The Letters of T. S. Eliot (Vol. 3, 1926-1927)

Stefan Collini writes:

Writing in his best haughty-provocative manner, T.S. Eliot described Coleridge as ‘one of those unhappy persons … of whom one might say that if they had not been poets, they might have made something of their lives, might even have had a career’. Although the syntax allows a little ambiguity about whether the unhappiness is independent of, or consequent on, being a poet, the obvious reading suggests a somewhat laboured sarcasm about the way the propensity for writing poetry can blight the exercise of other talents, talents that might have led to success in more orthodox careers. Coleridge had, according to Eliot, been ‘visited by the Muse’ during his early manhood, but, the visitor having departed, he was ‘thenceforth a haunted man’. He had a talent for metaphysics and similar studies, but ‘he was condemned to know that the little poetry he had written was worth more than all he could do with the rest of his life. The author of Biographia Literaria was already a ruined man. Sometimes, however, to be a “ruined man” is itself a vocation.’

(LRB 30 August 2012)