January 20, 2005

Stately Pleasure-Domes [Filed under: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor]

I have survived my exams (though I did not excel—thankfully, my grades do not interest me), but I still carry a few battle scars. My Property Law professor gave us a 7-hour exam centering around the hypothetical intellectual property issues that would be involved if (1) Samuel Taylor Coleridge had written Kubla Khan 150 years more recently than he did, (2) an explorer used an illegally published (pirated) copy of the copyrighted poem to discover underground lakes and caves in Mongolia, (3) a revolution in Mongolia led the area to be annexed by the USA, and (4) our property laws were retroactively applied to the former Mongolians. The exam question was so long that it took a solid half-hour just to read it, but it was peppered heavily with phrases from the poem. I debated whether I should post the poem to get it out of my system or print it and ritualistically burn it along with my Property textbook, which was no help at all on the “open-book” exam. I have opted for the former, but reserve the option of the latter. Here she is in all her glory:

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 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.

January 7, 2005

Nash on Metaphor Similie [Filed under: Nash, Ogden]

Selection from Very Like a Whale

Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a wolf on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy there are great many things.
But I don’t imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I’ll believe that this Assyrian was actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?
Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say, at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.

More later, perhaps, but exams now.

January 6, 2005

Epiphany [Filed under: Kooser, Ted]


I have been watching a Great Blue Heron
fish in the cattails, easing ahead
with the stealth of a lover composing a letter,
the hungry words looping and blue
as they coil and uncoil, as they kiss and sting.

Let’s say that he holds down an everyday job
in an office. His blue suit blends in.
Long days swim beneath the glass top
of his desk, each one alike. On the lip
of each morning a bubble trembles.

No one has seen him there, writing a letter
to a woman he loves. His pencil is poised
in the air like the beak of a bird.
He would spear the whole world if he could,
toss it and swallow it live.

The holidays have seen works of the current Poet Laureate lovingly thrust upon me. When Alan and Heidi visited, they gave me a copy of Kooser’s Weather Central, which begins with the poem above. It was a matter of minutes before I found several poems in it which I enjoyed and continue to enjoy. It was, in an oddly appropriate turn of events, a matter of just a few more minutes before I lost the book. I believe I left it in its wrapping on a table in a coffeshop in St. Paul. It was (and is) a brilliant gift, and I have since been able to replace the text.

Kooser, it is standard to mention, lives around Garland, Nebraska near Lincoln where he worked at the Lincoln Benefit Life Company and as an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska. Laura and I recently passed through Lincoln stopping at a Wendy’s and noting that Alan would have insisted on the King Kong Burger across the street on our way to Kearney, NE where Laura’s mom is taking care of Laura’s grandfather. Regional flavor carried the day as I gave Laura’s mom a recording of loons (state bird of Minnesota) and received Kooser’s Sure Signs over a spread featuring Nebraska wine (not a typo).

(Read more…)

January 4, 2005

Night [Filed under: Bogan, Louise]


The cold remote islands
And the blue estuaries
Where what breathes, breathes
The restless wind of the inlets,
And what drinks, drinks
The incoming tide;

Where shell and weed
Wait upon the salt wash of the sea,
And the clear nights of stars
Swing their lights westward
To set behind the land;

Where the pulse clinging to the rocks
Renews itself forever;
Where, again on cloudless nights,
The water reflects
The firmament’s partial setting;

—O remember
In your narrowing dark hours
That more things move
Than blood in the heart.