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Flying through Coleridge

I’ve started reading before bedtime to calm my brain at the end of the day. Last night, I began the second volume of Richard Holmes’s superb biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who probably is best known for his poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

As soon as I started reading, a fly buzzed past my ear. I can’t recall a summer when so many green bottle flies have made their way into the house. Their buzzing is particularly obnoxious. After the fly made a couple of more buzz-bys, I knew I couldn’t read until I terminated it with extreme prejudice. I set the book down.

I had misplaced my fly swatter, which has a yellow and green camouflage pattern, so I grabbed a nearby newspaper, rolled it up, and starting scanning the room. The green demon had landed on the living room door. Two quick strides and I nailed it, but as I did, two more flies took off from the same area.

They started buzzing around. One of them landed on the floor—a fatal mistake. The remaining one kept stunt-flying around the room, flitting past my head every half-minute or so as if to torment me.

“Sit down and read,” a voice in my head said. “Ignore it.” This sounded reasonable—I mean, why should a mere insect be able to distract me, a much higher life form?—but almost as if it had read my mind, the fly took pass after pass at me, defiantly buzzing. I stood up to reach for the newspaper but instead spotted the fly swatter on a windowsill. The fly touched down on an end table. It had no chance.

I sat down and picked up the Coleridge biography again. It’s richly informative and as readable as a good novel, largely because Holmes builds the book around Coleridge’s writing. Here’s one of Coleridge’s observations from a trip to Sicily:

I recollect when I stood on the summit of Etna, and darted my gaze down the crater; the immediate vicinity was discernable, till lower down, obscurity gradually terminated in total darkness. Such figures exemplify many truths revealed in the Bible. We pursue them until, from the imperfection of our faculties, we are lost in impenetrable night.

During the same trip, Coleridge, a married man, sent poetry home to a woman he loved—but not his wife. Here’s a passage:

For never touch of gladness stirs my heart,
But tim’rously beginning to rejoice
Like a blind Arab, that from sleep doth start
In lonesome tent, I listen for thy voice.
Beloved! ’tis not thine; thou art not here!
Then melts the bubble into idle air.
And wishing without hope I restlessly despair.

Coleridge was of course a literary giant, which is why I’m reading about him, but his opium addiction, his complicated personal relationships, his expansive circle of friends and fellow writers, and his detailed observations in his Notebooks are among the reasons he is such a compelling subject for biography.

As I finally settled in for an hour of reading, the lamps glowed. My chair embraced me. In the silence of my spacious office, I settled into my reading rhythm, devouring pages while savoring them at the same time.

Then came a fourth fly.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 5th, 2015 11:27 pm (UTC)

I FREE the occasional fly that enters my apartment.

Well, at least you don't have to wonder, like I did on Sunday, if the same fly keeps reentering your home.
Aug. 6th, 2015 12:02 am (UTC)
I am not a fly murderer. I am a serial killer.

Aug. 6th, 2015 03:08 am (UTC)
My cats stalk and eat (ew!) any flies that get in.
Aug. 6th, 2015 11:49 am (UTC)
Aug. 6th, 2015 03:11 pm (UTC)
We don't have that kind of fly in Florida. Other bugs, yes. Those, nope.
Aug. 6th, 2015 09:26 pm (UTC)
Given some of the bugs you have in Florida, I should be grateful I'm only dealing with houseflies.
Aug. 7th, 2015 08:11 pm (UTC)
I love the contrast between your focus on the fly, and your focus on the beauty of the words you were reading.
Aug. 8th, 2015 12:47 am (UTC)
If you get a chance, read his poem "Frost at Midnight." It is stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful in terms of the physical and emotional imagery it evokes. I first read it 10 years ago and never forgot it. I read it again last week and it blew me away—again.
Aug. 10th, 2015 09:49 pm (UTC)
Will do, thanks.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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