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Module 1: Coleridge This Lime-Tree Bower, My Prison

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XSIQ
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English - Background

Background

The poem is based on a real incident. Coleridge and his wife, Sarah, were
being visited at their cottage in Nether Stowey by Charles Lamb and
Coleridge's closest companion, William Wordsworth, with the latter's
sister, Dorothy. According to Coleridge's notebook, Sarah accidentally
spilt a skillet of boiling milk onto his foot, preventing his joining the
others on a walk.

Like the later 'FROST AT MIDNIGHT', the occasion of this poem is a human
tie - in this poem, it is the tie of friendship, since the poem is
explicitly addressed to Coleridge's friend, the writer Charles Lamb ('MY
GENTLE-HEARTED CHARLES', l.23).

The poem begins in melancholy as Coleridge ponders being left alone in the
lime-tree bower while his friends have gone walking. In fact, probably the
first thing to note about this poem is the paradox of the title itself. The
idea of such a symbol of the beauty of the English countryside as a
lime-tree bower being a prison seems to run against the usual Romantic
notions of the freedom of nature as against 'THE GREAT CITY PENT' (l.30).
The melancholic mood could be seen as an exaggerated pose - it certainly
comes across as such by l.6, where he somewhat pompously declares his
friends those 'WHOM I NEVER MORE MAY MEET AGAIN'. In any case, the mood is
ironic, since the 'imprisonment' of the bower actually liberates his
imagination to the point where he later 'rejoins' his friends, and also to
the point where he is able to create this poem itself.

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