Rowling Tweets First Chapter Epigraph: It’s a Poem by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

Three quick thoughts:

(1) What This Doesn’t Tell Us: Of the five Strike novels written by Rowling-Galbraith, two have been one author, one work, epigraph pieces; Lethal White‘s epigraphs were all from Ibsen’s Rosmersholm and Troubled Blood‘s with one from Crowley and the rest from Spenser’s Faerie Queen. That means three of the books were from a variety of texts and authors. What I want to assume from this epigraph — that all the chapter headings will be from poems by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge — is, if we go by precedent at least, probably not the case. My best guess is that we’re probably going to see something of a smorgasbord of Romantic and Victorian era poets, women poets, akin to the Jacobean Revenge Drama collection of The Silkworm and the Classical aphorism Greatest Hits set from Cuckoo’s Calling. And it remains possible this is an outlier or throw-away epigraph — and all the others will be from Shakespeare’s sonnets, as Bea Groves and Kurt Schreyer have suggested.

(2) Coleridge!  Yes, I was thrilled to see the name but must admit I had never heard of Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. According to the Wikipedia article about her and her work, her poetry was only published after her death because of her “fear of tarnishing the name which an ancestor had made illustrious in English poetry,” to which one critic said, “I believe that no poems are less likely than these to jar upon lovers of ‘Christabel’ and ‘The Ancient Mariner’.” Certainly the epigraph chosen is Estecean and in keeping with her Great Uncle’s ‘Logos sophia.’ This raises the possibility that Ink Black Heart the title is a pointer to the Coleridgean (and Perennialist) understanding of “heart” as the spiritual organ or noetic faculty and of “light” as the Logos, “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). Samuel Taylor Coleridge was consumed by Logos as “the Unifying Principle.”

(3) The Best News?  For me, I mean? On reading the epigraph, I immediately searched for a copy of Mary Elizabeth’s poetry on my two go-to online resources for used books, and I was aghast to find that collections of her poetry and novels begin even on the used market at over $40. I checked the bibliography on the Wikipedia page, however, and discovered a 2018 book with the title The Lady on the Drawingroom Floor with Selected Poetry and Prose. That had not been included in my original searches (no name in the title!), and, though it is from an academic press, I was able to purchase a copy for less than $5 on Just in case all the epigraphs are indeed from S. T. Coleridge’s neglected grand niece.

Please share your thoughts and ideas below! Hat tip to Nick Jeffery, Patricio Tartantino, Louise Freeman, and Kurt Shreyer for their researches on this subject which they have shared with me privately and I hope they will be sharing here or at TheRowlingLibrary soon! I welcome especially interpretations and speculation about what M. E. Coleridge’s ‘The Moment’ suggests will be happening in Ink Black Heart, chapter 1.


  1. A Moment

    The clouds had made a crimson crown
    Above the mountains high.
    The stormy sun was going down
    In a stormy sky.

    Why did you let your eyes so rest on me,
    And hold your breath between?
    In all the ages this can never be
    As if it had not been.

    Comment: With the added context of the first stanza, the poem seems less romantic, that is, an observation made by a lover about the gaze of her beloved, than theological, as between a mystic and her God. The “breath” of God by one traditional reading His Holy Spirit that brings each person into existence every moment, the “eyes” to a mystic are His knowledge and omniscience, and the “all the ages” a reference to His eternal, transcendent Reality.

    My guess, though, is that Rowling includes it here as a pointer to a heart to heart transformative moment in Strike’s conversation with Robin at the Ritz, in which they share their feelings of mutual admiration — and fears about what will happen if they act on those feelings. A seminal conversation, after which it can never be pretended that they do not know about the other’s feelings and fears.

  2. Nick Jeffery says

    Mary Coleridge published her poetry under the pseudonym Anodos to avoid comparison with her great great uncle. Perhaps a reflection in Anomie?

    The name Anodos is from George McDonald’s romance, ‘Phantastes’, where it means Wanderer.

  3. John included in the post above a link to the M. E. Coleridge Wikipedia page with information on the author.

    Does any of this information seem like it could be relevant to the plot of Ink Black Heart?

  4. Thanks John!
    And congratulations to Kurt, @rowlingmore and all the Strike fans on Twitter who have elicited such playful engagement from Rowling over the last day or so – I love to see it!
    Very interesting about Anodos Nick!
    Some real food for thought here – great to see poetry for the epigraphs, and it certainly looks from this as though that birthday trip to the Ritz marks a watershed moment in their realisation of their feelings for each other….

  5. Cherise Horton says

    Thank you Nick! I was just rereading the synopsis of the book and the mysterious person goes by the pseudonym of Anomie. Nick, like you stated M.E. Coleridge wrote under a pseudonym. Could this help relate to book, comparing the two?

  6. Can I just ask why there seems to be a picture of Emily Dickinson illustrating this piece…?

  7. Because I’m an ignorant doofus who trusted others’ mistakes?

    I’ll fix the image later today, especially in light of the Dickinson poem posted by AnomieInkBlack yesterday.

  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Mary Elizabeth C…attermole? How long has JKR been interested in M.E. (‘Anodos’) Coleridge? (‘Cattermole’ is also a real surname, bearers of which I have not looked into – yet!)

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