A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Poem of the Day: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Kubla Khan 
OR A VISION IN A DREAM, A FRAGMENT

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 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.
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge


You probably know the story that Coleridge told about this poem: That he was in ill health and an "anodyne" (read: opium) had been prescribed for him, and that he fell asleep while reading about Kubla's palace in Purchas's Pilgrimage and dreamed the poem. But while writing it down, he was "unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock." And when he got back to the dream-poem, he had forgotten the rest. It's a wonderful story, and it's sheer balderdash.

Remember our five-act structure
I. Exposition 
II. Conflict 
III. Crisis 
IV. Struggle 
V. Resolution 
We've got it here. Exposition: Kubla builds a pleasure dome. Conflict: There's a chasm, a natural -- as opposed to man-made -- place nearby. Crisis: Nature teaches us that all man-made things are impermanent. Struggle: To preserve that fragile pleasure dome. Resolution: To re-create the pleasure dome through imaginative creation, "symphony and song." 

"Fragment" my foot! If ever there was a complete poem in English, it's this one.  
        

No comments: