Duty Surviving Self-Love, S.T. Coleridge: Summary, Analysis, Themes

In "Duty Surviving Self-Love," Coleridge grapples with lost friendships through a scientific lens. He compares himself to an unchanging sun, lamenting the dimming light of his former companions. The poem urges him to keep sharing his love regardless of reciprocity, and to accept his friends for who they are now, even if their bond has weakened

Duty Surviving Self-Love Poem text

Unchanged within, to see all changed without,
Is a blank lot and hard to bear, no doubt.
Yet why at others’ wanings should’st thou fret?
Then only might’st thou feel a just regret,
Hadst thou withheld thy love or hid thy light
In selfish forethought of neglect and slight.
O wiselier then, from feeble yearnings freed,
While, and on whom, thou may’st — shine on! nor heed
Whether the object by reflected light
Return thy radiance or absorb it quite:
And though thou notest from thy safe recess
Old Friends burn dim, like lamps in noisome air,
Love them for what they are; nor love them less,
Because to thee they are not what they were.

Summary of Duty Surviving Self-Love, S.T. Coleridge

Line 1: "Unchanged within, to see all changed without" - Staying the same internally while everything around you changes.
Line 2: "Is a blank lot and hard to bear, no doubt" - This is a tough situation and undoubtedly difficult to handle. "Blank lot" refers to an unfortunate fate.
Line 3: "Yet why at others' wanings should'st thou fret?" - Why should you worry about the decline of others (wanings)?
Line 4: "Then only might'st thou feel a just regret" - You might only have a justified reason for regret...
Line 5: "Hadst thou withheld thy love or hid thy light" - If you had held back your love or kept your good qualities hidden. "Hid thy light" is a metaphor for hiding your potential or positive qualities.
Line 6: "In selfish forethought of neglect and slight" - Because of a selfish fear of being neglected or disrespected.
Line 7: "O wiselier then, from feeble yearnings freed" - Therefore, it's wiser to be free from weak desires...
Line 8: "While, and on whom, thou may’st — shine on! nor heed" - Keep sharing your light and love as much as you can, and don't worry about...
Line 9: "Whether the object by reflected light / Return thy radiance or absorb it quite" - Whether the person you give your love to reflects it back to you or not. "Radiance" is another word for light or positive qualities.
Line 10: "And though thou notest from thy safe recess" - Even though you notice from your secure position...
Line 11: "Old Friends burn dim, like lamps in noisome air" - Your old friends lose their vibrancy, like lamps burning dimly in bad air. "Noisome" means unpleasant or unhealthy.
Line 12: "Love them for what they are; nor love them less, / Because to thee they are not what they were." - Keep loving them for who they are now, and don't love them less just because they've changed.

Critical Analysis of Duty Surviving Self-Love, S.T. Coleridge

Coleridge's Unorthodox Sonnet:

Structure: Coleridge rejected the rigid 14-line form of the sonnet. He believed it should evoke a specific "lonely feeling" linked to nature's scenery.
"Duty Surviving Self-Love": This poem exemplifies his approach. The natural world isn't explicitly described, but its essence amplifies the speaker's isolation and subsequent transformation.
Rhyme Scheme: The poem utilizes a dense rhyme scheme ("many rhymes") to underline the back-and-forth nature of the argument (dialectics) and the scientific references to optics.
Shifting Sounds: The final section switches to a less intense, quieter rhyme scheme. This shift reflects a change in setting (potentially from nature to a more domestic or urban space) and a focus on the speaker's internal struggle ("self-exhortation").

A Deeper Morality:

Beyond Cliché: The poem avoids a simplistic message of "loving them for what they are."
Nuanced Perspective: The line "nor love them less, / Because to thee they are not what they were" reveals a more intricate moral viewpoint. Coleridge acknowledges the influence of his own perspective ("subjectivity") and the possibility that his perception ("what he sees") might differ from his friends' reality.
Beyond Duty: The title, "Duty Surviving Self-Love," suggests a sense of obligation. However, the poem delves deeper, offering a richer exploration of morality that considers the complexities of human relationships and individual perception.

Additional Notes

The analysis mentions Coleridge's struggle with opium addiction. The speaker's "feeble yearnings" might be a veiled reference to this.
The lost friends could include Coleridge's unrequited love, Sara Hutchinson, as well as other estranged companions.

Major Themes in Duty Surviving Self-Love, S.T. Coleridge

Loss and Change: The poem explores the pain of watching friendships fade and loved ones change over time. The speaker feels isolated as his companions lose their vibrancy.
Unwavering Love: Despite the loss, the poem emphasizes the importance of maintaining love and offering support. The speaker is urged to "shine on" and continue to share his light, regardless of the response.
Selflessness vs. Self-Preservation: The poem advocates for a love that transcends self-interest. It criticizes withholding love out of fear of rejection.
Acceptance: A key message is the importance of accepting loved ones for who they are in the present, even if they are not the same as they once were.
Subjectivity of Perception: The poem acknowledges that our perception of others can be subjective. The speaker might be viewing the situation differently than his friends.
Duty Surviving Self Love Coleridge summary Duty Surviving Self Love Coleridge analysis Duty Surviving Self Love Coleridge study guide Duty Surviving Self Love Coleridge analysis

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