While “Dejection: An Ode” is ostensibly written as a description of thoughts evoked by an approaching storm, the poem also provides an overwhelmingly accurate description of the course and symptoms of depression. According to the book, by the time this poem was written, Coleridge was experiencing depression, and his condition is reflected in the wording and plot of “Dejection”. This ode is aptly named; it provides an in-depth view of the emotions experienced by sufferers of depression.
As a psychological disorder, depression can be most accurately described by a general sense of apathy—toward everything. Foods do not taste as good, activities are less appealing, and emotions are stifled. These feelings are pervasive and lead to people closing themselves away from the world-both physically and mentally. What is interesting about depression is that it is so hard for someone who has not either had it or studied it to understand. Often people who have the disease cannot adequately convey the intense effects depression has physically, mentally, and emotionally. This ode gives a face to the disease and offers a glimpse into the complex feelings and changes that make up “dejection”.
In the first ten lines, Col warns readers of a storm that will overtake the tranquility of the night (lines 2-6). He uses words such as unaroused, sobbing, and moans to describe the coming changes. He goes on to describe “a grief without a pang” and “no relief” (lines 21-23). The emotions Col describes are stark, unrelenting, and unipolar. The night once marked by tranquility gives way to one that leaves the author unaffected. Coleridge writes in lines 38-46, “I see, not feel how beautiful they are! / My genial spirits fail; / And what can these avail / To lift the smothering weight from off my breast? / It were a vain endeavor, / Though I should gaze forever / On that green light that lingers in the west: / I may not hope from outward forms to win / The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.” Here, Coleridge describes the inability to feel the passion of these objects. He can see beauty and knows of the life within the natural forms, but he cannot process and appreciate the sights before him.
Coleridge goes on to describe the changes necessary to reach a point where one completely lacks interest in the outside world. He theorizes that the soul emits a light with “ a sweet and potent voice” (lines 53-58). He calls this light “joy” and uses it to show the progression of his battle with dejection. Coleridge writes, “There was a time when, though my path was rough, / This joy within me dallied with distress, / And all misfortunes were but as the stuff / Whence Fancy made me dreams of happiness: / For hope grew round me, like the twining vine, / And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seemed mine” (lines 76-81). Like an advancing army, the feelings of distress war with joy initially—only to have an innate joy win out. However, many such skirmishes occur and wear down the narrator until all that remains is “Reality’s dark dream”. He writes in lines 82-94, “ But now afflictions bow me down to earth: / Nor care I that they rob me of my mirth, / But oh! Each visitation / Suspends what nature gave me at my birth, . . . / Till that which suits a part infects the whole.” This progression from a life filled with both joys and troubles into a life dominated by grief and afflictions perfectly captures changes one would experience when sliding gradually into depression.