a change of feeling about the bower which ceases to be a prison and instead becomes a thing of comfort. It was his own mental processes which shaped it into a prison and it is through his imagination that he can escape this prison. Thus imagination is also presented as a form of escape the poet seeks, with the ability to transcend physical and psychological barriers, although he retains awareness that this is simply his imagination by words such as “perchance. ” Lastly, Coleridge’s poem is reflective of the focus on the individual in omantic literature, where they are a solitary reflective figure as opposed to works focusing on the individual in society. Coleridge stresses the individual through writing in first person and interjecting many “I” phrases. The antithesis in the first line between “they are gone” and “here must I remain” firmly brings the attention to the individual in the poem, focusing on this solitary figure and his feelings. The conversational style of the poem also helps by reproducing natural speech, giving the feeling of his own train of thought, coming naturally.
In fact, the whole poem encapsulates this focus on the individual, with the structure mirroring his meditation, contemplating a problem and finding a solution to it. The form and structure of the poem is shaped around his thoughts and even the landscape reflects these through things such as the transformation in his descriptions of colour. The poem focuses on the individual’s perception of things and how these perceptions change over the course of time through things such as nature and the imagination.
Thus, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “This Lime-tree bower my prison” exemplifies many ideologies of Romanticism. The richness of nature and its divine role are explored through descriptive imagery, whilst the power of imagination is expressed as a means of learning and escape. Throughout all of this, the focus remains centred on the individual and the effects upon Coleridge himself, reflecting the Romantic ideology of the individual in itself, not in society.