Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "The Mad Monk"

The work of English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) reflects romanticism in its gothic, exotic, and preternatural dispositions. Hermits would attract Romantics, but the Romantics realized that hermits could no longer be contemplative medievals; once projected into the contemporary they would have to have been molded by other forces. Hence the wild and tortuous path of the involuntary hermit Coleridge portrays in "The Mad Monk" (1800). The mad monk is no mere sentimentalist but strangely reminiscent of some hermit-penitents of the early centuries of Asia Minor and the West.

The poem is based on the poem "Anselmo: The Hermit of the Alps" by Mary Robinson (1758-1800), wherein the hermit secretly loves Rosa, a noviate.

"The Mad Monk" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I hear a voice from Etna's side;
Where, o'er a cavern's mouth
That fronted to the south,
A chestnut spread its umbrage wide:
A hermit, or a monk, the man might be;
But him I could not see:
And thus the music flow'd along,
In melody most like to old Sicilian song:

"There was a time when earth, and sea, and skies,
The bright green vale, and forest's dark recess,
With all things, lay before mine eyes
In steady loveliness:

But now I feel, on earth's uneasy scene,
Such sorrows as will never cease;
I only ask for peace;
If I must live to know that such a time has been!"
A silence then ensued:
Till from the cavern came
A voice; it was the same!
And thus, in mournful tone, its dreary plaint renew'd:

"Last night, as o'er the sloping turf I trod,
The smooth green turf, to me a vision gave
Beneath mine eyes, the sod,
The roof of Rosa's grave!
My heart has need with dreams like these to strive;
For, when I woke, beneath mine eyes, I found
The plot of mossy ground,
On which we oft have sat when Rosa was alive.
Why must the rock, and margin of the flood,
Why must the hills so many flow'ret's bear,
Whose colours to a murder'd maiden's blood.

Such sad resemblance wear
I struck the wound, this hand of mine!
For Oh, thou maid divine,
I lov'd to agony!
The youth whom thou call'dst thine
Did never love like me?

"Is it the stormy clouds above
That flash'd so red a gleam?
On yonder downward trickling stream
'Tis not the blood of her I love.
The sun torments me from his western bed:
Oh, let him cease for ever to diffuse
Those crimson spectre hues!
Oh, let me lie in peace, and be for ever dead!"

Here ceas'd the voice. In deep dismay,
Down thro' the forest I pursu'd my way.