08 August 2010


So there I was, standing in my kitchen, weeping as I was contemplating the beauty of poetry. (I was also chopping several large onions at the time, but that's entirely beside the point). So I thought I would share some with you (poetry, not onions). How about something by The Bard, say, Sonnet 116?

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds...

And then, a few hundred years later, there's this:

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...

If you think that the guy who wrote that must have been on drugs, you are, of course, entirely correct (if somewhat of a philistine). Coleridge was addicted to laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol, the 19th-century painkiller of choice. But you don't need to be high to appreciate lines like this:

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran...

I haven't got the faintest notion what "mazy" might be, but it sure sounds lovely, doesn't it? Truth be told, I really don't "get" Kubla Khan, actually, but that's perfectly alright. I love it anyway. It's rather like a semi-abstract painting: there are recognizable shapes in it, weaving in and out of the colour-motion on the canvas; it's beautiful, even if (or perhaps because) you can't tell "what it's supposed to be".

There's just one thing I wonder about: Why Alph? Why not, say, Bert? "Where Bert, the sacred river, ran..." Has a certain ring to it, don't you think? No, actually, me neither.


  1. Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O no! it is an ever-fixed mark.
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

    After seeing S&S, I have to have it go at least this far, otherwise it itches.

  2. It is the star to every wandering bark
    Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

    Absolutely. Can't think of it without seeing Marianne in the rain. That's why I love this particular one.

  3. haha, I had to memorize that sonnet for Eng Lit 12 in 1982... And I just love the sound and rhythm of Kubla Khan - especially reading it out loud.

  4. I think enforced memorization of Shakespeare sonnets is one of the best ways to get people to hate them ever after. My chief memory of Sonnet 18 is being criticized by my English teacher for not being expressive enough in reciting it in class. As if I was going to look deeply into his eyes, and go "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?..."

  5. I can't hear/read it without hearing Col. B's chocolately voice (except of course I hear it being read to me...not what's-her-name).