Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Background information when reading All My Puny Sorrows

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All My Puny Sorrows

by Miriam Toews

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews X
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2014, 330 pages

    Jul 2015, 330 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

This article relates to All My Puny Sorrows

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All My Puny Sorrows takes its title from a line in a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834), who is considered by many to be the founder of the Romantic Movement in poetry. He is most famous for the poems Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Both his works and his literary criticism had huge influences on poets William Wordsworth (who was also a close friend) and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as on American transcendentalism.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Coleridge was born in the rural town of Otterly St. Mary in Devonshire, England, the youngest of fourteen children. His father was the local vicar and headmaster of the town's grammar school, and upon his sudden death in 1781, the eight-year-old Samuel was sent to study at Christ's Church, a charity school in Greyfriars, London, where he remained throughout his childhood. His primary interests were literature and poetry, and he began to compose his own verse at an early age, his first known work, Easter Holidays, included in a letter to his brother Luke dated May 12, 1787.

He met fellow poet Charles Lamb (1775-1834) at Christ's Church in 1782, and they developed a lifelong friendship.

The poem that is quoted in Toews' novel was first penned in 1794 and titled On Receiving an Account That His Only Sister's Death Was Inevitable. Written as a reaction to the deaths of two of Coleridge's siblings (brother Luke in February 1790 and sister Ann, aka Nancy, in March 1791), this version wasn't published until 1834:

The tear which mourn'd a brother's fate scarce dry- Pain after pain, and woe succeeding woe-
Is my heart destin'd for another blow?
O my sweet sister! and must thou too die?
Ah! how has Disappointment pour'd the tear
O'er infant Hope destroy'd by early frost!
How are ye gone, whom most by soul held dear!
Scarce had I lov'd you ere I mourn'd you lost;
Say, is this hollow eye, this heartless pain,
Fated to rove thro' Life's wide cheerless plain-
Nor father, brother, sister meets its ken-
My woes, my joys unshared!

The work was later modified and sent to Charles Lamb to comfort him on the illness of his sister. The lines below were added and it was published as To a Friend in 1796:

I too a Sister had, an only Sister —
She lov'd me dearly, and I doted on her!
To her I pour'd forth all my puny sorrows,
(As a sick Patient in a Nurse's arms)
And of the heart those hidden maladies
That shrink asham'd from even Friendship's eye.
O! I have woke at midnight, and have wept,
Because SHE WAS NOT! — Cheerily, dear CHARLES!

Overall the poem wasn't well-received; literary critics of the day considered it juvenile.

Picture of Samuel Taylor Coleridge from

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Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to All My Puny Sorrows. It originally ran in January 2015 and has been updated for the July 2015 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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