Can a poem haunt one? I’ve not been able to stop thinking (I’m sure you guys are thinking- “Here she goes again! One day it’s pigs, another day, it’s poems!”) of ‘Kubla Khan’ written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
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 mighty 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.
The river Alph
Coleridge’s mesmerizing poem, ends abruptly. Almost rudely. Written in 1797, when he was holed up in the tiny Exmoor village of Lynton, STC had the stomach cramps. Taking a couple of grains of opium, he’d nodded off to sleep in an armchair.
Having just read a vivid description of Xanadu – “In Xandu did Cublai Can build a stately Pallace, encompassing sixteen miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant Springs, delightfull streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure, which may be moved from place to place” by Samuel Purchas in Purchas, his Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World and Religions Observed in All Ages and Places Discovered , from the Creation to the Present, by an English clergyman and geographer (Yes, I promise you, that was the name of the book- and it almost put me to sleep just reading the title!) Coleridge dozed off and had his dream. “Or a Vision in a Dream”.
Desperate to put pen to paper, STC, was rudely interrupted by, who else, a salesman. The person from Porlock! An hour later, all remnants of Xanadu were a distant past. And that dear readers is the reason. The reason why the poem ends abruptly!
I love the poem. And the wondrous vision of Xanadu. And the wise Kublai Khan….and also the tragic hero Coleridge.