It is a long way from Coleridge’s opiatic dreams, and that unfortunate incident with that inbecilic Porlockian, to the 2011 movie Sanctum. Yet, whenever they think of dark places, “palace”, and/or city-like spheres, English-speaking writers seem to go back to Coleridge.
Why’s that, I wonder, and is this necessarily a logical progression?
Within the stylistic confines of this blog, it’s hard to discuss this with the depth that would be required to find a satisfying answer. But I can hint, at least a bit, and maybe someone else who has more time on his or her hands, can have a more thorough look at it.
For this post, as cheap as it might seem, let’s just take a look at these lines – not the wiki article, not the author’s notes, not the zillions of articles that float around. – Just one, open-minded, and unbiased look at the verses themselves. As if you were reading it for the first time, really. (Hehe, some of us might really be reading it for the first time… 😀 – From Poemhunter, as always.
“Kubla Khan”, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1797.
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.
And now, read this one, please, retrieved by www.bartleby.com.
Musing Thoughts, by Lydia H. Sigourney, 1829 (likely earlier).
I DID not dream, and yet untiring thought
Rang such wild changes on the spirit’s harp,
It seem’d that slumber ruled.
A structure rose
Deep founded and gigantic. Strangely blent
Its orders seem’d. The dusky Gothic tower
Ecclesiastical, the turret proud
In castellated pomp, the palace dome,
The grated dungeon, and the peasant’s cot
Were grouped within its walls. 10
A throne was there,
A king with all his gay and courtly train
In robes of splendor, and a vassal throng
Eager to do his will, and pleased with chains
Of gilded servitude. The back-ground seem’d
Darken’d by Misery’s pencil. Famine cast
A tinge of paleness o’er the brow of toil,
While Poverty, to soothe her naked babes,
Shriek’d forth a broken song.
Then came a groan—
A rush, as if of thunder; and the earth
From yawning clefts breathed forth volcanic flames,
While the huge fabric, rocking to its base,
A ruin seem’d. A miserable mass
Of tortured life roll’d through the burning gates,
And spread terrific o’er the parching soil,
Like blacken’d lava. Then there was a pause.
As if the dire convulsion mourned its wreck.
To the rent walls the sad survivors clung,
And, even ’mid smouldering fires, the artificers
Wrought to uprear the pile.
But all at once
A bugle blast was heard—a courser’s tramp—
While a stern warrior waved his sword, and cried,
“Away! away!” Like dreams the pageant fled,
Monarch, and royal dame, and nobles proud.
So there he stood alone, array’d in power
Supreme and self-derived.
Where the rude Alps
Mock with their battlements the bowing cloud,
His eagle-banner stream’d. Pale Gallia pour’d
Incense as to an idol, mixed with blood
Of her young conscript hearts. Chain’d in wild wrath,
The Austrian lion couch’d; even Cæsar’s realm
Cast down its crown pontifical, and bade
The Eternal city lay her lip in dust.
The Land of Pyramids bent darkly down,
And from the subject nations rose a voice
Of wretchedness that awed the trembling globe.
Earth, slowly rising from her thousand thrones,
Did homage to the Corsican, as he
The favor’d patriarch in his dream beheld
Heaven, with her sceptred blazonry of stars,
Bow to a reaper’s sheaf. But fickle man,
Though like the sea he boast himself awhile,
Hath bounds to his supremacy. I saw
A listed field, where the embattled kings
Drew in deep wrath their armed legions on.
The self-crown’d warrior blench’d not, and his sword
Gleam’d like the flashing lightning, when it cleaves
The vaulted firmament. In vain, in vain!
The hour of fate had come. From a fair isle,
’Gainst whose bold rocks the foil’d Pacific roars,
I heard above the troubled surge, the moan
Of a chafed spirit warring with its lot;
And there, where every element conspired
To make Ambition’s prison doubly sure,
The mighty warrior gnaw’d his chain, and died.
Coleridge was not the first one to describe similar sublime structures – off the top of my head, I think Edward Young was, with his Night Thoughts. But in this particular poem, whose influence is felt more? – Honestly asking. This is just the birth of a theory…