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Coleridge and the Explosion of Voice Coleridge is so often described in terms which are akin to the word explosive and by all accounts he was at times an unusually dynamiccharismatic and unpredictable person His writings themselves could also betermed explosive merely from their physical form a fragmented mass some pieces finished but most not much of his writing subject to procrastination or eventual change of mind Today I want to address a moment in his life which produced as Richard Holmes has characterized it an explosion of his poetic talent1--Autumn 1799 when he first met Sara Hutchinson and wrote amongst other poems the ballad Love In addressing this moment I want to suggest that the voice of Coleridge at this time was explosive vital and new but only when set against the ancient balladic tradition with which he engaged Whilst accepting the dynamism and the unpredictability of Coleridge I want to show that his acceptance of a formal mode allowed him to find his own particular romantic voice for as Stephen Parrish has pointed out for Coleridge the passion was obscured unless the poet spoke in his own voice2 The ballad revival of the eighteenth century supplied Romantic writers with an archive of voices from the past a past which many seemed to idealize as a time of true feeling when Nature not only had its place but was also imbued with a raw power Particularly in the late 1790s Coleridge worked within such a tradition and in so doing found his own voice from the minstrelsy of the past I want to begin by illustrating the literary environment in which Coleridge found himself at the end of the eighteenth century Ancient ballad and song culture was being revived throughout Europe from the early eighteenth century onwards possibly beginning with the Ossian fragments in Scotland Although most British commentators were skeptical of the authenticity of Ossian as Hugh Trevor-Roper reports they
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