The Flower of Coleridge  

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What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
--Nachlass of Coleridge

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Flower of Coleridge is a short essay by Borges published in Other Inquisitions 1937-1952. Its theme is largely the death of the author. Its title refers to a remark of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


"Around 1938 Paul Valéry wrote that the history of literature should not be the history of the authors and the accidents of their careers or of the career of their works, but rather the history of the Spirit as the producer or consumer of literature. He added that such a history could be written without the mention of a single writer. It was not the first time that the Spirit had made such an observation. [...] the pantheist who declares that the plurality of authors is illusory finds unexpected support in the classicist, to whom the plurality means but little. For classical minds the literature is the essential thing, not the individuals. George Moore and James Joyce have incorporated in their works the pages and sentences of others; Oscar Wilde used to give plots away for others to develop; both procedures, although they appear to be contradictory, may reveal an identical artistic perception — an ecumenical, impersonal perception. Another witness of the profound unity of the Word, another who denied the limitations of the individual, was the renowned Ben Jonson, who, when writing his literary testament and the favorable or adverse opinions he held of his contemporaries, was obliged to combine fragments from Seneca, Quintilian, Justus Lipsius, Vives, Erasmus, Machiavelli, Bacon, and the two Scaligers.
One last observation. Those who carefully copy a writer do it impersonally, do it because they confuse the writer with literature, do it because they suspect that to leave him at any one point is to deviate from reason and orthodoxy. For many years I thought that the almost infinite world of literature was in one man. That man was Carlyle, he was Johannes Becher, he was Whitman, he was Rafael Cansinos-Assens, he was De Quincey."

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