"Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present and from the present to live better in the future" ("William Wordsworth Quotes"). The Romantic Age of Literature has impacted thousands of people around the world through the period's authors, literary works, and social movements. In particular, the Romantic Period was inspired by three themes that include imagination, nature, and individualism ("Romanticism"). These ideas have been captured in the author's work and brought to life through the mind of the reader. One main idea that seems to impact the life of every human is individualism. All people strive for that feeling of self-independence from other people, beings, objects, or ideas of their imagination. Two literary works of the Romantic Period entitled The Lime-Tree Bower My Prison and Resolution and Independence both exemplify the theme of individualism. The authors who wrote the poems both overcame individual mental barriers and in the end, truly showed the power of the human imagination.
The poem, The Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge during the year 1797. The poem starts out with Coleridge being visited by his friends William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb. Before his friends arrived, Mrs. Coleridge accidently spilled a skillet of sweltering milk on Samuel's foot. When Dorothy, William, and Charles arrived, they decided to embark upon a day long hike through nature. Because of his foot injury, Coleridge was left behind to sit under a lonely lime tree, watching as his friends enjoyed the sights and scenery of the countryside (Coleridge 428). At the beginning of the poem, Coleridge feels trapped by the lime-tree. He views the tree not as a physical barrier but as a mental barrier, keeping his mind and imagination from roaming and connecting with his friends. Readers can see how Samuel first felt by reading the first few verses of The Lime-Tree Bower My Prison:
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 dimmed mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,
Friends, whom I never more may meet again, (428)
At this point in the poem, Samuel Coleridge is overcome with the fact that he is unable to join his friends on their hike through the countryside. He let the lime-tree become a mental barrier to his imagination. Readers can see in only the first few verses that Coleridge feels alone and left behind. The title is used as a metaphor in the second line to represent lime trees as bars or walls of a prison that have him trapped physically and emotionally. In line six, Coleridge says, "Friends, whom I never more may meet again," using that line as a hyperbole to exaggerate his lonesomeness and the distance from his friends (Shmoop Editorial Team). Although Coleridge is sad and depressed in the beginning of the poem, his emotions soon change. In the second stanza, he writes that he sees the images of his friends emerge from the hillside. At this point in the poem, his attitude begins to change. Through the second stanza, Coleridge connects to nature using adjectives that captivate the minds of readers and help them see exactly what Coleridge was viewing. By the end of the second stanza, his spirits are once again high and he feels as if he experienced time with his friends through nature. At the beginning of the third stanza, Coleridge gave his readers a taste of his new emotions:
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 marked
Much that has soothed me. Pale beneath the place
Hung the transparent foliage; and I watched
Some broad and sunny leaf, and loved to see
The shadow of the leaf and stem above (429)
Readers can see at the beginning of the third stanza that Coleridge overcame his dull feelings of loneliness and depression. Through the power of nature and his imagination, he regained his individual spirit as a writer. He overcame the physical and mental barriers of the lime-tree and showed readers the true power of the human mind.
Having a similar theme to Lime Tree Bower My Prison, the poem Resolution and Independence was written by William Wordsworth in 1802 (Cambridge 281). The poem begins in the morning with Wordsworth walking through the country side. He reflects on the previous night's violent storm then admires the new morning which brings about fresh life. At first, Wordsworth is exuberant on his walk, but his emotions soon change. Thoughts of distress and solitude about his future as a poet soon fill his mind. In the fifth stanza of his poem, readers realize what emotions Wordsworth is experiencing:
I heard the sky-lark warbling in the sky;
And I bethought me of the playful hare:
Even such a happy Child of earth am I;
Even as these blissful creatures do I fare;
Far from the world I walk, and from all care;
But there may come another day to me-
Solitude, pain of heart, distress, and poverty (281)
Thoughts about the death of a young man named Thomas Chatterton filled his mind. Many people believed this to be a suicide death because of Chatterton's hard life as a young poet. Wordsworth became more and more worried as he thought about the death of Chatterton. His head was filled with thoughts about his own life and if he too would die in poverty. While continuing his walk, Wordsworth spotted a man staring into a pond in the distance (Drabble 118,119). William walked up to the man and introduced himself. He asked the older man, "What occupation do you there pursue?"(Cambridge 282). The man replied that he was a leech gather (282). During these times, leeches were used to draw patient's blood for "curative purposes" (Wordsworth 304). Wordsworth saw the leech gatherer as the last person who would inspire him. After discovering the occupation of this man and how he lived a poor life, Wordsworth asked the leech gatherer, "How is it that you live, and what is it you do" (Cambridge 282)? Even though the life of a leech gatherer may be grim, the old man never lets his thoughts lower his self-esteem. With a smile on his face, the timeworn man enthused William Wordsworth with his words of encouragement. In the last stanza of Resolution and Independence, readers are able to see that Wordsworth began to honor the words of the Leech Gatherer:
And soon with this he other matter blended,
Cheerfully uttered, with demeanor kind,
Bur stately in the main; and when he ended,
I could have laughed myself to scorn to find
In that decrepit Man so firm a mind.
"God," said I, "be my help and stay secure;
I'll think of the Leech-gatherer on the lonely moor!" (282)
The words of the leech gatherer inspired and motivated the imagination of Wordsworth. At the same time, this man brought back Wordsworth's sense of individuality and made him believe he had a future in poetry. Wordsworth was emotionally empowered by how the old man lived his life and never let his job as a leech gatherer lower his emotional spirit. This influential experience left a lasting impact on Wordsworth that enabled him to continue his career as a poet.
William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge are two extraordinary poets who exemplified the individualistic and imaginative themes of the romantic period. In the poem The Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, Coleridge overpowered his thoughts through nature and enabled his mind to enjoy the outdoors. In Resolution and Independence, Wordsworth overcame his conscious thoughts through the inspiring words of the leech gatherer and decided to continue his livelihood as a poet. In the end, both poets displayed how an individual can conquer conscious thoughts and demonstrated the power of the human imagination. "As I live and am a man, this an unexaggerated tale - my dreams become the substances of my life" ("Samuel Taylor Coleridge Quotes").