Calne: a town of spiritual rebirth

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian most well-known for his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and is considered one of the founders of the Romantic Movement in England. But how is he relevant to us? As many of you who have walked down Church Street and noticed the blue plaque there may know Coleridge in fact lived in Calne between spring 1815-1816.

As part of the ongoing Calne Music and Arts Festival the Bishop of Ramsbury, Rt. Rev’d Dr. Andrew Rumsey who is something of a Coleridge himself having published books and poems and spending much of his time strolling around nature, gave a talk entitled A Man with his Mind Ajar: Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Calne, which showed his audience Calne through Coleridge’s eyes. I was able to perceive this town in a way I haven’t viewed it before, not as the place I go to school or the nearest shop, the main attraction being for St Mary’s girls the Sainsbury’s in the middle of Calne, but rather as a place of comfort and recuperation and as Coleridge describes it a ‘Sepulchre in the desert‘.  

Dr Rumsey described Coleridge’s arrival as having ‘crashed into Calne in the midst of a physical and marital breakdown‘. In his words Coleridge ‘had run aground in this town, he was a shipwreck‘. It is clear when Coleridge arrived in this town he was at a real low point, even without mentioning his opium addiction, we can already see this was a man truly broken.  However, his time in Calne according to Dr Rumsey ‘marked a spiritual rebirth’.  During his time here Coleridge’s opium dosage decreased day by day. He found new poetic focus and completed two books, a new edition of one of his books of poems, and Biographia Literaria – a critical autobiography described by Dr Rumsey as ‘part auto-biography, part literary criticism‘ by dictating them to his friend John Morgan. He also spent much of his time here walking around the local area, on Oldbury Hill and Cherhill White Horse. This was something which especially resonated with me, knowing this poet must have taken the same path as me and means in his poems from now on, I will look for glimpses of the local landscape in which he once briefly lived.  

Yet, how is this poet relevant to our lives now apart from giving us a more perceptive view of Calne? Well, it shows us the value of nature. Through Coleridge’s poetry and notebooks of things he wrote down whilst walking, his appreciation of nature is demonstrated; we too can learn to value and treasure the natural environment in this way. Coleridge reminds us of the nature and beauty we have to save. Yet, there are other things Coleridge teaches us as well; he was by no means a man who did not face challenges. Another wonderful phrase from Dr Rumsey was that Coleridge’s mind was like ‘a cracked mirror complete with 7 year periods of bad luck but flashes of light still shone through‘. Coleridge’s life was full of problems: addiction, illness, failure; and indeed many believe in these days he would have been diagnosed as bipolar, but he was able to perceive things in a way that was unlike anyone else; describing imagination as a ‘doorway to the truth‘ and even creating his own phrase ‘the esemplastic power‘ – the remaking of reality. So despite Coleridge’s disappointments, Dr Rumsey describes Coleridge’s life as, ‘a hopeful one. It was a comedy not a tragedy.’ This shows us how we should all keep hope in our lives, no matter what, especially living in Calne! 

By Marguerite (Year 13)