Thursday, 19 November 2015

Not a Hitherto Undiscovered Poem By Coleridge: 'When Moses Stood With Arms Outspread'

George Whalley, in his monumental edition of Coleridge's Marginalia , records a lost copy of Brady and Tate's A New Version of the Psalms of David, Fitted to the Tunes Used in Churches (1805) that Coleridge once owned [1:475].  According to a 1903 Sotheby's sales catalogue, this edition contained '12 lines of original verse in [Coleridge's] handwriting on the flyleaf', but tantalisingly the catalogue only quotes four of them. Those four lines are recorded by Whalley, and you can see them in the image at the top of this post. And to be fair to him, Whalley is cautious about the supposed novelty of these verses.

'It is not certain that the verses are C.'s'. Indeed not, for it turns out they are by William Cowper, and not Coleridge at all. In fact they are from Cowper's poem 'Exhortation to Prayer', first published in his Olney Hymns (1783). Presumably this means Coleridge owned a copy of this book, though that fact is not otherwise recorded in the Marginalia, or elsewhere. Here's the full text of Cowper's poem, and therefore (in the last three stanzas) the twelve lines written by STC on the flyleaf of his edition of this now-lost Psalmery:
What various hindrances we meet
In coming to the Mercy-seat!
Yet who, that knows the worth of prayer,
But wishes to be often there?

Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw;
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight,
Prayer makes the Christian’s armour bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.

While Moses stood with arms spread wide.
Success was found on Israel's side;
But when through weariness they fail’d,
That moment Amalek prevail'd.

Have we no words? Ah, think again;
Words flow apace when you complain,
And fill your fellow-creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.

Were half the breath thus vainly spent,
To heaven in supplication sent,
Your cheerful song would oftener be,
“Hear what the Lord has done for me!”
Amalek was the grandson of Esau, and the reference here is either to the individual or to the nation he founded, both enemies of Israel. Check out Exodus 17.8-14 if you're interested.

It's odd that Coleridge misremembers 'While Moses stood with arms spread wide' as 'While Moses stood with arms outspread', since it treads all over the rhyme. This, though, was presumably a Cowper poem that meant a lot to him.

Related is a margialium Coleridge added to his copy of Sermons, Or Homilies, Appointed to be Read in Churches in the Time of Queen Elizabeth, of famous memory (1815). To the following sermonic passage
Now, the great necessity of prayer being sufficiently known, that our minds and hearts may be the more provoked and stirred thereunto, let us briefly consider what wonderful strength and power it hath to bring strange and mighty things to pass. We read in the Book of Exodus, Exod. xiii. that Joshua, fighting against the Amalekites, did conquer and overcome them, not so much by virtue of his own strength, as by the earnest and continual prayer of Moses; who as long as he held up his hands to God, so long did Israel prevail; but when he fainted, and let his hands down, then did Amalek and his people prevail: insomuch that Aaron and Hur, being in the mount with him, were fain to stay up his hands until the going down of the sun; otherwise had the people of God that day been utterly discomfited, and put to flight.
Coleridge added:
I believe: Lord help my Unbelief! I pray: o enable me to pray—O Word, O Spirit of the Lord, be ye unto me, as Aaron and Hur unto Moses on the Mountain! O stay up my hands until the going down of the Sun the day-star of my mortal Life, lest Amalek and his people, even they that are within me, prevail against me—I would fain hold up my hands—I faint. I let my hands down—O stay up my hands—O gracious Word and I unbreathed Wisdom! O Light! O Life of God—O Light of Man! Ye stayed up my hands even when they were sinking, and in my utter Fainting did live in me, yea, for me and instead of me—otherwise I had been utterly discomfited!—Lo, I pray! O that I had the power of supplication! I believe: O Lord—help my Unbelief! [Marginalia, 4:683]
What's clear from this is that, for Coleridge, the 'Amaleks' are within him, and the power of prayer is to be directed against his own failings.

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