Quick content warning: drug/alcohol abuse, mental illness
While doing research in Coleridge, I discovered he was addicted to opium and often suffered withdrawals from laudanum, since he would drink this tincture of opium in alcohol. He also suffered from depression, anxiety, and though it was not diagnosed in his lifetime, some say he had bipolar disorder. Thus, his writings sometimes reflected this sadness and the opium-induced thoughts he experienced.
For example, “Kubla Khan” is one of these pieces that he created during an opium-induced dream. As a result, there is a lot of creative imagery; this piece touches on pleasure and violence, creativity and reason, and the limits of creativity. This piece is widely considered to be a map of the human psyche.
In this article (see below) discussing Coleridge’s drug use and the influence this had on his writing, Theodore Dalrymple mentions “The Pains of Sleep” as another poem portraying the author’s reliance on opium and how it affected his writing.
The Pains of Sleep
Ere on my bed my limbs I lay,
It hath not been my use to pray
With moving lips or bended knees;
But silently, by slow degrees,
My spirit I to Love compose,
In humble trust mine eye-lids close,
With reverential resignation
No wish conceived, no thought exprest,
Only a sense of supplication;
A sense o’er all my soul imprest
That I am weak, yet not unblest,
Since in me, round me, every where
Eternal strength and Wisdom are.
But yester-night I prayed aloud
In anguish and in agony,
Up-starting from the fiendish crowd
Of shapes and thoughts that tortured me:
A lurid light, a trampling throng,
Sense of intolerable wrong,
And whom I scorned, those only strong!
Thirst of revenge, the powerless will
Still baffled, and yet burning still!
Desire with loathing strangely mixed
On wild or hateful objects fixed.
Fantastic passions! maddening brawl!
And shame and terror over all!
Deeds to be hid which were not hid,
Which all confused I could not know
Whether I suffered, or I did:
For all seemed guilt, remorse or woe,
My own or others still the same
Life-stifling fear, soul-stifling shame.
So two nights passed: the night’s dismay
Saddened and stunned the coming day.
Sleep, the wide blessing, seemed to me
Distemper’s worst calamity.
The third night, when my own loud scream
Had waked me from the fiendish dream,
O’ercome with sufferings strange and wild,
I wept as I had been a child;
And having thus by tears subdued
My anguish to a milder mood,
Such punishments, I said, were due
To natures deepliest stained with sin,—
For aye entempesting anew
The unfathomable hell within,
The horror of their deeds to view,
To know and loathe, yet wish and do!
Such griefs with such men well agree,
But wherefore, wherefore fall on me?
To be loved is all I need,
And whom I love, I love indeed.
In this poem, there is an element of sadness and loathing, that reflects both Coleridge’s mental state and his drug-induced thoughts. On the other hand, there is a sense of creativity. I wonder what Coleridge and Wordsworth’s relationship was like–did Wordsworth also participate in opium alongside his friend? How did the drug use affect their relationship?