For reasons that will become clearer over a few posts, I am going to discuss some of my favourite poems. I wouldn’t particularly say that I am a fan of poetry. Generally, I don’t really a lot of poetry although the reality is that I do enjoy much of the poetry that I do read, but it’s not a genre that I particularly seek out.
The two aspects of poetry that I like most stand at opposite ends of a spectrum. At one end, they can be a way to concisely, lyrically, practically musically, express a range of emotions. At the other end of the spectrum, they can help you escape the boundaries of the world around us and take you somewhere different, as though in a dream. In both types there can either be incredible precision and you have to marvel at how something complex (in some cases) can be expressed in that way, while others, even if appearing precise, could be open to a different interpretation. I suppose my interest in symbolism is what drives some of this appreciation in aspects of poetry.
One of my favourite poems is Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I suppose if someone were to ask what my favourite poem is, this would be my go-to answers – partly as it’s easier to answer with something that people are likely to have heard of.
Here is the full poem (taken from Wikipedia).
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.
Although I have read a few web pages and books about the poem, I cannot profess to fully understanding the poem. But I’m not sure there’s any point. It is a poem to take you away to another world while still seemingly linked to the world around us – in much the same way I find with many Haruki Murakami books (see also It’s The Journey, Not The Ending, That Counts).
Although perhaps my favourite poem, I wouldn’t be able to recite more than about the first few lines. But the reason for that, and indeed (no doubt) why I like the poem itself, is due to its link with the Frankie Goes To Hollywood song (and album) Welcome To The Pleasuredome. Indeed, the link is so strong that I sometimes forget the name of the Coleridge poem and refer to it as ‘Pleasuredome’. I discuss more about the link in my book Frankie Fans Say, which also contains links to some Kubla Khan influenced poetry that I wrote as a teenager. The Frankie link to poetry doesn’t end with Kubla Khan/Welcome To The Pleasuredome, as I will discuss in another post.
Not knowing a huge amount about Coleridge himself, it was a nice surprise to come across an extract of Kubla Khan (rather than The Rime of the Ancient Mariner which I remember having to read at school) when on a visit to the Museum of Somerset in Taunton. There are extracts from a number of poems by local poets written across the (curved) walls in one room.