In the June of 1797 some long-expected friends paid a visit to the author's cottage; and on the morning of their arrival, he met with an accident, which disabled him from walking during the whole of their stay. One evening, when they had left him for a few hours, he composed the following lines in the garden-bower. (dedication)
Coleridge gives the quick-and-dirty version of why he got stuck in the bower for so...many…hours! He leaves out the part when someone drops a skillet of hot milk on his foot. It was not unusual for him to give short prose prefaces to his poems; he also did so for his dream poem, "Kubla Khan."
Well, they are gone, and here must I remain, This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost Such beauties and such feelings, as had been Most sweet to have remembrance, even when age Had dimm'd mine eyes to blindness! (1-5)
The first five lines are the whiniest of the poem. He feels the pain of isolation and blows the problem way out of proportion by describing how he will have lost precious visual memories to aid him in his blindness. The role that memory plays in producing retrospective peace and happiness was also the subject of William Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," written around the same time as this poem.
In the great City pent, winning thy way With sad yet patient soul (31-32)
Coleridge's isolation could be compared to Charles Lamb. The city is also like a prison or "pen." (The word "penitentiary" contains the same linguistic root.) But Charles has it even worse – at least Coleridge has peace and quiet; there's nothing more dispiriting than feeling alone in a crowd.
A delight Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad As I myself were there! Nor in this bower, This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark'd Much that has sooth'd me. (45-49)
He has an epiphany at the beginning of the third stanza: he's not alone after all! The feeling of isolation melts away thanks to the work of his imagination.
Henceforth I shall know That nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure; (60-61)
Coleridge is no longer isolated, but does he feel connected to his friends, or only with nature? From these lines it seems that nature is a suitable substitute for Lamb and the others. Or maybe he feels comfort in fact that he can share in Lamb's joy, even at a distance.