Tag Archives: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Tuesday Poem: “Dreams” by Edgar Allan Poe

Thomas Stothard's Tempest, c 1799

Thomas Stothard's 'Tempest' (c 1799). Says Prospero: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

“Dreams” was selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem).

Zireaux is also this week’s editor of the Tuesday Poem blog, on which he discusses the poetry of “Kath and Kim” (Jane Turner and Gina Riley).

Dreams
by
Edgar Allan Poe

Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awak’ning, till the beam
Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.
Yes! tho’ that long dream were of hopeless sorrow.
‘Twere better than the cold reality
Of waking life, to him whose heart must be,
And hath been still, upon the lovely earth,
A chaos of deep passion, from his birth.
But should it be — that dream eternally
Continuing — as dreams have been to me
In my young boyhood — should it thus be giv’n
‘Twere folly still to hope for higher Heav’n.
For I have revell’d when the sun was bright
In the summer sky, in dreams of living light.
And loveliness, — have left my very heart
In climes of my imaginings apart
From mine own home, with beings that have been
Of mine own thought — what more could I have seen?

‘Twas once — and only once — and the wild hour
From my remembrance shall not pass — some pow’r
Or spell had bound me — ‘twas the chilly wind
Came o’er me in the night, and left behind
Its image on my spirit — or the moon
Shone on my slumbers in her lofty noon
Too coldly — or the stars — howe’er it was
That dream was as that night-wind — let it pass.
I have been happy, tho’ in a dream.
I have been happy — and I love the theme:
Dreams! in their vivid colouring of life
As in that fleeting, shadowy, misty strife
Of semblance with reality which brings
To the delirious eye, more lovely things
Of Paradise and Love — and all our own!
Than young Hope in his sunniest hour hath known.

__________

Edgar Allan Poe

A Chaos of Passions: Edgar Allan Poe. Portrait by Oscar Halling, c 1860s, after an 1849 daguerreotype.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem
“Is it true what Robert Graves once said / that every poet over thirty’s dead?”

Any work by Poe deserves a careful handling (snap and snap of the blue nitrile gloves), but especially this poem, a piece of juvenilia, composed with all the flexible fancies and daring dismounts of a lithe and limber brain.

Edgar was 18 when he wrote it.

Many more times he’d attempt to capture this unique species of dream, in essays, poetry, short stories: Not sleeping dreams, not Freudian dreams, or Proustian time-traveling remembrances; not hallucinations of hope, or preacher visions sung from the Capitol’s Mall; or Disney dreams, or the fantasies of aspiring pop-stars; not pipe-dreams, prophecies, visions, trances, mirages, hypnotic dreams, psychedelic dreams, laudenum-induced comas, the Dreamtimes of prehistory, visitations from Morpheus or Sibyl, glossolalia, or a hello from a hologrammic TuPoe with a trillion views on YouTube (“Yo whassup Tuesday Poets!”).

Fancies, daydreams, reveries — Poe would settle, at last, on “fancies,” but even that, he insists, was just a word plucked at random to capture a “shadow of a shadow.” (“A dream itself is but a shadow,” says Hamlet).

“Dreams” is often dismissed as an immature work, and it’s true, the poem is no “Raven”, no “Ulalume” (see my comments on “Ulalume”), no “Bells” or “Annabel Lee.” But when we gently cut through the poem’s husk (Eternity, Paradise, Love, Hope, High Heaven), peel back the fleshy endosperm (all that “living light” and “loveliness”), we not only find the germ of poetic genius, but one of the most important discoveries ever made by an English language poet.

I don’t just mean the fine observation — see it there, in lines 4 through 8 — that for a person of passion, even the saddest dreams are more pleasurable than waking life. Enchanting, yes, but Coleridge had distilled the same elixir 40 years earlier (notice, by the way, the Coleridgian cast of moonlight that shimmers across lines 23-24).

Poe’s vision is much more radical than that. As his dreamer marvels in line 18, the most critical element of such dreams, it turns out, is that they are “of mine own thought.” They are “all our own!”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A pilot dreamer: Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)

The dreamer, then, isn’t possessed. The dreamer possesses. The Raven on which the dreamer flies, flapping its black wings of Time (same dark wings that swoop through H.G. Wells‘s phantasm), belongs to its rider. A pilot, then, is this dreamer, with compass to consult, instruments of accuracy — airspeed, altitude, pitch — and there’s Saint-Exupery buzzing over the Sahara in his Brueget biplane (oneiric angels splattering against his windscreen).

Freedom through form, fancy as precision, music as mathematical formula, mutation through logic, a brilliantly bridled madness — this is Poe. And this was young Edger, his “chaos of passions” expressed in rhyme, carefully constructed meter (note the mimicking meter of lines one and four in “Dreams”), his “wild hour,” his being “bound” in a spell, a vivid colouring in a moonlit slumber for a delirious eye.

This, to me (slap and slap, gloves removed, flourished, tossed in bin), is the miracle of all great poetry. Not the passion alone, but the structure, the precision, the dreamy chaos held in absolute control.
_________
Published as part of the Tuesday Poetry group.

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Five Hundred Thousand Dollars — Stanzas 171 to 176

The Juggler, by Marc Chagall, 1943. ‘Not theirs, but my  wings now expanded; / Not they, but I could soar away /  to my safe haven – while they were stranded.’

The Juggler, by Marc Chagall, 1943. ‘Not theirs, but my wings now expanded; / Not they, but I could soar away / to my safe haven – while they were stranded.’

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Third

171.

My wife was at the mirror miming
once again her double. Round
those arctic eyes, and circuit-bound,
the pencil stuck with steady timing
to its path. She did not blink.
What concentration, reader! You’d think
she was alone! She spoke didactically:

‘Deceit earns money, that is true.
So when you need to lie, lie practically.
Then people might invest in you.
The resort idea, I must confess,
is interesting. But really, unless
there’s sand, and half-naked chicks in a luau,
who’s gonna visit some Waikikamukou?93

172.

And something else, this new ambition
which I’ve seen in you of late,
and which, it seems, helps animate
a stupid fool who’s missed his mission
and lost all opportunity
– I must admit, it worries me.
For what if you became successful
after I gave up on you?
The thought of it is too distressful.
So here is what I’m going to do:
A half a million dollar seed
I’ll give – to buy that boat you need
and any other sundry items.
I’ll email Dex. Then you can write him.’

172.

Dexter was her trusted banker,
spirit guide, accountant, friend,
a guy my wife preferred to spend
her evenings with; and, to be frank, her
reveries as well it seems.
(She often mumbled in her dreams.)
I’d never met him – ’cept through email
once or twice. I pictured him
a puny dunce, a hairy she-male,
cringing, dwarf-like, stingy, grim.
But maybe, I thought, he’s really nice;
and really does give good advice;
And if he called, the cell-phone’s ringing
might sound to me like angels singing.

173.

For here’s the point – five hundred thousand
dollars, right? A boat, supplies,
the peace of mind that money buys,
a chance to build a bach, carouse in
sweet, interminable time! Alone!
To be unreachable by phone,
or car, or human mouth, or legal
leash! My own! A kingdom all
my own! A private throne, a regal
zone for me to sing from! Recall
my vision, reader. The one I dreamed
some weeks before. The sky had teemed
with people fleeing, flying, leaving
me alone – while I stood grieving.

174.

Remember how my feet stayed planted
while others spread their wings and fled;
how I – naïve – was left for dead?
That nightmare now could be recanted!
Such fears, at last, I could transcend
with so much money mine to spend.
Not theirs, but my wings now expanded;
Not they, but I could soar away
to my safe haven – while they were stranded.
Of course there is, how should I say,
a time for drying wrinkled wings;
transition time, goodbyes and things;
minutiae, details – mails from Dexter –
before one finally sips one’s nectar.

175.

‘We’re done now, right?’ – my wife’s last question.

Yes, quite done. At last, quite done.
No more need of neutered gun,
or failed attempt at feigned aggression.
The past was past; the future mine
to build from scratch, to self-divine.

I signed and faxed what Dex presented.
Would I repay it?

                                    ‘Yes, oh yes,’
I wrote him back. ‘The deal’s cemented.’

My mind for fine-print couldn’t care less.
Such tiny, massive words – what weight
had they within my island state?
(How fast a promise turns to fiction
when placed outside its jurisdiction.)

176.

What assets could they hope to capture?
When the money came to me,
I’d spend it fast and fast I’d flee!
And once I reached my state of rapture,
what could they do? For them to act,
they’d need an extradition pact,
which I, as Emperor, wouldn’t agree to.
Three-times repay it? ‘Yes, oh yes,
That’s something, Dex, I’ll surely see to.
By the way, a small request:
Maybe we could meet someplace?
A chance to put a name to face?’

An email came, in which he answered:
‘The money has been duly transferred.’


93 A New Zealand English word, referring to a mythical town meant to be the equivalent of Timbuktu (pronounced: ‘Why kick a moo cow’).

__________
Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
We meet Dexter again, this time in the flesh, in Res Publica, Book II.

He also haunts the book I’m currently working on — a book unlike anything I’ve written, categorically unpoetic, yet fundamental in its own way to the Arcadys of Res Publica and Kamal.

We’ve met Zireaux the taxi driver (see here); and yes, Zireaux is Dexter, too. Zireaux is a venture capitalist.

But why — why lock oneself in fantasy’s farmhouse, servant to a strict routine, while spread outside are the glimmering lakes, the vast poetic wilderness of elder-flower and nightingales, musky dunghills and yawning crocodiles, lemon wine, demon-birds, death-trees and sunlit ice-bubble caves (I’m gazing now through the window of Coleridge’s notebook)?

And out there (another window, opposite side), some delightful selections from the Tuesday Poets as well. My gratitude to their muses. I encourage you to visit the site and see for yourself.

 

Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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The Albatross — Stanza 56

"With my cross-bow / I shot the albatross" -- from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (illustration by Gustave Doré).

"With my cross-bow / I shot the albatross" -- from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (illustration by Gustave Doré).

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the First

56.

The land was as long as a rugby field
and spread like crumbling cake across.32
And in the middle, an albatross
now waived, then flapped her feathery shield;
and then fell forward in flight. The crack
and flash of her wings; I stumbled back
to watch her figure slowly rise,
as if a crane of unfathomable size
were lifting her tremendous span.
The moon performed its slight of hand
with satin kerchief mottled white;
and I again was alone in the night.

32 Here Zireaux has crossed out ‘curved like rising Te Ra across’. Te Ra is the Maori sun god. I’ve included this footnote – and the previous note – to point out Zireaux’s allusion to Maori mythology as his narrator describes his newly discovered landmass. However, an audience member at one of Zireaux’s readings recalls the author once replacing Te Ra with Phoebus, the Greek god of the sun. In Zireaux’s notebook, the ‘crumbling cake’ metaphor is boldly circled, hence my decision to leave out the mythological references entirely.

_________

Charles Baudelaire ca. 1863

Charles Baudelaire ca. 1863

Zireaux’s comments on this stanza
And thus a resurrection, if you will — that great traveler of birds, the albatross, flies a distance of over 200 years, from the misty rime-frost of Coleridge’s Mariner to our barren little island off the eastern coast of Auckland (with an unhappy stopover at Baudelaire’s verse in 1857). Birds, by the way, make excellent metaphors for the writer-poet as time traveller, or carriers of memories past (ask Wells or Poe).

Do albatrosses really sleep while flying? If there’s a record for duration, I mean, for continues time spent soaring through the air, my albatross must surely hold it. It stays aloft for over seven years. Which is why the crane metaphor — “as if a crane of unfathomable size / were lifting her tremendous span” — works as both foreshadow (see Book II) and necessary suspension device.

For our Tuesday Poem readers, here are the last five stanzas from the first part of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (read my post on Coleridge’s “A Vision in a Dream”):

At length did cross an Albatross:
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.

It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners’ hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.

“God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look’st thou so?” — With my cross-bow
I shot the Albatross.

And here’s the famous last stanza of “L’Albatros” by the French Poe-philiac (or Poe-del-air lover), Charles Baudelaire:

Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l’archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher.

A handful of translations:

The Poet is like that wild inheritor of the cloud,
A rider of storms, above the range of arrows and slings;
Exiled on earth, at bay amid the jeering crowd,
He cannot walk for his unmanageable wings.

— George Dillon (1936)

The Poet, like this monarch of the clouds,
Despising archers, rides the storm elate.
But, stranded on the earth to jeering crowds,
The great wings of the giant baulk his gait.

— Roy Campbell (1952)

The poet resembles this prince of cloud and sky
Who frequents the tempest and laughs at the bowman;
When exiled on the earth, the butt of hoots and jeers,
His giant wings prevent him from walking.

— William Aggeler (1954)

Poets are like these lords of sky and cloud,
Who ride the storm and mock the bow’s taut strings,
Exiled on earth amid a jeering crowd,
Prisoned and palsied by their giant wings.

— Jacques LeClercq (1958)

The Poet is like the prince of the clouds,
Haunting the tempest and laughing at the archer;
Exiled on earth amongst the shouting people,
His giant’s wings hinder him from walking.

— Geoffrey Wagner (1974)

 

Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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“A Vision in a Dream” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Path taken by the Person from Porlock, in the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire

Path taken by the Person from Porlock, near the farmhouse where Coleridge wrote his Vision in a Dream

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

“A Vision in a Dream,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In the summer of the year 1797,
the Author, then in ill health,
had retired to a lonely farm-house
between Porlock and Linton,
on the Exmoor confines
of Somerset and Devonshire.

In consequence of a slight indisposition,
an anodyne had been prescribed,
from the effects of which he fell asleep
in his chair at the moment that
he was reading the following sentence,
or words of the same substance,
in Purchas’s Pilgrimage:

A paved road in Exmoor, near the confines of Somerset and Devonshire

A paved road in Exmoor, near the confines of Somerset and Devonshire, also travelled by the Person from Porlock

“Here the Khan Kubla commanded
a palace to be built, and
a stately garden thereunto.
And thus ten miles of fertile ground
were inclosed with a wall.”

The Author continued for about
three hours in a profound sleep,
at least of the external senses,
during which time he has
the most vivid confidence,
that he could not have composed less than
from two to three hundred lines;
if that indeed can be called composition
in which all the images rose up before him
as things, with a parallel production of
the correspondent expressions,
without any sensation
or consciousness of effort.

On awakening he appeared to himself
to have a distinct recollection of the whole,
and taking his pen, ink, and paper,
instantly and eagerly wrote down
the lines that are here preserved.

At this moment he was unfortunately
called out by a person on business from Porlock,
and detained by him above an hour,
and on his return to his room, found,
to his no small surprise and mortification,
that though he still retained
some vague and dim recollection
of the general purport of the vision,
yet, with the exception of some eight
or ten scattered lines and images,
all the rest had passed away
like the images on the surface of
a stream into which a stone has
been cast, but, alas! without
the after restoration of the latter!

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1795, aged 23

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1795, aged 23


Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
Most people prefer the common name for this magnificent specimen: “Kubla Khan.” But our science-minded Samuel gives us the “or” (“Kubla Khan, Or, A Vision in a Dream.”), so I’ve taken it.

Most people also truncate — or rather bifurcate, butcher — the work’s roughly 800 words into the mere 368 we find commonly recited by amateur actors on YouTube; so, in order to temporarily balance the scale in your mind and see the great poet’s work for what it is, I’ve taken the extreme measure of cutting off the dream fragment entirely, as we’ve all committed it to memory anyway, and why reprint the entire thing when the residue of its pleasure-dome, its demon-lover, its Abyssinian maid, those sunny spots and sinuous rills, fountains, ice-caves, ancestral voices and so forth will linger, no matter what we do, despite their absence — just like a dream?

I’ve also arranged the above lines into haphazard and ridiculous looking stanzas, if only to give an impression of poetry. Truth is, there’s nothing poetic about them; they merely provide the context — via unpoetic contrast — to the metrically brilliant dream-fragment which follows (or doesn’t follow in my above desecration). Because here’s the thing: the greatness of this poem lies not in what we read, but rather, and most brilliantly, in what we can’t. In what’s been kept from us. In other words, the “Vision” is one of the greatest English poems ever written (as I promised in last Tuesday’s post) because it confounds the very basis of the poetic task; offering us a glimpse of something indescribable, something beyond words.

Life for the chronically love-sick Samuel, as for the Buddha, was composed largely of suffering, especially compared to his poetic ecstasies (not to mention the beautiful natural surroundings of Exmoor); and awakening from an opium induced enchantment would certainly have been a terrible burden for him. It’s this unwanted awakening — we’ve all felt it at one time or another in our lives — the inevitable loss, the dispelling beauty, the interruption of reverie by a person on business from Porlock (or just the breaking of dawn) — and, most of all, the longing to recover that reverie — that the great poet has captured like no other artist before or since.

I say we’ve all felt it — but have we all experienced, what I call somewhere in my writings, a “Biblio-spell,” in which a poem or several pages of prose are delivered to us, word for word, in a dream; for example, a dream in which we’ve wandered into a library or bookstore, have become absorbed in a book unknown to us in real life, and thus, as the dreamer — and with that common book-browsing desire to find a work of supreme enchantment — become, unwittingly, the author of the most compelling book we can imagine? I’ve written many such works myself, only to discover that, upon awakening, I’m left with nothing but (as the narrator of one of my novels describes it) “the shed skin of genius, a desiccated and forgotten shell, pulverized in the eagerness of my writing hand.”

Whether or not our intoxicated bard had a Biblio-spell, or just a pleasant dream, or simply felt the delights of inspiration, it’s Poe, I think, who captures the essence of the poem’s vision best: “There is a class of fancies,” writes Poe, “of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. These ‘fancies’ have in them a pleasurable ecstasy as far beyond the most pleasurable of the world of wakefulness, or of dreams, as the Heaven of the Northman theology is beyond its Hell. Nothing can be more certain than that even a partial record of the impressions would startle the universal intellect of mankind, by the supremeness of the novelty of the material employed, and of its consequent suggestions.”

Which is precisely the illusion that “A Vision in a Dream” achieves — creating a “partial record,” a fragment of just such a fancy, and leaving us startled at its supremacy.

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