My random-book-picker recently picked a collection of Coleridge verse and prose from my unread-books shelves.

It’s a hardcover roughly the size of a mass-market paperback. It’s 350 pages of Coleridge’s writing, plus a hundred pages of notes at the end.

But what makes it unusual is that the notes are in Russian. (The verse and prose by Coleridge are in English.)

I bought this book during my high school trip to the USSR in 1985, in one of the foreign-currency stores (Beriozka), and it’s been waiting for me to read it ever since.

I’ve now finally skimmed it. Most of it didn’t appeal to me. But there were a couple of things that I hadn’t known about and that I thought were worth noting:

  • There’s a poem titled “Pantisocracy.” I amused myself with guesses about what that might mean, then went and looked it up; turns out it’s a utopian idea (that Coleridge advocated) involving (as I understand it) government in which everyone (pan) rules equally (iso). For more, see Wikipedia.
  • There’s a poem titled “Christabel” that “revolves around the relationship, implicitly sexual, of [the two main female characters,] Geraldine and Christabel”—see, for example, the line “in her arms the maid she took.” It’s also kind of a vampire poem (“Geraldine, takes on a proto-vampiric role, with all the antecedent features that that necessitates: external beauty, a revelatory bodily mark, and a physical encounter (with the victim) that leaves them incapacitated”). And: “Christabel, with its female-centric slant, became a symbol of female emancipation. Emmeline Pankhurst, the renowned feminist and suffragette, named her daughter, Christabel Pankhurst after the eponymous character. L’Etre Double by Renée Vivien, which is a work about a lesbian relationship between two women, is heavily inspired by ‘Christabel.’”
  • A rhyme that amused me: whole ridge/Coleridge. (From “Metrical Feet.”)
  • A line that amused me: “All nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—”. (First line of “Work Without Hope.”)
  • Coleridge knew, and wrote at least one poem about, William Godwin. I had no idea who William Godwin was, but I chanced to look him up, and discovered that he was the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, and the father of Mary Shelley. This item isn’t all that relevant to Coleridge, but it was the start of a coincidence that I shall detail in a later post.

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