|What follows is a reading text from the fragments that make up the project of The Wanderings of Cain. It is not a reconstruction of the poem or the prose tale, as the work is frozen in time as a project: pre-genre, fragmentary, and rewritten. Instead, the fragments have been collected together in a way that allows them to be read as parts of a single work. This reading text offers access to the various fragments without immediate recourse to their variants and may thus provide a sense of artistic development even in the absence of a finished work.|
A PROSE composition, one not in metre at least, seems prima facie to require explanation or apology. It was written in the year 1798, near Nether Stowey, in Somersetshire, at which place (sanctum et amabile nomen! rich by so many associations and recollections) the author had taken up his residence in order to enjoy the society and close neighbourhood of a dear and honoured friend, T. Poole, Esq. The work was to have been written in concert with another, whose name is too venerable within the precincts of genius to be unnecessarily brought into connection with such a trifle, and who was then residing at a small distance from Nether Stowey. The title and subject were suggested by myself, who likewise drew out the scheme and the contents for each of the three books or cantos, of which the work was to consist, and which, the reader is to be informed, was to have been finished in one night! My partner undertook the first canto: I the second: and which ever had done first, was to set about the third. Almost thirty years have passed by; yet at this moment I cannot without something more than a smile moot the question which of the two things was the more impracticable, for a mind so eminently original to compose another man's thoughts and fancies, or for a taste so austerely pure and simple to imitate the Death of Abel? Methinks I see his grand and noble countenance as at the moment when having despatched my own portion of the task at full finger-speed, I hastened to him with my manuscript—that look of humorous despondency fixed on his almost blank sheet of paper, and then its silent mock-piteous admission of failure struggling with the sense of the exceeding ridiculousness of the whole scheme—which broke up in a laugh: and the Ancient Mariner was written instead.
Years afterward, however, the draft of the plan and proposed incidents, and the portion executed, obtained favour in the eyes of more than one person, whose judgment on a poetic work could not but have weighed with me, even though no parental partiality had been thrown into the same scale, as a make-weight: and I determined on commencing anew, and composing the whole in stanzas, and made some progress in realizing this intention, when adverse gales drove my bark off the "Fortunate Isles" of the Muses: and then other and more momentous interests prompted a different voyage, to firmer anchorage and a securer port. I have in vain tried to recover the lines from the palimpsest tablet of my memory: and I can only offer the introductory stanza, which had been committed to writing for the purpose of procuring a friend's judgment on the metre, as a specimen.
Encinctured with a twine of leaves,
That leafy twine his only dress!
A lovely Boy was plucking fruits,
By moonlight, in a wilderness.
The moon was bright, the air was free,
And fruits and flowers together grew
On many a shrub and many a tree:
And all put on a gentle hue,
Hanging in the shadowy air
Like a picture rich and rare.
It was a climate where, they say,
The night is more belov'd than day.
But who that beauteous Boy beguil'd,
That beauteous Boy to linger here?
Alone, by night, a little child,
In place so silent and so wild—
Has he no friend, no loving mother near?
Child [saddened] by his father's ravings, goes out to pluck the fruits in the moonlight wildness—Cain's soliloquy—Child returns with a pitcher of water and a cake. Cain wonders what kind of beings dwell in that place—whether any created since man or whether this world had any beings rescued from the Chaos, wandering like shipwrecked beings rescued from the other world.
"A little further, O my father, yet a little further, and we shall come into the open moonlight." Their road was through a forest of fir-trees; at its entrance the trees stood at distances from each other, and the path was broad, and the moonlight and the moonlight shadows reposed upon it, and appeared quietly to inhabit that solitude. But soon the path winded and became narrow; the sun at high noon sometimes speckled, but never illumined it, and now it was dark as a cavern.
"It is dark, O my father!" said Enos, "but the path under our feet is smooth and soft, and we shall soon come out into the open moonlight."
"Lead on, my child!" said Cain: "guide me, little child!" And the innocent little child clasped a finger of the hand which had murdered the righteous Abel, and he guided his father. "The fir branches drip upon thee, my son." "Yea, pleasantly, father, for I ran fast and eagerly to bring thee the pitcher and the cake, and my body is not yet cool. How happy the squirrels are that feed on these fir-trees! they leap from bough to bough, and the old squirrels play round their young ones in the nest. I clomb a tree yesterday at noon, O my father, that I might play with them, but they leaped away from the branches, even to the slender twigs did they leap, and in a moment I beheld them on another tree. Why, O my father, would they not play with me? I would be good to them as thou art good to me: and I groaned to them even as thou groanest when thou givest me to eat, and when thou coverest me at evening, and as often as I stand at thy knee and thine eyes look at me?" Then Cain stopped, and stifling his groans he sank to the earth, and the child Enos stood in the darkness beside him.
And Cain lifted up his voice and cried bitterly, and said, "The Mighty One that persecuteth me is on this side and on that; he pursueth my soul like the wind, like the sand-blast he passeth through me; he is around me even as the air! O that I might be utterly no more! I desire to die—yea, the things that never had life, neither move they upon the earth—behold! they seem precious to mine eyes. O that a man might live without the breath of his nostrils. So I might abide in darkness, and blackness, and an empty space! Yea, I would lie down, I would not rise, neither would I stir my limbs till I became as the rock in the den of the lion, on which the young lion resteth his head whilst he sleepeth. For the torrent that roareth far off hath a voice: and the clouds in heaven look terribly on me; the Mighty One who is against me speaketh in the wind of the cedar grove; and in silence am I dried up." Then Enos spake to his father, "Arise, my father, arise, we are but a little way from the place where I found the cake and the pitcher." And Cain said, "How knowest thou?" and the child answered— "Behold the bare rocks are a few of thy strides distant from the forest; and while even now thou wert lifting up thy voice, I heard the echo." Then the child took hold of his father, as if he would raise him: and Cain being faint and feeble rose slowly on his knees and pressed himself against the trunk of a fir, and stood upright and followed the child.
The path was dark till within three strides' length of its termination, when it turned suddenly; the thick black trees formed a low arch, and the moonlight appeared for a moment like a dazzling portal. Enos ran before and stood in the open air; and when Cain, his father, emerged from the darkness, the child was affrighted. For the mighty limbs of Cain were wasted as by fire; his hair was as the matted curls on the bison's forehead, and so glared his fierce and sullen eye beneath: and the black abundant locks on either side, a rank and tangled mass, were stained and scorched, as though the grasp of a burning iron hand had striven to rend them; and his countenance told in a strange and terrible language of agonies that had been, and were, and were still to continue to be.
The scene around was desolate; as far as the eye could reach it was desolate: the bare rocks faced each other, and left a long and wide interval of thin white sand. You might wander on and look round and round, and peep into the crevices of the rocks and discover nothing that acknowledged the influence of the seasons. There was no spring, no summer, no autumn: and the winter's snow, that would have been lovely, fell not on these hot rocks and scorching sands. Never morning lark had poised himself over this desert; but the huge serpent often hissed there beneath the talons of the vulture, and the vulture screamed, his wings imprisoned within the coils of the serpent. The pointed and shattered summits of the ridges of the rocks made a rude mimicry of human concerns, and seemed to prophesy mutely of things that then were not; steeples, and battlements, and ships with naked masts. As far from the wood as a boy might sling a pebble of the brook, there was one rock by itself at a small distance from the main ridge. It had been precipitated there perhaps by the groan which the Earth uttered when our first father fell. Before you approached, it appeared to lie flat on the ground, but its base slanted from its point, and between its point and the sands a tall man might stand upright. It was here that Enos had found the pitcher and cake, and to this place he led his father. But ere they had reached the rock they beheld a human shape: his back was towards them, and they were advancing unperceived, when they heard him smite his breast and cry aloud, "Woe is me! woe is me! I must never die again, and yet I am perishing with thirst and hunger."
Pallid, as the reflection of the sheeted lightning on the heavy-sailing night-cloud, became the face of Cain; but the child Enos took hold of the shaggy skin, his father's robe, and raised his eyes to his father, and listening whispered, "Ere yet I could speak, I am sure, O my father, that I heard that voice. Have not I often said that I remembered a sweet voice? O my father! this is it:" and Cain trembled exceedingly. The voice was sweet indeed, but it was thin and querulous, like that of a feeble slave in misery, who despairs altogether, yet can not refrain himself from weeping and lamentation. And, behold! Enos glided forward, and creeping softly round the base of the rock, stood before the stranger, and looked up into his face. And the Shape shrieked, and turned round, and Cain beheld him, that his limbs and his face were those of his brother Abel whom he had killed! And Cain stood like one who struggles in his sleep because of the exceeding terribleness of a dream.
Thus as he stood in silence and darkness of soul, the Shape fell at his feet, and embraced his knees, and cried out with a bitter outcry, "Thou eldest born of Adam, whom Eve, my mother, brought forth, cease to torment me! I was feeding my flocks in green pastures by the side of quiet rivers, and thou killedst me; and now I am in misery." Then Cain closed his eyes, and hid them with his hands; and again he opened his eyes, and looked around him, and said to Enos, "What beholdest thou? Didst thou hear a voice, my son?" "Yes, my father, I beheld a man in unclean garments, and he uttered a sweet voice, full of lamentation." Then Cain raised up the Shape that was like Abel, and said: — "The Creator of our father, who had respect unto thee, and unto thy offering, wherefore hath he forsaken thee?" Then the Shape shrieked a second time, and rent his garment, and his naked skin was like the white sands beneath their feet; and he shrieked yet a third time, and threw himself on his face upon the sand that was black with the shadow of the rock, and Cain and Enos sate beside him; the child by his right hand, and Cain by his left. They were all three under the rock, and within the shadow. The Shape that was like Abel raised himself up, and spake to the child: "I know where the cold waters are, but I may not drink, wherefore didst thou then take away my pitcher?" But Cain said, "Didst thou not find favour in the sight of the Lord thy God?" The Shape answered, "The Lord is God of the living only, the dead have another God." Then the child Enos lifted up his eyes and prayed; but Cain rejoiced secretly in his heart. "Wretched shall they be all the days of their mortal life," exclaimed the Shape, "who sacrifice worthy and acceptable sacrifices to the God of the dead; but after death their toil ceaseth. Woe is me, for I was well beloved by the God of the living, and cruel wert thou, O my brother, who didst snatch me away from his power and his dominion." Having uttered these words, he rose suddenly, and fled over the sands: and Cain said in his heart, "The curse of the Lord is on me; but who is the God of the dead?" and he ran after the Shape, and the Shape fled shrieking over the sands, and the sands rose like white mists behind the steps of Cain, but the feet of him that was like Abel disturbed not the sands. He greatly outrun Cain, and turning short, he wheeled round, and came again to the rock where they had been sitting, and where Enos still stood; and the child caught hold of his garment as he passed by, and he fell upon the ground. And Cain stopped, and beholding him not, said, "he has passed into the dark woods," and he walked slowly back to the rocks; and when he reached it the child told him that he had caught hold of his garment as he passed by, and that the man had fallen upon the ground: and Cain once more sate beside him, and said, "Abel, my brother, I would lament for thee, but that the spirit within me is withered, and burnt up with extreme agony. Now, I pray thee, by thy flocks, and by thy pastures, and by the quiet rivers which thou lovedst, that thou tell me all that thou knowest. Who is the God of the dead? where doth he make his dwelling? what sacrifices are acceptable unto him? for I have offered, but have not been received; I have prayed, and have not been heard; and how can I be afflicted more than I already am?" The Shape arose and answered, "O that thou hadst had pity on me as I will have pity on thee. Follow me, Son of Adam! and bring thy child with thee!"
And they three passed over the white sands between the rocks, silent as the shadows.
He falls down in a trance. When he awakes he sees a luminous body coming before him. It stands before him an orb of fire. It goes on he moves not. It returns to him again, again retires as if wishing him to follow it. It then goes on and he follows. They are led to near the bottom of the rocks, woods, brooks, forests... The Fire gradually shapes itself, retaining its luminous appearance, on to the lineaments of a man: A dialogue between the fiery shape and Cain, in which the being presses upon Cain the enormity of his guilt, and that he must make some expiation to the true deity, who is a severe God, and persuades him to burn out his eyes. Cain opposes this idea and says that God himself who had inflicted this punishment upon him had done it because he neglected to make a proper use of his senses . . . The evil spirit answers him that God is indeed a God of mercy and that examples must be given to mankind. That this end will be answered by his terrible appearance at the same time that he will be gratified with the most delicious sights and feelings.
Cain overpersuaded, consents to do it but wishes to go to the top of the rocks to take a farewell of the earth. His farewell Speech concluding with an abrupt address to the promised redeemer and he abandons the idea on which the being had accompanied him, and turning round to declare this to the being he sees him dancing from rock to rock in his former shape down those interminable precipices.
Midnight on the Euphrates. Cedars, palms, pines. Cain discovered sitting on the upper part of the ragged rock, where is [a] cavern overlooking the Euphrates, the moon rising on the horizon. His soliloquy. The beasts are out on the ramp. He hears the screams of a woman and children—surrounded by tigers. Cain makes a soliloquy debating whether he shall save the woman. Cain advances wishing death—and the tigers rush off. It proves to be Cain's wife with her two children determined to follow her husband. She prevails upon him at last to tell his story. Cain's wife tells him that her son Enoch was placed suddenly by her side.
Cain addresses all the elements to cease for a while to persecute him, while he tells his story. He begins with telling her that he had first after his leaving her found out a dwelling in the desart under a juniper tree . . . how he meets in the desart a young man whom upon a nearer approach he perceives to be Abel, on whose countenance appear marks of the greatest misery. He [tells] of another being who had power after this life, greater than Jehovah. He is going to offer sacrifices to this being and persuades Cain to follow him to come to an immense Gulph filled with water, whither they descend followed by alligators . . . They go till they come to an immense meadow so surrounded as to be inaccessible, and from its depth so vast that you could not see it from above. Abel offers sacrifice from the blood of his arm. A gleam of light illumines the meadow. The countenance of Abel becomes more beautiful, and his arms glistering—he then persuades Cain to offer sacrifice, for himself and his son Enoch by cutting his child's arm and letting the blood fall from it. Cain is about to do it when Abel himself in his angelic appearance, attended by Michael, is seen in the heavens whence they sail slowly down. Abel addresses Cain with terror, warning him not to offer up his innocent child. The evil spirit throws off the countenance of Abel and assuming its own shape, flies off pursuing a flying battle with Michael. Abel carries off the Child.
The Child is born, the Child must die
Among the desert Sands
And we too all must die of Thirst
for not a Drop remains. But wither do we retire
to Heaven or possibility of Heaven
But this to darkness, Cold, and tho' not positive Torment, yet positive Evil—Eternal Absence from Communion with the Creator. O how often have the Sands at night roar'd and whitened like a burst of waters
O that indeed they were! Then full of enthusiastic faith kneels and prays, and in holy frenzy covers the child with sand. In the name of the Father . . .
the Infant died
the blessed Sand retired, each particle to itself, conglomerating, and shrinking from the profane sand
the Sands shrank away from it, and left a pit
still hardening and hardening, at length shot up a fountain large and mighty
How wide around its Spray, the rain-bow plays upon the Stream and the Spray—but lo! another brighter, O far far more bright
it hangs over the head of a glorious Child like a floating veil (vide Raphael's God)—the Soul arises they drink, and fill their Skins, and depart rejoicing—O Blessed the day when that good man and all his Company came to Heaven Gate and the Child—then an angel—rushed out to receive them—
 The sources for this Reading Text are: Preface (1834); Verse (1834); Cain (MS); Canto II (1834); Book 3rd (MS); Folio, verso (MS); Notebook (MS). For full bibliographical information, see the Bibliography.
 For the purpose of this reading text, titles used elsewhere on this site to identify the fragments have been omitted (excluding the Preface). Strikeouts have been removed from the manuscript fragments, and punctuation has been amended accordingly. Where words proved illegible in manuscript, a suggestion has been supplied within square parentheses. Perhaps most significantly, the line-breaks indicated in the notebook fragments have been activated. Again, this was done to draw the texts as close as possible to the absent work that Coleridge was working around. The figure "&c" has been changed to an ellipsis (". . .") to indicate places that are marked for the insertion of additional material without interrupting the text. Also changed is Coleridge's shorthand ampersand to "and," as it would appear in a published text. The Verse fragment has not been juxtaposed with Canto II, as occurs in the 1834 edition of the Poetical Works. However, the brief fragment, "Cain," clearly had a place between the two, referring to both.
 On the request of his neighbour, Thomas Poole, Coleridge began to write a series of autobiographical letters. One of particular significance with regards The Wanderings of Cain is endorsed 16th October, 1797 [See Griggs, I:353.]. In this letter, Coleridge recounts a childhood fight with his brother Frank over who is the favourite son. The young Coleridge runs at Frank with a knife before running away and spending "a dreadful stormy night" hiding by the river Otter.
 William Wordsworth, who had recently moved into Alfoxton house in the village of Holford, 3 miles from Nether Stowey, with his sister, Dorothy.
 Salomon Gessner's The Death of Abel was a great success when it appeared in English translation (by Mary Collyer) in 1761.
 Contextual Note: S. T. Coleridge to Lord Byron, 22 October 1815 (from Collected Letters iv: 601-06) .
"['Christabel'] is not yet a Whole: and as it will be 5 Books, I meant to publish it by itself: or with another Poem entitled, the Wanderings of Cain — of which, however, as far as it was written, I have unfortunately lost the only Copy — and can remember no part distinctly but the first stanza:—
Encinctur'd with a twine of Leaves,
That leafy Twine his only Dress!
A lovely Boy was plucking fruits
In a moon-light Wilderness.
The Moon was bright, the Air was free,
And Fruits and Flowers together grew
On many a Shrub and many a Tree:
And all put on a gentle Hue
Hanging in the shadowy Air
Like a Picture rich and rare.
It was a Climate where, they say,
The Night is more belov'd than Day.
But who that beauteous Boy beguil'd,
That beauteous Boy to linger here?
Alone, by night, a little child,
In place so silent and so wild—
Has he no Friend, no loving Mother near?
 Contextual Note: From William Bartram, Travels in North and South Carolina (2nd ed. London: J. Johnson, 1794). 215-16:
"The morning pleasant, we decamped early: proceeding on, rising gently for several miles, over sandy, gravelly ridges, we found ourselves in an elevated, high, open, airy region, somewhat rocky, on the backs of the ridges, which presented to view, on every side, the most dreary, solitary, desert waste I had ever beheld; groups of bare rocks emerging out of the naked gravel and drifts of white sand; the grass thinly scattered and but few trees [. . .] Next we joyfully entered the borders of the level pine forest and savannahs which continued for many miles, never out of sight of little lakes or ponds, environed with illumined meadows, the clear waters sparkling through the tall pines."
 Contextual Note: From The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge II: 2257 [November 1804]
"Earthquake this autumn at Almeria, destroying all but the Church ded. to the Tributary Source with an unfathomable Gulph around it, full of alligators [sic.]"
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- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Jack Stillinger
- Wanderings of Cain
- Canto II
- Poetical Works
- Bijou literary annual
- Aids to Reflection
- The Ancient Mariner
- J.C.C. Mays
- poetical fragment
- Ernest Hartley Coleridge
- The Ghost of Abel
- Cain: a mystery
- Wandering Jew
- British Library manuscripts
- Coleridge notebook
- Valley of Rocks
- William Bartram
- Death of Abel
- Cain and Abel