The Poetry Place
On observing a Blossom on the first of February 1796
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Sweet flower, that peeping from thy russet stem
Unfoldest timidly, (for in strange sort
This dark, frieze-coated, hoarse, teeth-chattering month
Hath borrowed Zephyr’s voice, and gazed upon thee
With blue voluptuous eye), alas, poor Flower!
These are but flatteries of the faithless year.
Perchance, escaped its unknown polar cave,
Even now the keen North-East is on its way.
Flower that must perish! Shall I liken thee
To some sweet girl of too rapid growth
Nipp’d by consumption mid untimely charms?
And the warm wooings of this sunny day
Tremble along my frame and harmonise
The attempered organ, that even saddest thoughts
Mix with some sweet sensations, like harsh tunes
Played deftly on a soft-toned instrument.
Zephyr – a light or mild wind
Attempered – mixed in appropriate proportions; Organ - heart
Consumption – tuberculosis, a disease of the lungs which killed many younger people before modern drugs were available.
Here’s an interesting poem by the author of The Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan which might be handy for an Unseen practice. It has all the appearances of something old and incomprehensible but is in fact something students could get a lot from. (I have edited it to remove some lines which would need a lot of glossing!) An exam paper would explain ‘Zephyr’ and ‘attempered’ and possibly ‘consumption’. GCSE students might be given additional help but A level students would be expected to understand ‘voluptuous’, ‘russet’ and so on.
First, do some modernising, either in pairs, groups or as a shared activity. For example, Sweet flower, that peeping from thy russet stem / Unfoldest timidly = Sweet flower that’s peeping from your russet (brown) stem, timidly unfolding…
Next, ask students to investigate the questions on the linked sheet which should lead them to a gradual understanding and a realisation that the poem is not so complicated after all.
Here are some suggestions in answer to the question ‘Throughout the poem there’s a balance (or is it a conflict?) between the soft and the harsh. How many examples of this can you find?’
Warm wooings - tremble
Sunny days – teeth-chattering month
(mild) Zephyr - keen North-East
Unfolds timidly – perishes
Sweet girl – nipped by consumption
Sweet sensations / soft-tined – harsh tunes
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