C OLERIDGE once divided his poems into those written chiefly from the age of seventeen to twenty-five, those written from twenty-five to thirty-three, and those written afterwards. Coleridge was twenty-five in 1797, the year in which the second edition of his Poems on Various Subjects was published, and in that same year he became involved with William Wordsworth in the great experiment of the Lyrical Ballads. Most of the material from the two editions of Poems he later classified as as "Juvenile Poems," while he regarded his Lyrical Ballads contributions as poems of his maturity. The three great poems of the marvelous, by which Coleridge is known to almost every reader of English literature, were composed from 1797 to 1800; the three mature "conversation poems" in 1797-1798; and "Dejection: An Ode," in which Coleridge declared the failure of his creative powers, in 1802. Seldom has a great poet's best work been produced in so short a period, even if we include (as we should) "To William Wordsworth," written in the winter of Coleridge's thirty-third year. Most of the poetry that he produced after that was deliberately in a minor key, though some of it is of great interest, as are some of the very early works.
If we consider the Poems of 1796 and 1797, together with the work later entitled "The Destiny of Nations," which was intended for the 1797 volume but not published until 1817, we seem to be considering a young poet, strongly influenced by the blank verse of Milton and the odes of Thomas Gray, preparing for a career as a writer of religious and political works. "Religious Musings," upon which Coleridge was then prepared to stake his reputation, is the most ambitious of these. Look-