Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Xanadu Redux

Endless critical insights into Coleridge's Kubla Khan. Sometimes, it's the only poem that really matters, as Bill Benzon writes:
I became interested in “Kubla Khan” during my senior year at Johns Hopkins in a course taught by the late Earl Wasserman. As you know, Coleridge had declared “Kubla Khan” incomplete: It came to him in an opium-induced reverie (opium was the aspirin of the time); he was interrupted by a man from Porlock; the reverie was dissipated and, with it, most of the poem vanished. The text was oh! so incomplete. I sensed that the two sections of the poem—the first, about Kubla and his pleasure-dome, the second, about a poet and his vision of the damsel with a dulcimer—had the same structure. I also believed that “Kubla Khan” became complete by asserting its own incompleteness: “Could I revive within me . . .” But he couldn’t, and so this incomplete poem asserted its own fragmentary nature, from within itself, thereby recursively attaining closure. It was a trick of the times.
Benzon uses a structural approach to demonstrate how Coleridge uses the story of his opium-induced reverie as a framing device for the poem as well as a way of disguising its more complicated views on dream, memory and the poetic imagination. When I was in school we did something similar by looking at how the poem is built around the concepts of Imagination and Fancy (which Coleridge described in the Biographia Literaria). Cool stuff.

But not as cool as this: