Samuel Coleridge

The poet Coleridge made an impression on the locals during his short stay in the Quantocks. this is how he might have seemed to Bill Buzzards great-great-great-great…etc....great-grandfather.

A Stranger in Stowey

It was summer of the year 1789. A lone buzzard quartered the fields above Nether Stowey. He did this with slow wingbeats, riding the thermals of warm air which rose from the sleepy village and the green pastures.

Bill Buzzard was unhurried in his search for prey, his eyesight was keen and he could spot a mouse twitch from a mile up in the sky. He had a unique view of what was happening in the village, and took it upon himself to record daily events in case they somehow changed his environment.

The houses and cottages of Stowey were huddled close to the two main streets, a stream ran down Castle Street, and the villagers used the water for drinking, washing and bathing. Horses and carts trundled to and fro carrying goods, hay, vegetables and people. Drifts of smoke came from the chimneys as people cooked meals.

Bill paid particular attention to the stranger in the village who lived in Lime Street. He was a pale portly man, with long, curly, dark hair which tumbled over his high collar and flouncy neck tie. His dark frock coat set him apart from most of the farm labourers. Bill Buzzard had sometimes even seen powder in his hair, it looked very strange from above. The stranger was thick lipped and wide mouthed, with large grey eyes which he often raised to Heaven. Bill thought he was trying to tell him something as he always seemed to be mumbling into thin air. He was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the famous poet.

Coleridge talked a lot: about war and peace and of his hatred of the Government for sending young boys to be dressed up in fancy clothes and sent to be drummer boys in the army. He spoke of Christianity and how the World seemed against it. He also rambled on about nightingales, dreams, monsters, mermaids, the kraken, ghosts and poetry. He skipped from one subject to the other and Bill got very confused. It seemed like Mr Coleridge was floating in the air not Bill.

Coleridge wrote his poem ‘The Ancient Mariner’ whilst he was in Stowey. Bill heard him muttering about “ the long grey beard and glittering eye.” and about the Mariner (sailor) who shot the albatross with a crossbow and brought bad luck to the ship and all its sailors. And the ship was drawn to the South Pole, the sailors all dead except The Ancient Mariner, with terrible creatures around them.

“the ice was here, the ice was there, the ice was all around. It cracked and growled and roared and howled, like noises in a swound.”

  • Here is the Mariner hanging on to the rigging for dear life while the albatross soars overhead.  A pub sign in Nether Stowey.

Bill didn’t know what an albatross was but it was some kind of bird for sure. How it could find any mice in all that frozen sea was a mystery to Bill.

Bill Buzzard noticed that village people liked Mrs Coleridge: she was ordinary, took her baby to talk to people and joined in with village happenings. But they didn’t like her husband! They couldn’t follow what he said. They thought he talked down to them and was opinionated. They said he had drunk all the brandy in the house, used up all the snuff in the village and that he took drugs which made his poetry surreal. Even when his health had improved enough for him to go to Bridgwater and preach in the chapel they still thought he was strange. They said they heard him repeating the words, “spy nosey”* and accused him and his friend Wordsworth of being a spy for the French.

In Bill’s opinion it wouldn’t be long before the villagers wanted the Coleridges and the Wordsworths to leave the village of Stowey and Alfoxton House. But Coleridge’s beautiful words show that, although he was unpopular, he really loved the Quantocks:

by the green sheep track, up the heathy hill …. A swelling slope which hath a gay and gorgeous covering on, all golden with the never-bloomless furze….. smooth Quantock’s airy ridge. The fast thick warble of the nightingale’s delicious notes.

(*There was a Dutch philosopher at the time, called Spinoza. Maybe that is what Coleridge was saying.)

More about Coleridge

  • Samuel Coleridge

These books are useful;

  • ‘A Quantock Tragedy’, by David Worthy
  • ‘Thomas Poole and his friends’, by Elizabeth Sandford
  • ‘ Samuel Taylor Coleridge’ , Oxford Poetry Library
  • ‘ A Preface to Coleridge’, by Allan Grant

Coleridge wrote these poems at Stowey:

  • Cristabel.
  • The Nightingale
  • Fears in Solitude.
  • The Ancient Mariner.

(Specially written for the Quantoxyclopedia by Judy Fursland)