Dreaming Vol. 7, No. 1, March 1997


Coleridge, Creative (Day)Dreaming, and "The Picture"


Susan Luther, Ph.D.1



Meant less as traditional argument than as a scholarly meditation, the essay adopts quasi-fictional strategies of composition to read Coleridge's "The Picture, or the Lover's Resolution" through Freud's "Creative Writers and Day-dreaming" and other, relevant scholarship. It adopts the localized point of view of the practicing poet to reflect upon "The Picture" and interpretation (or reading) itself considered as forms of (day)dreaming, giving particular attention to what "The Picture" suggests about the dynamics and consequences of creative wish-fulfillment when the dream of art is dreamt under the sign of Eros. Must the poet's muse become a figment, a shadow? Is the (day)dream of creative romance false, or true? Disclosing to reader and interpreter in turn selected prospects revealed within "The Picture's" interior landscape, the essay seeks to preserve the element of (self-)discovery characteristic of dreaming. It concludes by reiterating a challenge implicit all along: (when) are our dreams of interpretation themselves truths—or idle fancies?

KEY WORDS: Coleridge; Freud; interpretation; dream poetry; self-projection; wish-fulfillment; creativity.

            Is it that poetry is explained through itself and by itself and from itself, its own and inalienable psychoanalytical behaviors?

                                                                                                — Moisés Lemlij (1995, 174)



In " 'Creative Writers and Day-dreaming': A Parochial View" (quoted above), Moisés Lemlij reads Freud through the glass of a specific Peruvian culture (the Quechua) as well as the insights of friends who are writers. This approach honors Lemlij's sense that "the artist in the task of perfecting the subject, and the psychoanalyst in the task of intensifying it, both appeal to creative means of interpretation" (169).

The present essay pays similar tribute to the intersubjective, literary character of analysis. "Parochial" in Lemlij's sense, it too adopts a restricted point of view that thrives in the provinces: in this case, the point of view of the creative artist—specifically, of the practicing poet. Like Lemlij's meditation, it implicitly mirrors and contrasts its models with themselves, itself with itself, and employs quasi-"fictional" strategies of composition.2 The result is meant less as traditional argumentation than as a speculation, an attempt at a form of scholarly poesis: that is, an exploration of some aspects of the interpretative landscape revealed when a literary text is read through theoretical and practical scholarship of similar theme by one who has a particular, "local" or "localized" interest in the process.

Its immediate point of departure is Coleridge's poem about erotic and poetic daydreaming titled "The Picture, or the Lover's Resolution," in which a lovelorn narrator who has forsworn all romantic fancies wanders through a forbidding wilderness, only to re-encounter his muse in the precincts of fantasy and in a birchbark drawing she has left behind her in the wood. An allegory about love, spirit, self-seeking, poetic making and also reading, the first-person, playful-and-serious dramatic monologue startlingly prefigures (or models) the essay of Freud's that is 'intensified' (to borrow his term) by Lemlij, "Der Dichter und das Phantasieren" (translated into English as "Creative Writers and Day-dreaming"; see Freud 1908 [1907]). Freud makes explicit the aesthetic speculation implicit in "The Picture," namely that literary composition (especially of works usually judged to be "lesser" art) may resemble day-dreaming. Both accounts emphasize the theme, or themes, of wish-fulfillment and escape.

Part one of this essay, "The Critical Fantasy," prepares the ground for an exploration of these themes in relation to Coleridgean and scholarly (day)dreaming. It locates within Coleridge's writings the themes of "true" and "false" dreaming, of literary production, "The Picture," and reading itself as types of (day)dreaming, with notice given to Coleridge's distrust of (in modern terms) "escapist" reading and the literature that promotes it. This section acknowledges the literary, provisional character of interpretation and takes up the point of view of the scholarly poet-reader who will (so to speak) "dream a dream": who will read Coleridge's poem through Freud's essay (and the views of other critics) by way of what "The Picture" suggests about the workings of and risks involved in the poetic (and recreative) task. Part two, "The Poem as (Day)Dream," briefly sketches the literary-historical and life background of "The Picture." It further links the poem's themes with those of Freud's essay, and consolidates the point of view of the practicing poet. The section also includes a phenomenological plot-summary of the poem. This plot-summary (in its locomotive metaphor, or storyline) mimics the structure of "The Picture" and of the present essay: it describes a walk through the muse's demesne wherein certain features of the territory act as "landing-places" (to borrow a term Coleridge used for some of the prose excursions in his periodical The Friend), and various prospects of interpretation discover themselves by turns to reader and narrator alike.

An embedded section, "The Dream within the Dream," pursues the theme of true and false dreaming with particular reference to the central scene of "The Picture," wherein the love-wounded narrator imagines his surrogate gazing at the reflection of the beloved woman in a woodland pool. Part three, "The Dreamer and the Dreamed," the final section of the essay, frames subsequent scenes of the poem within the memory-traces of other Coleridgean (and critical) texts, to query whether the poem's resolution celebrates a cure of false fancy (and dreaming) by true love, or ends in self-delusion. The essay concludes by reiterating the challenge implicit within it all along: to what extent does the interpreter, too, construct a picturesque, wish-fulfilling fantasy, seeing not "truth" but her or his own idolized reflection in the linguistic mirror?



The critic must recognize that criticism is no longer a question of metaphor but of metamorphosis.3

As David Miall (1982) points out, Coleridge's writings on dream communicate a fundamental uncertainty and "ambivalence" about the moral status of dreaming, especially as it relates to the self. This ambivalence extends to his representation and experience of certain phases of composition as types of day-dreaming or "reverie."4 Unfavorably comparing Klopstock's Messiah to Paradise Lost, for example, Coleridge admonishes: "A poem may in one sense be a dream, but it must be a waking dream" (my emphasis).5 An often-quoted notebook entry of 1804 takes the analogy between poetry and dream further, outlining the problem in strikingly modern terms:

Poetry a rationalized dream dealing to [?about] manifold Forms our own Feelings, that never perhaps were attached by us consciously to our own personal Selves—What is the Lear, the Othello, but a divine Dream/all Shakespere, & nothing Shakespere.—O there are Truths below the Surface in the subject of Sympathy, & how we become that which we understandly behold & hear, having, how much God perhaps only knows, created part even of the Form.6

In the preface to "Kubla Khan," a poem it describes as a "fragment" composed during "a profound sleep, at least of the external senses," Coleridge outlines an ambiguous dream-process whose mystery has long tantalized interpretation (51, 52). In his dreamlike state, the poet (or preface-writer) claims, he was given 200 to 300 lines or more which "On awaking" he remembered and began to record, until "a person on business from Porlock" arrived and kept him from his work for over an hour (52-53). Fragmented by this interruption, all but a few of the dream's impressions, we are told,

had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into
which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter:
                                                  Then all the charm
Is broken—all that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,
And each mis-shape the other. Stay awhile,
Poor youth! who scarcely dar'st lift up thine eyes—
The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon
The visions will return! And lo, he stays,
And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms
Come trembling back, unite, and now once more
The pool becomes a mirror. (53)

Is this narrative of the poem's origins meant to explain—or to enchant? Is "Kubla Khan: or A Vision in a Dream" to be read as a type of the traditional, divinely-inspired dream vision? Or is it—as the artifact of a "profound sleep," as a perhaps self-created reflection—to be regarded as an "idle flitting phantasy" of "His Majesty the Ego?"7

In "The Picture, or the Lover's Resolution," from which the lines quoted above are taken, the narcissistic inference barely submerged in the preface comes to the surface. Kathleen Coburn, editor of many of his notebook ramblings, is surely right that Coleridge described "The Picture" when, in March 1802, he made note of "A Poem on the endeavor to emancipate the soul from day-dreams & note the different attempts & the vain ones—" (CN 1153 6.144 & n). That this 'emancipation' might have had personal significance he intimated to his friend and publisher Joseph Cottle in 1814, when he confessed that "in my early manhood in lines, descriptive of a gloomy solitude, I disguised my own sensations in the following words—" and then quoted "The Picture."8 The poem explores a problem of aesthetics similar to that implicit in the preface to "Kubla Khan" and explicitly addressed by Freud when he posited the creative writer as a version of the "'dreamer in broad day-light' " ("Der Träumer am hellichten Tag"; 1908 [1907], 149). That is, the poet as day-dreamer may replicate the strategies of the night-dreamer and build his composition upon the scaffold of wish and (frustrated) desire.9 As a romance whose hero is a barely-masked figure for the artist, "The Picture," even more pointedly than "Kubla Khan," calls into question the dream of art, dreamt under the sign of human erotic passion. "The Lover's Resolution" poses a central dilemma of what it calls "passion's dreams" (l. 119, CP 1, 372): who is the dreamer? Whose, and what, is the dream? And: where is it? For words on a page are no dream.

In their introduction to a recent collection of essays on dream and literature, Carol Schreier Rupprecht and Kelly Bulkley develop an extended metaphor of "oneirocriticism," of dream-interpretation itself as a kind of dreaming (1993, 1-12). To Coleridge also, the reader may be accounted dreamer: "our state," he says, "while we are dreaming differs from that in which we are in the perusal of a deeply interesting Novel, in the degree rather than in the Kind" (Lectures 2, 266). Hence the dreaming reader, no less than the day-dreaming novelist or poet, may be a fantasist, an escapist, caught in solipsistic wish-fulfillment. "As to the Devotees of the Circulating Libraries," Coleridge notes acidly,

I may not compliment their Pastime, or rather Kill-time, with the name of Reading. Call it rather a sort of beggarly Day-dreaming, in which . . . the mind . . . fixes, reflects, & transmits the moving phantasms of one man's Delirium so as to people the barrenness of a hundred other trains [of associations] . . . under the same morbid Trance, or "suspended Animation", of Common Sense, and all definite Purpose. (Lectures 1, 124)

Guided by morally rigorous texts like those of Plato and his successors, however, readers, Coleridge allows, may profitably engage in "acts and energies of creative Thought, & Recognition— of conscious re-production of states of Being" (CN 3935 18.156). Does the dream then come to us through the gate of ivory, or the gate of horn?

In many respects "The Picture" models Freud's paradigm of writing as creative wish-fulfillment. At the same time, like Freud's analysis, much literary criticism (including the present essay), and the preface to "Kubla Khan," it resides in what Meredith Skura describes as the "gap between what the text [of literature and dream] seems to mean and the extra meaning it seems to imply" (1980, 364). Nor does "the Picture" hold its reader harmless in the mirror of interpretation. What follows, then, is one reader's train of thinking about some of the figurative and vocational issues raised by "The Picture," conceived as a waking dream about daydreaming that includes a possibly 'distempered' (see l. 64, CP 1, 371) dream-within-the-dream, and that calls us to consider the authority and vexed provenance of the dream-image itself.



Coleridge wrote "The Picture," or at least completed and published it, in 1802. It first appeared in The Morning Post of September 6, 1802, and was reprinted in The Poetical Register, and Repository of Fugitive Poetry for 1802 (1803). He revised and expanded it for inclusion in his collection of poems titled Sibylline Leaves (1817). In 1817 and collective editions thereafter "The Picture" appeared in the section of Sibylline Leaves Coleridge called "Love-Poems."10 In it Coleridge utilizes imagery from a walking tour of the Lake Country he undertook in August 1802. He describes this tour in his notebooks and in several letters he wrote that summer to Sara Hutchinson,11 whom he deeply loved and often saw, as she was a member of the same social circle. (Sara's sister Mary Hutchinson married William Wordsworth, Coleridge's best friend, in October of 1802). Sara recorded "The Picture," with some variants from the published versions of 1802, in her commonplace book Sara Hutchinson's Poets. Other poems of that period inspired by her whose images and motives reappear in "The Picture" include the "Verse Letter" to Sara which became "Dejection: An Ode"; "A Day-Dream," and "The Day-Dream" (to which I shall briefly return).12 "The Picture" is the least confessional, most denaturalized and fabulist of these. However, its biographical context suggests that it may be read as an allegory of Coleridge's relationship with Sara,13 to whom he was profoundly attached but, as a married man whose religious convictions permitted neither divorce nor physical consummation, could not marry except in spirit—and whom he inevitably compromised by his attentions. Considered as an exercise in sublimation, the poem allows the yearning poet to 'possess' his beloved in words, if not in person, as the present absence who motivates his verse.

Paradoxically, that verse re-claims her in the act of her (attempted) exorcism. Its "devious course" (l. 119, SL, 133)—or 'manifest content,' to borrow Freud's language of dream interpretation—might be summarized (largely in its own words) as follows:

An erstwhile lover, protesting he is "emancipate / From passion's dreams," wanders through a wild landscape where "Wisdom might resort, and here Remorse"; or the "Gentle Lunatic!," the "love-lorn Man . . . sick in soul." But these are not Love's haunts; and, laughing at his previous "folly," he sits beside a stream. The breeze there "Was never Love's accomplice"; and the stream never reflected the "face" or "form divine" of the "stately virgin" who, "see!" rests her elbow on a tree mirrored in the pool—while her admirer, too shy to gaze upon her directly, contemplates her image, "dreaming hopes" all too "vain." She plucks flower-heads from behind her, tosses them into the stream, and breaks the charm. But if the "Poor youth" will stay, "The visions will return!" He does; they do; but without including the figure of the virgin, who, traveling "homeward" now, is nowhere to be seen. "Ill-fated youth!"—thinks the cured lover: go ahead and "waste" your life in "mad Love-yearning." "This tale" does not belong to the stream, whose course he presently resumes following through his gloomy, "chosen haunt." Emerging from a thicket of firs to find himself "Beneath a weeping birch" by a waterfall, he is struck by the landscape revealed, hills enfolding a circular valley populated by "Half hid" cottages. He observes the close and distant scene—then discovers a picture drawn with berry-juice on birch-bark, in which he recognizes the hand of "Isabel! / Daughter of genius! stateliest of our maids! / More beautiful than whom Alcaeus woo'd / The Lesbian woman of immortal song!". With beating heart, he resolves, and hastes, to return the "sketch"—which, if kept, would only "feed" his passion—to her. (see SL, 128-35)14

The self-contradictions and semantic dissolutions—or, rather, the dreamlike 'condensations' and 'displacements'—of the narrative should, from the way I chose to retell it, be clear. They create distance from the action and narrator of the poem, casting him as a type of the self-deceived lover. The narrative eddy emphasizes stasis and gaze, tableau, objét, image as objects of contemplation and motivating forces; all, like the lover, to be looked at rather than (as well as) identified with. The poem's doubled title ("The Picture, or the Lover's Resolution"), also signals story, irony, even (self-)parody.

In Freud's account of creative (day)dreaming,

A strong experience in the present awakens in the creative writer a memory of an earlier experience (usually belonging to his childhood) from which there now proceeds a wish which finds its fulfilment in the creative work. The work itself exhibits elements of the recent provoking occasion as well as of the old memory. (1908 [1907], 151)

Freud refers to memories and wishes that are personal, that have to do with the writer's relationships in waking life. And, on these terms, "The Picture" dreams a dream. Coleridge's walking tour might be taken as the inciting experience which awakens (instead of redressing) memories of one or more similar occasions shared by Sara Hutchinson (see, e. g., "Inscription for a Fountain on a Heath," CP 1, 381-2; SL 186; and CN 981 21.133 and n.). The act of composition, and the manifestation of "Isulia" (one of Coleridge's code-names for Sara Hutchinson) as Isabel within it, express the poet's wish for (re)connection with his beloved.15 "The wish" then, as Freud puts it, "makes use of an occasion in the present to construct, on the pattern of the past, a picture of the future" (1908 [1907], 148).

For the creative (day)dreamer, however, wish and memory inevitably assume vocational and textual significance beyond the immediately personal. That is (to borrow and amend Freud's words quoted above), for the writer 'a strong experience in the present [of reading and/or in 'waking' life] may awaken a memory of an earlier experience [of writing and/or reading] from which there now proceeds a wish [for self-expression, to write] which finds its fulfilment in the creative work [itself; in its completion].'16 What Rupprecht and Bulkley describe as the "transitionality of the waking / reading / sleeping / dreaming continuum and its intertextual bias" (4) constitute the writer's homeland, that placeless place where life and art endlessly (re)combine. From the point of view of the practicing poet, then, "The Picture" presents an allegory of creative no less than erotic desire, whose implied or, in Freud's dream-terms, 'latent' content addresses "the subtleties of inspiration" (Kelly [1972], 92). Within the poem creative day-dreaming and erotic day-dreaming fulfill each other, so that "The Picture" illuminates the human dilemma in terms of the aesthetic one, and the aesthetic one in terms of the human: it posits a figural, psychological and philosophical problematic of and for the artist. The dream's wish-fulfillment, then, involves the desire of art for art, the desire of the artist for inspiration, and the probable dependency of both, as Marshall Suther (1965, 163) suggests, upon the Muse-imago who cathects them.17

A primary "pattern memory" or textual process within what might be regarded as its "textual unconscious" confirms that the 'latent,' or metaphoric content of "The Picture" implicates literary (day)dreaming. For Coleridge's poem does not draw only from Coleridgean materials. Directly but silently, it turns upon the narrative premise of Salomon Gessner's idyll "Der feste Vorsatz" ('the fixed Resolution'), a pastoral, erotic (and traditionally ironic) farewell to love.18 Gessner's wandering narrator, indulging in the lush delights of erotic melancholy, follows the course of a stream through an exterior and interior landscape strikingly similar to that which Coleridge describes. Bidding farewell to the dark and the fair, to stately Melinde and "kleine Chloe," he comes upon a maiden's footprint in the sand; melancholy vanishes, and he follows the maiden's trace ("Spur"), thinking how passionately, if he finds her, he will embrace and kiss her ("O! wenn ich dich faende, in meinen Arm wyrd ich dich dryken, und dich kyssen!", 124.)19

Coleridge's "Picture" transumes Gessner's ('escapist'?) esprit, suppresses its erotic motive and transforms it into a complex reflection on states of mind, especially those of the creative artist-as-lover whose muse-lover is in turn ingested by the Muse-imago.20 Unlike Gessner's simpler tale, Coleridge's narrative forestalls even as it promotes the reader's "incentive bonus, or fore-pleasure" (Freud 1908 [1907], 153). It is a beautiful, painterly poem that one imagines would in many respects greatly have flattered its Isabel, its "Isulia": yet it suggests unsettling consequences for and to her, and refuses to enable us who are her reader-successors henceforward "to enjoy our own day-dreams without self-reproach or shame" (ibid.). Like its questionable use of Gessner, the poem's self-fragmentations further complicate, and corroborate, an understanding of it as a literary dream, with art—itself, artistic (re)production—as its object.

Rather than attempting a comprehensive analysis, however, I will follow "the thread of the wish" through the dream-moment I take (with Michael Kelly) to be the imagistic and "intellectual center" of "The Picture"21: the mirror sequence or "primal scene" adumbrated above, partially quoted in the preface to "Kubla Khan." Its transumption in the preface emphasizes that the scene involves not only the dreams of love, but of creativity.

The Dream Within the Dream

The narrator's explicitly-stated, or 'manifest,' dream for himself is emancipation, freedom from love's (day)dreams. His method of pursuing it is that of Gessner's lover, recreated as philosopheme: self-loss in the wilds of nature (or, for the poet, self-loss in the wilderness of verse). But one may wonder just what the "new joy" really is that "Beckons" him "on, . . . / Playmate, or guide!" (ll. 7-11, SL, 128). Nor is it long before the figure of "Love"—the pastoral, erotic motive—returns, "ensnared" in the very fancy of expulsion: in the form of a sulky Cupid who is chased by Nymphs, Oreads, Earth-winds, wingless Airs, Fays, and elfin Gnomes through eighteen lines of mocking reproof that imagine—in present tense—how the spirits of the place would punish "His little godship" if he had the temerity to cross their borders (ll. 28-45, SL, 129-30).22 Next in the cast of imaginary characters excluded from the scene appears a lovely maiden, around whose "tendril ringlets," "blue, delicate veins" and "half disclosed / . . . snowy bosom" the breeze, in this landscape, thinks the narrator, "Ne'er play'd the wanton" (ll. 58-67, SL, 129-31). Almost immediately thereafter, however, a worshipful youth (the "he" referred to below) arrives in his thoughts as the narrator's surrogate, to dream of the "stately virgin." "Like a dissolving thing" (l. 67), the narrative line disappears so quickly it is not at first clear that the narrator is still day-dreaming, that he does not actually see a woman reflected in the pooled stream beside which he sits.

The images rise up before the narrator (and reader) "as things" (I borrow from the preface to "Kubla Khan," 52), when the narrator apostrophizes the "desert Stream": "no pool of thine," he protests,

Though clear as lake in latest summer-eve,
Did e'er reflect the stately virgin's robe,
Her face, her form divine, her downcast look
Contemplative! Ah see! her open palm
Presses her cheek and brow! her elbow rests
On the bare branch of half-uprooted tree,
That leans towards its mirror! He, meanwhile,
Who from her countenance turn'd, or look'd by stealth,
(For fear is true love's cruel nurse,) he now,
With stedfast gaze and unoffending eye,
Worships the watery idol, dreaming hopes
Delicious to the soul, but fleeting, vain,
E'en as that phantom-world on which he gazed.
She, sportive tyrant! with her left hand plucks
The heads of tall flowers that behind her grow,
Lychnis, and willow-herb, and fox-glove bells;
And suddenly, as one that toys with time,
Scatters them on the pool! Then all the charm
Is broken—all that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,
And each mis-shape the other. (ll. 72-93, SL, 131-2)

The scene is self-reflexive: it mirrors the narrator's own activity and his (repressed, or suppressed) wish for the "stately virgin's" presence (who is, in part, a condensation of Gessner's muses). The lines may also be supposed to turn upon specific, distorted textual (and personal) memories (compare with Gessner's "noch gestern hypftest du froh im weissen Sommer-kleid um mich her, wie die Wellen hier im Sonnen-Licht hypfen," 122).23

As figure of the poet, the narrator wishes for the muse's return; as lover, he wishes for (as she is later named) Isabel. His "part-ego" dreams for him:24 that, perhaps, one day his "Lewti" will be kind ("Lewti, or the Circassian Love-Chant," another poem of conventional, unrequited love, immediately precedes "The Picture" in Sibylline Leaves.) The youth apparently cherishes a delusion. But are his hopes of being noticed altogether so "vain"? The "virgin," presumably amused or impatient with his image-worship, destroys her image in the pool, in a gesture perhaps prescient (or reminiscent) of the Sara Hutchinson whom Coleridge recalled in a notebook entry of 1808 as wishing to be accounted "no Angel" (CN 3406 13.37). If one interprets the behavior of this "sportive tyrant" in the same way Freud interprets that of Jensen's Gradiva, however, her action may implicitly invite pursuit (see 1907 [1906], 75, 79). An important line added in 1828 suggests what here is only hinted: she tosses the flower-heads into the stream because her votary's gaze was "not unheeded" (l. 86, CP 1, 371). In any case, this dream foretells its (camouflaged) wish fulfilled: in the narrative future, the poet-narrator will retrieve the birch-bark picture Isabel has dropped into his dream, and follow her. His double's day-dream unmasks the narrator's inspiring "joy" within the "master-passion" in disguise: desire for the poem, desire for the maiden-muse.

Like its counterpart in the preface to "Kubla Khan," the "watery" idyll models the streamlike flow of association; it also recalls Aristotle's comparison of "the mental pictures" in dreams to "reflections in water," such that "movement destroys the clarity of the dream."25 Some dreams, Aristotle concedes, may be "both signs and causes" (379). In a sense, the dream of his other self functions as the 'sign' of the narrator's "true" wishes (for reunion with the muse or his lost self; to attract her notice and favor), and the "cause" of subsequent action in the narrative. But Aristotle is primarily concerned to demonstrate that "prophetic" dreams do not come from God: they are the children of coincidence. Likewise, the second movement of the narrator's dream emphasizes that what we gaze on is necessarily a "watery idol" (my emphasis).

Once the "charm / Is broken," what David Punter (1990, 19) terms the "processes of primary narcissism," implicit before as a possibility of motive, become explicit.26 The narrator has comforted his dream-double by inviting the youth to "Stay awhile" that he may enjoy the restored "visions" which will return when "once more / The pool becomes a mirror." But the invitation heralds a second, more serious fall from grace that is elided in the preface to "Kubla Khan." "Behold," the narrator commands his surrogate (and reader):

Each wildflower on the marge inverted there,
And there the half-uprooted tree—but where,
O where the virgin's snowy arm, that lean'd
On its bare branch? He turns, and she is gone!
Homeward she steals through many a woodland maze
Which he shall seek in vain. Ill-fated youth!
Go, day by day, and waste thy manly prime
In mad Love-yearning by the vacant brook,
Till sickly thoughts bewitch thine eyes, and thou
Behold'st her shadow still abiding there,
The Naiad of the Mirror! (ll. 99-110, SL, 132)

The "phantom-world" of creative illusion resolves into delusion, the space of its "shadow." No longer does a young man observe (the figure of) a real woman reflected in a stream; held fast from pursuit of her by "fear" or the seductions of wish-fulfilling fantasy, he loses himself to "visions" in which she can only appear (to purloin Milton's epithet for the classical Urania) as the "empty dream" he himself has created. Confined to the asylum of "mad Love-yearning," the now "ill-fated youth" inhabits the realm of "imaginary Time" (SL, iii)—under the aspect of "suspended Animation" (Lectures 1, 124).

His spiritual malaise seems not unlike that of his previous textual counterpart, the "Gentle Lunatic." Coleridge alluded to the "Lunatic's" condition as a disguised reflection of his own, in the letter to Cottle of 1814 quoted earlier; the relevant lines, included in Sibylline Leaves, do not appear in the 1802 versions of "The Picture." Coleridge diagnosed his alter ego more fully in a letter to Edward Coleridge of 1826. Both letters quote "The Picture" with reference to Coleridge's problems of religious faith and belief. In 1826, analyzing his own recent "indolence leavening the resignation which it counterfeited," Coleridge lamented:

There was indeed that imperfect Love which made me dread above all fears the falling out of God into the abysm, the dreadful productivity, of my own corrupted Soul, but not the Love, that should urge me to press forward and lay hold of the Promises. My state of mind was too often in too close a neighbourhood to the relaxing Malaria of the Mystic Divinity, which affects to languish after an extinction of individual Consciousness—the sickly state which I had myself described in one of the Poems in the Sibylline Leaves—'the Lover's Resolutions—who sick in soul
Worships the Spirit of unconscious Life
In tree and wild-flower. . . . (CL 6, 555)


In Aids to Reflection, he had imaged a similar malady in terms that strikingly recall the mirror-trope of "The Picture."27 One need not read backward (or forward) in this way, however, to identify the youth's sickness as the 'sign' of the spiritual void, of the soul devoid of its affirming image of the other.

Within the poem, the religious dilemma (the "falling out of God") takes shape as (or is displaced within) its personal, secular and creative consequence.28 The first part of the dream-within-the-dream posits a greater 'reality quotient' (so to speak), more "Will and Striving after furtherance in grace" (CL 6, 555), a more active and balanced passage between inner and outer forms, conscious and unconscious, that foretells the possibility of a successful narrative consummation. In the alternate future here presented, however, the narrator abandons his double to a contemplation that can only inspirit the "vacant brook" with a hallucination, an infernal wraith, a "Naiad" of personification—the "Spirit of unconscious Life."29

The dream opens the rupture in consciousness apparent from the beginning of the poem, the split between a 'conscious' dreaming self who 'manifestly' associates the thorny landscape with "joy," a "joy" identified with emancipation from passion's dreams, and a 'latent' self who dreams of passion and is, in fact, attempting a kind of spiritual suicide. At dream's end, the "part-ego" the narrator would exclude from the scene makes visible his own spiritual state in the present moment of the narrative, imaged as a condition of narcissistic stasis.

The first part of the dream-within-the-dream, then, may be taken to image the return of the "master-passion" (l. 11, SL, 128) as a healing influence, and to hint at the subsequent course of the narrative, when the narrator will "lay hold" of the implicit secular and aesthetic "Promises." That is, the dream-idyll's first movement presents a kind of "true," albeit still ambiguous, poetic dreaming. Its second movement may be taken as a warning against false dreaming, the "relaxing Malaria of the Mystic Divinity" in which a lover, or poet, seeking "an extinction of individual Consciousness," worships a figment of his (or her) own 'unconscious' or half-conscious making. "The Picture" suggests that poetic dreaming held fast by its own idolatrous, "purely" aesthetic, self-reflexive desire for desire, for the reflected image, may resemble nothing so much as the nightmarish "distemper" or "delirious Vision," the "Somnambulism, or frightful Reverie, or Epilepsy from accumulated feelings" as Coleridge once remarked in Charles Lloyd (CL 1, 257). The consequence of the muse's exile—or departure—may be the 'soul sickness' or visionary solipsism that translates muse into Muse-imago, and banishes all the world.30

The ease with which the dream turns upon itself, with which it and its figures split and reunite and slip from one kind of wish-fulfillment into another, suggests that the central ambiguity (re)mediated by the dream, the Platonic dilemma, may be radically irresolveable. Only the Muse-imago, the dreamed, (the object; the poem as words-on-a-page) cannot dream: and yet, as the cathecting double of psychic energy, the trope in-habits, and inspires, creative (day)dreaming. The split female figure displays the problem: the desire of the lover as a person is directed toward the person of the beloved; but the (creative) desire of the poet is and must always be directed toward the beloved's inspiring "shadow," toward idealization. "Idyll," as Gessner's "Vorsatz" concludes, ends where embrace begins (and vice-versa). The conditions of art require the artist to play Narcissa/us.31 Moreover, just as night-dream becomes "reality" in the daylight world only when the dreamer awakens, so is it only in the rupture—when the 'unconscious' becomes 'conscious' of itself again and "the charm / Is broken"—that art, as artifact, can appear.




When is play-acting rebuked by reality? When is fictionalizing presumptuous? What happens after playacting?

                                                                                                                 Wole Soyinka32

Does the poem resolve its dilemma of true and false dreaming? For Raimonda Modiano, the narrator's self-healing is evident in the youth's absence from the poem after the dream-within-the-dream, and in the narrator's response to the picture. As a 'real' object, it contrasts with the "false" images he has worshiped; discovering it, he does not (apparently) relapse into fantasy. Instead, his "journey . . . finally acquires a true destination, the reunion with another human being" (1985, 92). Edward Kessler (1979) takes a different view of the tenor of the narrator's delusions; but he, too, agrees that the poem's denouement represents a positive outcome. Kessler observes that "the speaker realizes what Narcissus failed to see: that representation is not Being, and that passion directed toward the phenomenal self produces a destructive Phantom" (67).

A Freudian view of the poem as waking dream would have to agree that in one sense it demonstrates how "Coleridge can use his self-reflection as a means to redirect his passion toward 'a world of Reality' " (Kessler, 65); that "the narrator's strategy of letting the youth fall into dangerous modes of self-deception . . . recover[s] his own sanity and freedom" (Modiano, 91). At poem's end, all denials seem to have ceased; the landscape of isolation has been left behind, and a "gladsome" mood suffuses the scene. Within the arrested narrative, the dream of arrest has re-motivated action; confronted with the 'soul-sickness' of his double, the narrator renounces lethargy—albeit, at first, in the figure of denial. Like Norbert Hanold in Jensen's Gradiva, he heeds the 'wake-up' call from his 'unconscious' without at first fully assimilating its implications. But the return of (creative) day-dreaming is accomplished when the narrator arrives at the scene of literally "disparted waters," and imagines their reunion on the other side of a dividing rock in idyllic terms, as the renewed communion of two lovers' spirits, "Each in the other lost and found" (ll. 123, 126; SL, 133, ix).33

Freud notes that "every psycho-analytic treatment is an attempt at liberating repressed love"; by these terms, the poem as waking dream and the narrator's day-dreaming have fulfilled the "model of a cure by love" (1907 [1906], 90). "The Picture" resolves in what Coleridge referred to in the notebook entry on Plato and Plotinian philosophy quoted earlier as an "ahndung" or "inward omening," a "tremulous feeling of the heart,

as if it heard or began to glimpse something which had once belonged to it, its Lord or its Beloved—even as a man recovering gradually from an alienation of his Senses or the Judgments on beginning to recollect the countenances of his Wife, Mother, Children, or Betrothed—" (CN 3935 18.156 f70)

His false dreams of solitude and self-immolation, the shade of art as narcissistic image-worship, disappear within a familial landscape of "brook and bridge, and grey stone cottages" (l. 142; SL, 134); the figure of art as the unlooked-for gift which must be returned; and the prospective (hence soulfully present) companionship of the "maid" and artist in whom muse and Muse-imago recombine. In the artifact of human composition, its own doubled image, "The Picture" finds itself: creative dreaming reproduces dreaming; dream and art, in mutual catalysis, promote renewal. The narrator has discovered exactly what the poet, the "dreamer in broad daylight," would wish to find: a 'subjective' object to be given back to the Reader, especially to the one reader whose reception matters most. The romance of creative desire is consummated by publication in The Morning Post, The Poetical Register and Sibylline Leaves, and in the private transcription of Sara Hutchinson's own hand. The gift of inspiration has been accepted, and returned; the poem's dream for its own future has proven true.

But the epigraph to the Love-Poems in Sibylline Leaves reserves a 'new understanding' only to their author-presenter, not to the (implied) former self who is their protagonist.34 Nor, within its own narrative construct, does "The Picture" conclusively suggest it has done anything other than simply present "the endeavor to emancipate the soul from day-dreams & note the different attempts & the vain ones—” (CN 1153 6.144). A person truly free of "passion's dreams," no longer "dreaming hopes / Delicious to the soul," would simply have left the picture where it lay (l. 118, 83-4; SL, 133, 131). Moreover, its 'latent' content betrays the sketch itself as a displaced emblem of (textual) day-dream and desire. It depicts the cottage next to the waterfall where the narrator is standing, "And close beside its porch a sleeping child, / His dear head pillowed on a sleeping dog" (ll. 153-54, SL, 134). As Modiano suggests, the "picture by itself carries a positive message"; its "realism . . . indicates that the artist was engaged in a conscious reproduction of an objective reality and not in a self-indulgent play with her own fancies" (n. 108, 229; 92). If the dream-within-the-dream may be taken as the poem's 'mind,' then the sketch is its 'heart.' But it is no footprint in the sand, human and soon to be erased. A picture has more masterly ambitions. Further, as cipher painted in berry juice on the skin of that 'natural' object, the "weeping birch,"35 the drawing is "The Picture's" 'sign' or signature for itself: just as the dream-within-the-dream 'contains' the narrative and psychic movement of the poem up to that point, and so is also its reflection or double. The visual object—the "curious picture"—no less than the mirror-scene presents an ironic, synonymizing resorption of the poetic text itself, here under the colophon of muta Poesis (see CN 4397 f49v).

Moreover, its sentimental subject engages the poet's if not the artist's fancies: the cottage is a recurrent Coleridgean motif, a figure of "domestic bliss," as Michael Kelly (1972) points out, "with numerous predecessors and successors" (88; see 87-90). The figure of the child and dog also have Coleridgean textual analogues. They appear in a notebook entry of March, 1810, that consolidates a memory, or memories, of time spent with Sara and Mary Hutchinson at Sockburn and, especially, at Gallow Hill, where Coleridge visited in the summer of 1801 and, of most significance here, in March of 1802 (see CL 2, 744-55, 788 and n., 792). In demonstrating to "an Idolater of Hume & Hartley" that he well understood "the vast extent and multifold activity of the Associative Force," Coleridge confided to his notebook, he adduced many examples which brought to mind "Lewti, the Circassian

(and as by this same force joined with the assent of the will most often, tho' often too vainly because weakly opposed by it, I inevitably by some link or other return to you [Sara] . . . the for ever and ever Feeling of you/—The fire/Mary, you, & I at Gallow-Hill/—or if flamy, reflected in children's round faces—ah whose children?—a dog—that dog whose restless eyes oft catching the light of the fire used to watch your face, as you leaned with your head on your hand and arm, & your feet on the fender/ . . . (CN 3708 18.21)

A similar idyllic scene including Mary and Sara appears in 1802 in the "Verse Letter"; in a separate poem devoted to it, "A Day-Dream"; and as a displaced transformation in "The Day Dream," published in The Morning Post on October 19, 1802, some six weeks after "The Picture" appeared there.36 Both centering dream-moments re-figure, in disguise, this process of text and memory: in the youth's fantasy (of the virgin's open palm, pressing her cheek and brow; her elbow, resting on the tree), and in the discovered artifact of its presence, the picture itself. The told and re-told day-dream, then, can be taken as the primary Coleridgean "pattern memory," in both the textual and personal senses, which is transformed and re-duplicated within "The Picture," and upon which the poem's wish constructs its own "picture of the future." Dreaming begets dreaming; his discovery of the picture sets the narrator to imagining again, this time how he will return the sketch (now the pretext for his renewed hopes) and enjoy the companionship of Isabel. The question of psychological dependency upon desire and its "vain" pursuit; of creative desire upon (unfulfilled) erotic or romantic desire; of the artist's desire upon his pro- and intro-jection of a Muse-imago—as well as the 'latent' religious problem of the artist's, and the Muse-imago's, relationship to the Divine I AM—is not resolved.37

The irresolution, or continuous dissolve, of creative (day)dreaming achieves ironic, literal representation in the split text of the scene of "disparted waters" reunited.38 The textual Error, the ambiguity of the beloved Image, also remains figuratively present in Isabel. This "divinest maid" and "daughter of Genius" more beautiful than Sappho still seems to stand before the narrator more "like a thought" than a person, "A dream remember'd in a dream" ("Recollections of Love"; Sibylline Leaves, 160). The act of naming itself, of conferring upon her the "master" vocation of artist (l. 158, SL, 134) absolves her of typological anonymity but explicitly draws her into archetypal creative myth, the old story in which Alcaeus woos the fairest—and most elusive—of them all. The problem of "attraction to the transcendent and ideal"—the motive of "nympholepsy" (see Perkins 1990, 100)—has hardly been overcome. The poem does not simply observe the processes of romantic day-dreaming, or of the creative "dreamer in broad daylight": it ironicizes them, and calls into question the very figure of dreaming itself, which, like the other figures in the poem, doubles back upon the reader. For, as the object of his amorous pursuit, Isabel represents the poet's entire "potential audience"—who, in Stuart Hood's metaphor, may have a virtual existence in the writer's dream-economy "like Freud sitting invisibly at the head of the couch, at once a presence and an absence" (1989, 33). In the immediate economy of reading, however, it is the narrator himself who acts as the (future) interpreter's most obvious double. The critic who seeks to address the poem's mysteries inevitably replicates his actions: pursuing the muse, dreaming reflections upon reflections, retrieving the picture, attempting to return it (to significance, to its 'rightful owner,' to another reader). In its figural shifting of the boundaries between dreamer, dreaming and the dreamed, "The Picture" images the progress of its own interpretation. That is, as a type of waking dream, "The Picture" itself—not only its split muse—may be regarded as a narrative trope of and for dream(ing) that figures the precarious negotiation for all concerned of the passage between 'conscious' and 'unconscious' other- and self-representation.

In the third movement of his instructive essay "Hermia's Dream" (first presented in 1978), Norman Holland offers an example of " 'transactive criticism,' " reading Hermia's dream (in A Midsummer Night's Dream) through his own concern with "questions of fidelity and possession between men and women" (1993, 192). Holland thus seeks to "make explicit" the element of "self-discovery" inherent in literary criticism:

Through psychoanalytic identity theory, we can understand how we are able to talk about the words of another through ourselves and, in doing so, talk about ourselves through the words of another—even if they are as airy a nothing as dream of dream of dream. (197)

Who then is the literary dreamer? Whose is the dream? Does it dream the dream of "true" reproductive Being, or the illusionary dream "a musa"? (CN 3935). One imagines the departed subject of these queries casting a handful of "Sibylline leaves" into the pool of reflections, just before disappearing into the wood.


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Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Lectures 1808 - 1819: On Literature. Ed. Reginald Foakes. 2 pts. Vol. 5 of The Collected Works. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1986.

 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Notebooks. Ed. Kathleen Coburn and Merton Christensen. 4 vols. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957-1990. 

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Davis, Garold N. German Thought and Culture in England, 1700-1770. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1969.

Freud, Sigmund. "Creative Writers and Day-dreaming." Vol 9 of The Standard Edition. 1908 [1907]. 142-53.

Freud, Sigmund.  "Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's Gradiva." Vol. 9 of The Standard Edition. 1907 [1906]. 3-95.

Gessner, Salomon. Sämtliche Schriften in Drei Bänden. 1762. Her. v. Martin Bircher. Zürich: Orell Füssli, 1972-74.

Harding, Anthony John. Coleridge and the Idea of Love: Aspects of Relationship in Coleridge's Thought and Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1974.

Hett, W. S., trans. Aristotle On the Soul; Parva Naturalia; On Breath. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935. rev. 1957.

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Holland, Norman N. "Hermia's Dream." The Dream and the Text: Essays on Literature and Language. Ed. Carol Schreier Rupprecht. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1993. 178-99.

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Lemlij, Moisés. " 'Creative Writers and Day-dreaming': A Parochial View.” On Freud’s "Creative Writers and Day-dreaming". Ed. Ethel Specter Person, Peter Fonagy, and Sérvulo Augusto Figueira. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1995. 164-83.

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Mileur, Jean-Pierre. Vision and Revision: Coleridge's Art of Immanence. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1982.

Modiano, Raimonda. Coleridge and the Concept of Nature. Tallahassee: Florida State Univ. Press, 1985.

Parrish, Stephen Maxwell, Ed. Coleridge's Dejection: The Earliest Manuscripts and the Earliest Printings. Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988.

Perkins, David. "The Imaginative Vision of Kubla Khan: On Coleridge's Introductory Note." Coleridge, Keats and the Imagination: Romanticism and Adam's Dream. Ed. J. Robert Barth and John L. Mahoney. Columbia, Mo.: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1990. 97-108.

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Ruoff, Gene W. Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Making of the Major Lyrics 1802 - 1804. New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1989.

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1 Correspondence should be directed to Susan Luther, 2115 Buckingham Drive, S.W., Huntsville, AL 35803-2017, USA.

2  The reader will note, for example, that I have often used single quotation marks, traditionally employed in literary scholarship to indicate quotations within quotations or the denotation of words, to emphasize visually the ambiguous, conventional, figurative or 'secondary' character  of language and meaning. (Explanatory, parenthetical phrases indicate when I have actually           re-presented or reworded another's words, rather than just emphasized the non-literal quality of denotation or the received character of certain ideas, terms, or concepts.) Many terms are also enclosed within double quotation marks meant to signify the meanings 'so-called' or 'so to speak.' Both strategies are meant in part to acknowledge that in a sense our taxonomies, however efficacious, still "have something precarious and barren about them," as Freud puts it (1907 [1906], 45). 

3 Rice-Sayre and Sayre (1978), 95 (emphasis mine). 
See "Of the Fragment of Kubla Khan," in Christabel (1816; facs. rpt. 1991), 50-54, the text to which I shall refer hereafter, and Schneider (1953), 24-25.

5 Lectures 1808-1819: On Literature (1986), ed. Reginald Foakes, 2, 425. See Adair (1968) for a full-length interpretation of Coleridge's "dreamlike method of composition" (8) that sees his early poetry as 'waking dream'; and Rzepka (1986, 100-64, 264-72) for a discussion of Coleridge's poems as "speaking dreams" that desire vatic self-recognition.

6 Notebooks, vol. 2 (1961), ed. Kathleen Coburn, 2086 15.52. I shall refer to the notebooks hereafter as CN and cite references by entry number only.

For the last two phrases quoted see, respectively, "The Eolian Harp," l. 40, in Coleridge's Complete Poetical Works (1912; rpt. 1975), ed. Ernest Hartley Coleridge, 1, 100-02, hereafter cited as CP; and Freud (1908 [1907]), "Creative Writers and Day-dreaming" ("Der Dichter und das Phantasieren"), 150. Freud's title more literally translates to 'The Poet [or author of fiction] and Fantasizing [in the sense of 'fantasying,' that is, 'to indulge in reveries or fancies'; 'to imagine, dream'; 'to rave, ramble, be delirious'; 'to improvise'].' I shall here use the term "fantasy" almost synonymously with "daydream," and "fancy" to mean a product of the imagination characterized by an especially strong element of caprice, (love-)liking, wish-fulfillment, or potential self-deception (as in "she fancies herself a poet"). For contemporary interpretations and extensions of Freud's theory and for commentary on the distinction in psychoanalysis between modes of experiencing meant by the differently-nuanced terms "phantasy" and "fantasy" see the essays in Person, Fonagy and Figueira (1995).

Freud's most complete analysis of the literary dream is to be found in his study of Jensen's Gradiva (1907 [1906]), from whose method of (re)turning upon the plot I borrow. The study also concisely explains Freud's theory of dream-interpretation, including such concepts as manifest and latent content, condensation and displacement (see, e. g., 59, 74, 76).

8 Collected Letters, vol. 3 (1959), ed. E. L. Griggs, 499. Hereafter I shall refer to Coleridge's letters as CL.

9Freud suggests that the play-acting of the child translates itself into the daydreaming of the adult, who must (unlike the child) conceal his fantasies or suffer expulsion from the rights and privileges accorded adult status. Under the license of fiction, however, the creative writer may indulge his daydreams or fancies (usually erotic or success-oriented or both) to their gratification and our own. The writer, in a sense, dreams for us and permits us to enjoy our own day-dreams within the protected zone of reading.

10 See Sibylline Leaves (1817; facs. rpt. 1990), 128-35 and xi, hereafter cited as SL, from which I shall henceforth quote, by line and page numbers. I have supplied line numbers that take into account the insertion required by the Errata; following line 85, these numbers differ by one from those in CP 1, 369-74, due to a further insertion made in the text of 1828.

11 See CL 2, letters 450 and 451; see also letters 453, 454, and 456. Michael Kelly (1972) instructively interprets "The Picture" in the context of Coleridge's letters and notebook entries, especially those of August 1-9, 1802 (CN 1207-1228).

12 See Whalley (1955) for a discussion of Coleridge's "Asra" poems (that is, those written about Sara Hutchinson) and "Sara's Poets." See 12-16 for the text of "The Picture" (#6), which Whalley suggests Sara may have transcribed in August-September 1802.

13 See Adair (1968), 192-96; Schulz (1963), 137-39; Suther (1960), 50-55; Yarlott (1967), 39-40; and Ruoff (1989), 185-91, who interprets the text of 1802 as it enters the dialogue of other Coleridgean and Wordsworthian texts of the period. See also Weissman (1989), who believes Coleridge's love for Sara Hutchinson itself was a displaced version of his love for William Wordsworth.

14 Alternatively: Rejoicing in his liberation from "passion's dreams," an emancipated lover wanders through a harsh landscape that Cupid, he assures himself, would never frequent. However, his fancy of how the god of love would be punished by the local spirits if "in sullen mood" he dared invade their territory leads the narrator to imagine, in contrast, a deluded lover not unlike his former self who gazes at the reflection of a "stately virgin" in a woodland pool. The narrator imagines her frustrating the devotions of the "poor youth" by tossing flower-heads into the stream, before she vanishes into the wood. The narrator further imagines the youth transfixed beside the pool in futile "love-longing," while he himself follows the woodland stream he has rested by until it takes him "into light." Presently he finds a birchbark sketch whose style reveals it is a picture drawn and left by his own beloved Isabel. He resolves to find her and return it to her, and to "guide" her home through the darkening wood via a path he knows "leads straightway / On to her father's house."

15 See CN 2055 15.28 [27 April 1804]: "My Dreams now always connected in some way or other with Isulia." As noted above, in Freud's paradigm "a piece of creative writing, like a day-dream, is a continuation of, and a substitute for, what was once the play of childhood" (1908 [1907], 152). The often playful tone of "The Picture" and its references to play acknowledge this. But although one might therefore track the footsteps of the Mother-imago, and the child's archaic relationship with her, throughout the poem, it is the more 'adult' dream of the muse I wish to consider here.

16 The literary (day) dream is perhaps unlike the unwritten fantasy in that it usually involves an extended, formally-sanctioned temporal progression (that is, composition's long process of vision and re-vision), each phase of which may be motivated and inspired by further textual and personal "moments" in a kind of endless dissolve. Thus no definitive 'containment' of creative experience is possible within the figure of creative (day)dreaming. The present discussion is necessarily minimal in terms of the many 'intertextual' dialogues the poem suggests.

17 To what degree might the conventional typology of the elusive muse-lover figuratively represent not only the incommensurable otherness of language (the ultimate Muse?), but some probable psychic necessity of creative (day)dreaming? That is, to what extent do poets (and poems) of a certain temperament unconsciously invent, and habitually involve others in, 'Platonic' life-dramas designed to feed creative (day)dreaming? And when does such dreaming become "escapist" or destructive? Such questions are implicit in "The Picture." (Ironically for the "poor youth," Coleridge honored Platonic or "Plotino-platonic" philosophy precisely because, he wrote, "it never suffers, much less causes or even occasions, its Disciples to forget themselves, lost and scattered in sensible Objects disjoined or as disjoined from themselves"; see CN 3935.)

18 See Gessner (1762; rpt. 1972), "Der veste Vorsaz," 120-24, from which I shall quote. I shall cite page rather than line numbers; it is a prose poem. See also Davis (1969), 103-06.

19 'Oh! If only I found you, how I would hug you and kiss you!'

20See Schulz (1963), who argues that Coleridge transforms the conventionalized pastoral conception and plot of Gessner's piece into a dramatic representation of the psychology of illusion ("self-deception"). "The Picture" can thus be seen as a satiric, ironic judgment passed upon pastoral convention; yet it is even more a "camouflage[d] . . . self-revelation" (140) of psychic "ambiguity" (145).

21 See Freud (1908 [1907]), 148, and Kelly (1972), 84.

22 The published versions of 1802 and that in Sara's Poets maintain the subjunctive, and devote only seven lines to Cupid's ignominy. Coleridge expands upon the smallest hint in Gessner: "Leb izt wol, Amor! dein Pfeil wird mich hier nicht finden . . ." (122). ('Farewell, Love! Your arrow won't find me here.') Gessner's narrator wanders with "verwundeter Fuss"; Coleridge's imagines that "If in sullen mood / He [Love] should stray hither, the low stumps shall gore / His dainty feet" (ll. 28-30, SL, 129). This transformation of the passage, with its sly joke at Gessner's expense and its extension of the implicit pun on metrical 'feet,' emphasizes the poem's element of (self)parody and Cupid's identity as a self-projection of Coleridge's own narrator.

23 'Only yesterday you danced about me gaily in a white summer-frock, as the waves dance here in the sunlight.' Ruoff (1989) notes the Coleridgean "pattern memory" of images imported into "The Picture" from the "Verse Letter" to Sara Hutchinson, including the breeze, robin, and figure of the virgin reflected in the pool. Her appearance may be interpreted as "an elaborate displacement of one of the central scenes of the Verse Letter" (188; see 187-88). This scene reappears, again transformed, in the images of Isabel's birch-bark picture; see below.

24 Freud (1908 [1907], 150) notes "the inclination of the modern writer to split up his ego, by self-observation, into many part-egos, and, in consequence, to personify the conflicting currents of his own mental life in several heroes."

25 "On Prophecy in Sleep," trans. W. S. Hett (1935; rev. 1957, 385). See also "On Dreams," 363. I am indebted to Barbara Tedlock (1992, 2) for calling my attention to Aristotle's explanation.

26 See Punter's "Narcissism and contamination: 'Christabel' " (19-23). See also Rajan (1980, 204-59), "Image and Reality in Coleridge's Lyric Poetry." Rajan discusses in detail Coleridgean narcissism, self-projection, and the problematic of image, with particular reference to the conversation poems and their extension in late verses such as "Constancy to an Ideal Object." See also Kessler (1979) on "The Picture," 61-68.

27 Ed. John Beer (1993), Aphorism XXXVI, 118-19. See also Kessler (1979), 65, who quotes the passage and notes its narcissistic implications for "The Picture."

28 Is the religious dilemma 'actually' a metaphor for the psychological, personal one—or the personal for the religious? In other words: is God the 'sign' or displaced image of the earthly parent (or amniotic bliss)—or vice-versa? For the present purposes, I shall assume the immediate reference of the term God to be God, and the muse to represent God's earthly double (the soul).

29 Compare with the "Sickness" and "miserable feeling" of the "love-stricken visionary" in thrall to "The Visionary Hope"(SL, 155-56; CP 1, 416).

30 In "The Picture," Jean-Pierre Mileur points out, "reflection indicates the uncertain relationship between nature and desire" (1982, 86). Mileur reserves for reflection in "Kubla Khan," however, a resonance I would extend to "The Picture" as well:

In 'Kubla Khan,' it [reflection] indicates the uncertain relationship between desire—especially desire for self-image or confirmation—and poetry. The permanent loss of the reflection and the irreversible disturbance of the calm surface of the poem represent the transmutation of the intense, mutual gaze of the self and lyric poetry into a series of displaced problematics of uncertain relation: inclusion-exclusion, order-contingency, poetic-natural, figurative-literal, conscious-unconscious, will-vision.

31 A feminist interpretation of the figure would emphasize the ways in which the female muse (historically) has been made into a fetish, to serve the ends of masculine erotic and creative desire. See, for example, Karen Swann (1988) and Diane Hoeveler (1990, 208-10). But the creative problematic suggested by "The Picture" exceeds, even as it involves, the fictions of gender. A 'complete' psychology or phenomenology of inspiration would have to recognize that the male figure may also be subjected to (sometimes harmful) 'muse-ification'; the dynamic of erotic cathexis works both ways. Nor is it confined to opposite-sex objects.

32 1995 (1986), 173. There can be no qualitative comparison between a fictive, conventional romance poem and a play that dramatizes a real and brutal murder, such as the performance version of the Hola Camp, Kenya massacre presented by the Royal Court Theatre, London, 1958 that Soyinka discusses. Nevertheless, Soyinka's questions obtain even for what may be regarded as the most "trivial" forms of art: who or what is being served? And served up? Such questions are at the heart of Coleridge's textual ambivalences.

33 Compare with the "unalarming turbulence / Of transient joys," imaged in "The Happy Husband" as melody (it follows "The Visionary Hope" in Sibylline Leaves, 157-58; see CP 1, 388).

34 SL, 118 ("Ipse mihi collatus enim non ille videbor: / Frons alia est, moresque alii, nova mentis imago, / Voxque aliud sonat—"). Coleridge quotes lines from Petrarch's "Ad Barbatum Sulmonensem," Epistolae Metricae I, 1. See CN 4178 24.74 and n. Kathleen Coburn translates: "For if I am compared with myself I shall not seem the same. My face is changed, my ways are changed, I have a new kind of understanding, my voice sounds otherwise."

35 Ruoff (1989) notes that the " 'fine skin' of the birch has an eerily anthropomorphic quality" (190). Not long before, the narrator has described it as "(most beautiful / Of forest-trees, the Lady of the woods)" (ll. 135-36, SL, 133). Might Isabel be the Dryad of the Wood?

36 See, respectively, CL 2, Letter 438, 790-98: 792-93; CP 1, 385-86, 386-87. "A Day-Dream" begins:


My eyes make pictures, when they are shut:

 I see a fountain, large and fair,

A willow and a ruined hut,

 And thee, and me and Mary there,

 O Mary! make thy gentle lap our pillow!

Bend o'er us, like a bower, my beautiful green willow!

See also Parrish (1988) for texts of the "Verse Letter" and "The Day-Dream," and Adair (1968, 194) who also links the Gallow Hill entry with "The Picture" and "The Day-Dream."

37 For a thoughtful and sensitive discussion of the problem as it relates to Coleridge's love for Sara Hutchinson and his conception of an ideal, "original Self," see Anthony John Harding (1974), 80-93. See also 37-43. Suther (1960), 25-66, interprets Coleridge's love-poems in the context of his religious quest; and Adair (1968), 172-216, places them, including "The Picture," in a Platonic context.

38 Coleridge revised and expanded the poem's vision of love's reunions after Sibylline Leaves was already in press: the Errata present eight lines to be read in place of "lines 14, 15, and 16" on page 133. The new lines emphasize placelessness and spiritual presence. But the rift that must be opened in the more erotically pleasure-full first version of the lines, in order to accommodate the greater idealization, is literally realized by a rupture in the act of reading: when one must, if one wishes to read the poem as its author intended, turn from the 'whole text' back to the sheet of Errata (xi) that include the revision.


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