The Raven

Sheila O’Malley has a wonderful post on Samuel Coleridge. I wanted to post my favorite non-canonical Coleridge poem,

The Raven
OR, A Christmas Tale, Told by a School-boy to His Little Brothers and Sisters.
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)

Underneath an old oak tree
There was of swine a huge company
That grunted as they crunched the mast:
For that was ripe, and fell full fast.
Then they trotted away, for the wind grew high:
One acorn they left, and no more might you spy.
Next came a Raven, that liked not such folly:
He belonged, they did say, to the witch Melancholy!
Blacker was he than blackest jet,
Flew low in the rain, and his feathers not wet.
He picked up the acorn and buried it straight
By the side of a river both deep and great.

Where then did the Raven Go?
He went high and low,

Over hill, over dale, did the black Raven go.

Many Autumns, many Springs
Travelled he with wandering wings:
Many summers, many Winters–
I can’t tell half his adventures.

At length he came back, and with him a She
And the acorn was grown to a tall oak tree.
They built them a nest in the topmost bough,
And young ones they had, and were happy enow.
But soon came a Woodman in leathern guise,
His brow, like a pent-house, hung over his eyes.
He’d an axe in his hand, not a word he spoke,
But with many a hem! and a sturdy stroke,
At length he brought down the poor Raven’s own oak.
His young ones were killed; for they could not depart,
And their mother did die of a broken heart.

The boughs from the trunk the woodman did sever;
And they floated it down on the course of the river.
They sawed it in planks, and its bark they did strip,
And with this tree and others they made a good ship.
The ship, it was launched; but in sight of the land
Such a storm there did rise as no ship would withstand.
It bulged on a rock, and the waves rush’d in fast;
Round and round flew the Raven, and cawed to the blast.
He heard the last shriek of the perishing souls–
See! see! o’er the topmast the mad water rolls!

Right glad was the Raven, and off he went fleet,

And Death riding home on a cloud he did meet,
And he thank’d him again and again for this treat:

They had taken his all, and REVENGE IT WAS SWEET!

Neal Stephenson has a character in The Diamond Age use this poem as an example of subversive literature to be read to the children of the upper class (in particular, the character’s own granddaughter) to keep them from becoming unreflective conservatives and uncritical conformists. I would use some unexpurgated fairy tales for that purpose – but I certainly got the character’s point. And as time went on in the novel, the notion that education could actually instill such a thing was put to the test. My pessimistic view is that critical thinking can be sharpened in those who are disposed to it, but can’t be created in those who are not. My view creates the question of what is observation made objectively and what is tautology confirmed by the behavior of the observer. And it ignores the fact that life is often long, and the lessons of youth are not always put to the test until years later. So my real view is that instilling critical thinking is a worthy endeavor that a teacher should not expect to see demonstrated immediately.

Making students think is the best revenge.

“You taught me language, and my profit on’t / Is, I know how to curse.”

About mutecypher

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