"The Garden of Boccaccio," Samuel Taylor Coleridge's nostalgic nod to Boccaccio and to the garden of the Decameron, exemplifies many aspects of Romantic poetry that the Decameron can be said to anticipate. It provides an interesting link between Boccaccio's text and the work of Coleridge's contemporaries, many of whom retold the tales of the Decameron in verse.
"The Garden of Boccaccio" specifically identifies and describes some of these common elements, and it itself represents and embodies them. For example, Coleridge identifies Boccaccio's principal sources, emphasizing the literary heritage that the Decameron shares with much Romantic poetry, and in so doing simultaneously places himself within this same continuous tradition. What is more, "The Garden" presents examples of the Romantic medievalism that draws Coleridge and his contemporaries to Boccaccio's work and the attention to detail that is characteristic of both the Romantic movement and the Decameron. (Forward to The Romantic Revival of Boccaccio.)
Coleridge was familiar with many of Boccaccio's works, including those that commonly receive less attention than does the Decameron. As we can see in "The Garden," Coleridge's own poetic sensibilities played a significant role in his fascination with his Italian literary "ancestor." In his Biographia Literaria, Coleridge encouraged his readers toward a "willing suspension of disbelief for the moment"; he enjoyed fancy and the supernatural as well as a more grounded, emotional naturalism. His narrative poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," a text which adopts the style of a medieval lyrical ballad, in many ways recalls the time of Boccaccio while providing insight into the poet's particularly Romantic inclinations. It presents a series of shifts between the supernatural, depictions of the unexpected natural world, and the emotional motivations of the human spirit.
In "The Garden of Boccaccio" Coleridge celebrates those aspects of the Decameron that most intrigued him and praises Boccaccio for a literary ingenuity that he himself strove to recapture. The spirit of the Decameron is present not only in the poem which specifically exalts it, but throughout all of Coleridge's poetry.
(S. K.) The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Abrams et al., eds., New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1993; Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Coleridge's Poems, vol. 1. Oxford: Clarendon, 1962; Anthony John Harding, Coleridge and the Idea of Love, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1974; Morton D. Paley, Coleridge's Later Poetry, Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.