Monday, November 7, 2011
Poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Free online and in the public domain.
I like to play the amateur critic, especially with new stories that tend to receive few, if any, reviews. Kubla Khan has a Wikipedia page over 11,000 words long, with 162 citations. That's longer than many novelettes I review. I don't want to write a doctoral dissertation on this poem, and so I'm unwilling to engage in debate with nearly 200 years of critics, including T. S. Eliot. Read the Wikipedia page for in depth analysis. Or don't. But I do urge you to read this classic poem, and read it again if it has been a while. It's worth your time.
I'm blogging about it because I did reread it recently, inspired by Jesse Livingston's "The Blood Garden" over on Pseudopod. And I quite enjoy this poem, although it isn't my favorite. The imagery is my favorite in all of Coleridge's work that I've read (admittedly not as much as I'd like, but after the Big Three of Kubla Khan, Ancient Mariner, and Christabel I've never really been enthralled enough by his writing to keep reading much of it.) It's not just my weakness for the gothic, I like the rhythm of these poems better as well.
And that's really what my love of Kubla Khan comes down to. It opens all Romantic and green but the second and third sections achieve this breathless, frantic quality. The rhymes and rhythm are exciting. They get your heart beating. In a lot of ways, "Kubla Khan" reminds me of Poe's "The Raven" (I don't read everything in publishing order).
For what it's worth, I'm in the camp that counts "Kubla Khan" as a complete poem. Screw authorial intent, the poem climaxes and then gives us a haunting two-line ending, better than the endings of countless other complete poems. Coleridge is dead, it's no longer a work-in-progress, and he gave us a brilliant ending. I'm not convinced another 400 lines would have done anything but dilute it. Do yourself a favor and read or reread this today. It doesn't take long. And if you're alone, or don't mind looking like a crazy person, read it aloud.
4 pleasure domes out of 5.