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  • Kirk Barbera

The Dungeon by Samuel Taylor Coleridge



What is the purpose of a penal system? Is it strictly to punish or can it be to reform? If it can reform what are the best methods of accomplishing this?

The romanticist Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a poem called The Dungeon, which is a soliloqouy from a man who resides in a medieval dungeon. He is lamenting more than his own personal situation, but the idea of what man has made of man. Do dungeons and prisons truly work for the guilty? Or do they make their souls even more rotted than when they entered?

And, of course, in the heart of a romanticist is an answer to the proper way to reform those souls plagued from within. Listen to find out Coleridge's proposed solution.



The Dungeon

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge


And this place our forefathers made for man!

This is the process of our love and wisdom,

To each poor brother who offends against us -

Most innocent, perhaps -and what if guilty?

Is this the only cure? Merciful God!

Each pore and natural outlet shrivelled up

By Ignorance and parching Poverty,

His energies roll back upon his heart,

And stagnate and corrupt; till changed to poison,

They break out on him, like a loathsome plague-spot;

Then we call in our pampered mountebanks -

And this is their best cure! uncomforted

And friendless solitude, groaning and tears,

And savage faces, at the clanking hour,

Seen through the steam and vapours of his dungeon,

By the lamp's dismal twilgiht! So he lies

Circled with evil, till his very soul

Unmoulds its essence, hopelessly deformed

By sights of ever more deformity!


With other ministrations thou, O Nature!

Healest thy wandering and distempered child:

Thou pourest on him thy soft influences,

Thy sunny hues, fair forms, and breathing sweets,

Thy melodies of woods, and winds, and waters,

Till he relent, and can no more endure

To be a jarring and a dissonant thing

Amid this general dance and minstrelsy;

But, bursting into tears, wins back his way,

His angry spirit healed and harmonized

By the benignant touch of Love and Beauty.