Study Guide

Dejection: An Ode Epigraph

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon,
With the old Moon in her arms;
And I fear, I fear, my master dear!
We shall have a deadly storm.

  • How can you start before the beginning?
  • In the literary world, you need an epigraph to pull that off. And it looks like we have one here.
  • Now, an epigraph is just a short, introductory quote or passage to put the reader's head in the right frame of mind, heading into the actual work.
  • In this case, the epigraph comes from "The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence." That sounds great for Sir Patrick, but who in the world was he?
  • Well, he's a figure in a Scottish folk ballad, a sailor to be exact.
  • In the ballad, the King of Scotland sends Sir Patrick on a mission. The king chooses him because he's known to be the best sailor, but it's the middle of winter and the seas are looking super-rough.
  • Even though he thinks that the trip will probably kill him, Sir Patrick dutifully obeys—and dies.
  • In the selection that Coleridge uses to start "Dejection: An Ode," Sir P. is letting the king know that last night ("yestreen") he saw a bad omen: the new moon holding the old one in her arms.
  • Apart from some classic personification, these lines start us off with a sense of foreboding.
  • Remember that a "new" moon is really no moon at all. So, as Sir Patrick lets his king know that he fears a storm is coming, we start this poem off on a dark note indeed.
  • Now, does everybody have their happy smiles ready for the actual poem?
  • Great—let's dive in.

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