As a former English major, I try not to wax philosophic when it comes to dealing with difficulty but Coleridge is one of my favorite poets and this one of my favorite poems. Forgive me while I spend a moment going back to my literary roots but I think that the poem is instructive in how to move through grief when you don’t feel like doing anything of the kind:
In the Biographia Literaria Coleridge states that the imagination is either primary or secondary. Our primary imagination feeds us a detached and objective view of the world. The secondary imagination amplifies that view and gives it personal depth and meaning. The secondary imagination makes the perception of the world one’s own.
In Dejection: An Ode, the speaker is lamenting the absence of the secondary imagination. Feeling dejected and unmoved by the world, he has forgotten what it is like to feel. Due to the dull and interminable ache of unresolved grief, he cannot feel the expression of the secondary imagination. He is lost in a world that he can simply see and not feel.
Even his grief is not moving him. He wishes for it to be sharper, for then he will feel more alive. The grief is
“…without a pang, void, dark and drear, A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief. Which find no natural outlet, no relief, In world, or sigh or tear-”
He would rather have a sharp and precise pain than to gaze with a blank eye at the world around him. He would rather be in so much pain that he could be moved by beauty and the wonder of the majestic worlds above him, than to be in his flat and lifeless condition.
Perception depends on the soul. Without the soulful interpretation of the secondary imagination, the world is stark and lifeless. When lost in an endless grief, one plods along only able to notice the world in an apathetic manner. The absence of secondary imagination leaves one as a cool observer of a strange gray world and not as participant in a vibrant one.
“On that green light that lingers in the west: I may not hope from outward forms to win The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.”
He remembers a time when his “path was rough” but he was still able to feel joy in difficult times. Now he is feeling bowed by misfortune. He has passed the time in his life when joy and pain balanced each other in a delicate dance. Now the dejected part has taken over the whole and he cannot seem to shake the dismal grip of sorrow that is unbalanced by any other emotion.
In the beginning of the poem, the wind was silent but by line 98 it has grown strong. Likening it to a “ Mad Lutanist ” that blows away that which is trying to grow, Coleridge turns his attention to the power of the raving gusts. The cruel spring wind is “ worse than wintry song ” perhaps because in winter nothing is expected to grow. However when springtime is young and the delicate buds appear the wind can ravage them and sweep away all signs of new growth. Perhaps he is cursing his own inability to bring life to budding emotions, even to bring life to the destructive grief that is paralyzing him.
He carefully mounts his assault on the wind with a biting description of it and its abuse of power. He creates so strong a description that it belies the fact that he can’t feel what he perceives. The poet’s forceful tirade against the wind allows that his secondary imagination is actually working well. His protest against dull suffering leads him back to the powers of his secondary imagination. He laments his resignation to dejection with a powerful language that has no hint of resignation or dejection. The very act of capitulating to the absence of the soul seems to have revived it in many ways.
Bellowing against the sad, flavorless, melancholic state frees him from bondage. He finishes the day with a healing sleep and finds the quietude a welcome retreat with which to appreciate the earth and “all things…from pole to pole.” This appreciation, once collapsed, now finds itself invigorated and enlivened by the inadvertent rebellion against the dejected state.
And so it is…. With grief we sometimes need to push against the dejected state, we need to decide to come back to feeling, to growing, to moving on….if we are truly dejected or depressed that we cannot work through the process, we need to seek medical intervention, see a therapist, make a decision to rebel against the lifeless state. It cannot go on too long. If you are stuck in the lifeless state, if you cannot go on and cannot muster the rebellion against it, please see a professional and get through it.