Coleridge, Isherwood and Hindu light

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This essay explores light, as conceived in Hinduism, as an intellectual tool used to mediate the contrary impulses of body and soul. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Christopher Isherwood addressed this philosophical quandary by reference to the light-based cosmology of Bhagavad Gita. They did so by opposite means: Coleridge's search for the Hindu light was primarily based on reading, while Isherwood adopted self-cultivation practices. In 'Dejection: An Ode', the Indian idea of light allows Coleridge to imagine the resolution of his love for Sara Hutchinson. By contrast, Isherwood devoted himself to the Hindu light physically by involvement with a meditation centre, as documented in his memoir, My Guru and His Disciple. Like Coleridge, Isherwood suffered reputational damage for his metaphysical interests, and was deemed an unfulfilled talent. Yet W. H. Auden's ambivalent responses to Isherwood indicate his belief that the western literary canon might be enriched as a result of such esoteric experience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-278
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Bhagavad Gita
  • Coleridge
  • Dejection
  • Hindu
  • Isherwood
  • Orientalism

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