Quickly, let’s rewind and bring some things together–in hopes that we’ll get everything together at the end:
The big thing to remember is our P.A.I.N. acronym. If nothing else I’ve said makes any sense, remember Primitivism, Art/Artist, the Individual, and Nature. This is the paradigm by which the Romantics–intentionally or not–mostly wrote their poetry.
Think of a paradigm as a pair of glasses. Just imagine Wordsworth, sitting on a hill, getting bored, trying to get those creative juices flowing. Reaching into his coat pocket, he takes out a small brown leathern case, out of which he slides a pair of spectacles. As soon as he fits them onto the bridge of his nose, the world lights up in radiance. Looking up, he sees a field of daffodils and jots down a few lines:
I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
In the same way, other Romantics will put on these glasses and see the world through lenses of P.A.I.N. to create their poetry. Essentially, we want to learn to look through these spectacles just as the Romantics did to see what it was that shaped the way they saw the world and their poetry.
Of all the poems he wrote, Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” stand as his most well-known. Chances are if you’ve read Coleridge at all, you’ve read one of these two. If you haven’t read either of them, you should definitely read both–but especially Kubla Khan since we’re about to learn from it.
Aside from some strange language, “Kubla Khan” is pretty straightforward. The author sees a vision of Xanadu, where not Citizen Kane, but Kubla Khan has decreed the building of a “stately pleasure dome,” which turns out is pretty amazing: caves of ice in the sun, the sacred river Alph running through it… sounds pretty “legit,” as they say. In another vision–or possibly the same–the author sees an Abyssinian maid playing a dulcimer, singing to him of Mount Abora.
The author can’t remember the song. Because of this, the dream is pretty much useless to him. His inability to remember disables his ability to create. This is the most important thing in “Kubla Khan.”
So far, we haven’t dealt a whole lot with the Art/Artist part of P.A.I.N., but Mr. Coleridge throws us right into it. The author’s inability to recall the song symbolizes Coleridge’s inability to properly recall this poem in its entirety.
I know what you’re thinking, BUT IT’S LONG ENOUGH ALREADY! Check out what Mr. Coleridge had to say about this poem:
The Author [Coleridge himself] continued for about three hours in a profound sleep…during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines…
On awaking he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and…instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here presereved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him avoce an hour, and on his return to his room, found…that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision…all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast…”
So, that’s pretty lame, and it always happens doesn’t it? You’re working on some great masterpiece, having spent hours of time and energy, pouring it all into something that’s going to be amazing and then your cell vibrates… and it’s facebook… and someone you couldn’t care less about right now just said “Hi” on your Facebook wall. We’ve all been there! The parental knock on the door. The barking of annoying dogs. The telemarketer wanting to sell you a vaccuum cleaner…
Something Mr. Coleridge didn’t say, though he says in another manuscript, was that he was recreationally tripping on an opiate while he dreamed about Kubla Khan and Xanadu. Surprised? I mean, I guess that’s always our first thought after listening through Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It’s hard to imagine the readers of “Kubla Khan” thinking any differently… but we can only speculate. Let’s be fair, though, Mr. Coleridge was quite talented, and to blame his talent on an opium-induced dream is to deny him the recognition of his true creativity.
1. I am obligated to say it, “Don’t do drugs to be creative!” But that’s not my main point here. I said it earlier, and I will again that to take away credit from the artist because of where his creation came from is, in a sense, a logical fallacy. Mr. Coleridge’s creation was of his imagination, and to say it is any more or any less is a disservice to him and his ability.
2. I challenge you to do the impossible (you know what’s coming don’t you?). For one whole day, or maybe an hour, or maybe only 30 minutes. Go outside or somewhere you can be isolated (whatever your definition of that is), turn off your cell phone, and create something. We can only speculate, but can you imagine the work of art that Mr. Coleridge would have created had he isolated himself for just a little while? If you really just cannot turn your cell off and get away, throw off your daily interruptions and distractions. I promise you’ll have a better time creating/working/or whatever you want to do.