Literature: Coleridge on Chamonix

In the Alps, the British Romantic poets found a landscape that infused their thoughts and inspired some pretty spectacular verse. Even though Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) never actually went to Chamonix, France, he wrote a poem about the place as he imagined it: “Chamouny; The Hour Before Sunrise, A Hymn,” published in 1802. I’d bet that Coleridge’s buddy William Wordsworth contributed to this poem, as Wordsworth traveled through Chamonix in 1790 and regularly collaborated with Coleridge. I’ve picked out some excerpts of the poem and paired them with some photos of the Chamonix skyline for your viewing/reading pleasure…

Deep is the sky, and black: transpicuous, deep,
An ebon mass!

But when I look again,
It seems thy own calm home, thy crystal shrine,
Thy habitation from eternity.

O dread and silent form! I gaz’d upon thee,
Till thou, still present to my bodily eye,
Did’st vanish from my thought.

Entranc’d in pray’r,
I worshipp’d the INVISIBLE. alone.
Yet thou, meantime, wast working on my soul,
E’en like some deep enchanting melody,
So sweet, we know not, we are list’ning to it.

Awake, awake! and thou, my heart, awake!
Awake ye rocks! Ye forest pines, awake!
Green fields, and icy cliffs! All join my hymn!

My favorite times to be in the mountains are at dawn and at dusk, and I think that Coleridge’s poem gives justice to the beauty of being in a place like Chamonix—even if he only went there in his mind.

Photos: Chamonix and Mont Blanc massif at dusk, taken while rappelling off a peak in the Aiguilles Rouges (Glacier des Bossons and Mont Blanc, at right); stormy morning with the Aiguille Vert and Les Drus at left; same morning, view of the Aigulles further to the west; sky opening over the Chardonnet, my favorite up-valley peak; and a bad-weather day above Lac Blanc, in the Aiguilles Rouges.

To read Coleridge’s “Chamouny; The Hour Before Sunrise, A Hymn” on, click here.

To read more Coleridge at, click here for The Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


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