Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 27 (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Selected Poetry and Prose


I purchased this four or five years ago at Rust Belt Books. Not having thought about them much since I had studied them in college, I began re-reading the Romantics a few years ago. Not just re-reading, but memorizing and reciting Romantic poetry to myself when I came home on my lunch breaks.

The only one I memorized by Coleridge was Kubla Khan. It's prosody is quite rich and its a pleasure to recite oneself of an afternoon over an overlong lunch in one's kitchen, circling around the island again and again and again, taking an occasional sip of coffee or a bite of one's lunch, but determining to get the order right before going back to work, and one day doing so, and feeling quite proud as one recites "For he on the honey dew hath fed/and drunk the milk of paradise."

Borges considered this the greatest poem in the English language, for what it's worth.

In college, most of my attention focused on "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." I wrote a paper on it, as I recall. I remember looking up the words "interlocutor" and "auditor," both of which were used to describe the wedding guest in the various critical pieces I was reading at the time. I also learned the words "eftsoons," "aver," "slake," "gossamer," "dank," "charnel," "seraph," "shrive," and "bower."

I also remember being told by a professor with all the literary outrage he could feign that somewhere the culture had got it wrong in its bastardization of the line "water, water every where/nor any drop to drink" into "water, water every where/and not a drop to drink."

The horror. The horror. 

Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A might fountain momently
 was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

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