Withdrawal and return in the works of Coleridge
Dawson, Harry Dale
Dowden, Wilfrid S.
Master of Arts
In much of Coleridge's verse one can find the theme of withdrawal and return, a concept explained by Arnold J. Toynbee in A Study of History, In the development of civilizations certain gifted individuals withdraw from society in order to achieve greater insight, acquire enhanced powers, and discover a more profound level of reality. Often the individual who withdraws may do so in order to travel the Mystic Way, a tortuous path toward union with the absolute. Having achieved his purpose, the individual returns to the society from which he had withdrawn and leads the masses to greater heights. Chapter I is devoted to an explanation of the withdrawal and return process and the Mystic Way, followed by a discussion of Coleridge's interest in mysticism and an examination of mystical elements in "Religious Musings" and "The Destiny of Nations." Chapter II illustrates the withdrawal and return theme as it exists in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The Mariner's voyage becomes a withdrawal from society, and his subsequent reappearance in the world of actuality to tell his story represents his return. His experience while on the voyage can be related to the five-stage Mystic Way as it is explained by Evelyn Underhill in her study of mysticism. Chapter III deals with the mystical element and its concomitant withdrawal and return motif as they appear in Christabel. The poem*s fragmentary nature, while certainly a problem, has not prevented its being placed within the framework of mystical tradition. Through a close study of the imagery of the poem, in conjunction with its link to Crashaw's "Hymn to Saint Teresa," Thomas R. Preston has shown that Christabel is a metaphoric presentation of a mystical communion between the heroine and the Divine. Furthermore, it can be shown that in order for this mystical experience to occur, it was necessary for Christabel to enter into a state of withdrawal. Since the poem is a fragment, it has not been possible to study the complete withdrawal and return cycle, but Coleridge stated that the poem was to continue with the "song of her [Christabel's] desolation," an event which we may consider as representing the fourth stage of the Mystic Way -- Purification, or, as it is sometimes called, The Dark Night of the Soul.