Samuel John Taylor Coleridge
Sixth-generation nephew of
the poet, recorded at St Mary's Church,
Ottery St Mary, Coleridge's birthplace.
Bell-ringer: Gordon Bird
Vertigo Sea, 2015
Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.
I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.
What loud uproar bursts from that door!
The wedding-guests are there:
But in the garden-bower the bride
And bride-maids singing are:
And hark the little vesper bell,
Which biddeth me to prayer!
Grenville Gilbert approaches us across the stone floor. 'Ottery St Mary, a church far grander than it might be, is where the infant Coleridge was baptised, by his father, the vicar', he says. 'Imagine yourself as a precocious, eight-year-old boy', Mr Gilbert confides, 'escaping from The School House, across the sunken lane known locally as The College, where on warm days you sail your paper boats in the adjoining stream, and climb the steps into the churchyard.'
'Amongst the tall, rank grass and tombstones, you are now in your own little world', Mr Gilbert continues. 'Today, you head straight for the church building. Once inside, you feel the echoing strangeness of its walls and features. They want to tell their stories to anyone prepared to stop and listen. And who will listen? An elephant with human ears, an ancient clock, green men, angels, a statue that walks at night, an eagle lectern, and medieval tombs.' Grenville leans a little closer. 'Just imagine the additional effect of a tincture of laudanum in later life', he says. 'Sheer poetry!'
Grenville Gilbert, as told to the pale usher