Quote of the Day: “A Damsel with a Dulcimer”

 

File:Dulcimer1917vogue.jpgA 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. – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A favorite poem, and one I think deserves another outing here on Ricochet.

Kublai Khan (1215-1294) was the grandson of Genghis, the “Great Khan,” and ruled the Mongol empire from 1260-1294.  Today he is recognized as the founder of China’s Yuan dynasty, and as the great unifier of what is now China and as its integrator into that same Mongol empire.  Unfortunately, his leadership talents (which were considerable) were not inherited by his successors, and by the middle of the 14th century, the Mongols had withdrawn from the majority of his conquered territory, and China went its own way from that point forward.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge died 187 years ago, on July 25, 1834.  He had achieved the great age–for an English Romantic poet–of 61 years, during which he’d written some beautiful stuff.  Kubla Khan is, I think, my favorite.  (OK, maybe because it’s the piece of his that reminds me most of my all-time favorite English poet, John Keats.  I’ll cop to that.)  I only wish that we had more than a “fragment” to luxuriate in.

I’ve always loved Coleridge’s explanation of why he never finished the poem (which was written in 1797, and which he says came to him in a dream), wherein he does a “Bob Dole,” and writes about himself in the third person:

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!

Who among us has not, at one point or another in his or her life, been interrupted in the production of a simply magnificent magnum opus by the annoying “Person from Porlock”* who shows up uninvited, and perhaps even unwelcome, to wreak havoc in our lives?

What great work would you have completed, and how much better off would the world be, had you never been similarly interrupted in your own life, by an interfering buffoon?

* A village in Somerset, England with an interesting history of its own.

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  1. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    • #1
  2. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Thanks, She, for reminding me of poems that I’ve long forgotten.  It’s a pleasure to re-read them.

    BTW, don’t you find lines three and four awkward in their metre?  Also, that rhyme seems forced and artless.  What do you think, She?

     

    • #2
  3. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Thanks, She, for reminding me of poems that I’ve long forgotten. It’s a pleasure to re-read them.

    Thanks.  I enjoy rediscovering them too.

    BTW, don’t you find lines three and four awkward in their metre? Also, that rhyme seems forced and artless. What do you think, She?

    Hm.  Lines three and four in the selection for QOTD, or in the ‘whole’ fragment?  I agree “maid” and “played” is a bit desperate, and I’d have liked it better if Coleridge had said “She” was an Abyssinian maid, rather than “it.”   Also, I have no idea what an Ethiopian (Abyssinian) maid was doing in the middle of Mongolia in 1270 or so (probably a slave). And they say the ancients didn’t get around much.  (That’s false by the way).  So, yes. Also, Mount Abora? A metaphor for imagination I suppose, but I have no idea what “Abora” means in that regard.  Early manuscripts had her singing of Mount Amara, which is in Ethiopia and is real, but perhaps Coleridge wanted to go with a purely imaginative name.

    The third through fifth lines of the whole thing, “Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea” have always reminded me (or the other way round) of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, “In the stream that runneth ever/By the island in the river/Flowing down to Camelot.”  I was never one for studying and deconstructing poetic meter (but I know it when I see it) and I think both of these tumble the words, one after another, much as a flowing stream.  So I’ll go to bat for “Alph the sacred river” which (who?) I think represents the foundational natural world. 

    • #3
  4. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Thanks, She, for reminding me of poems that I’ve long forgotten. It’s a pleasure to re-read them.

    Thanks. I enjoy rediscovering them too.

    BTW, don’t you find lines three and four awkward in their metre? Also, that rhyme seems forced and artless. What do you think, She?

    Hm. Lines three and four in the selection for QOTD, or in the ‘whole’ fragment? I agree “maid” and “played” is a bit desperate, and I’d have liked it better if Coleridge had said “She” was an Abyssinian maid, rather than “it.”

    _______________________

    Mrs. She, third and fourth of the QOTD.

    Man, would I have treasured you as a graduate student! I bet your professors showered praise on you.  Wait a minute, one treasured you so much that he married you. That’s right, isn’t it?

    • #4
  5. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Thanks, She, for reminding me of poems that I’ve long forgotten. It’s a pleasure to re-read them.

    Thanks. I enjoy rediscovering them too.

    BTW, don’t you find lines three and four awkward in their metre? Also, that rhyme seems forced and artless. What do you think, She?

    Hm. Lines three and four in the selection for QOTD, or in the ‘whole’ fragment? I agree “maid” and “played” is a bit desperate, and I’d have liked it better if Coleridge had said “She” was an Abyssinian maid, rather than “it.”

    _______________________

    Mrs. She, third and fourth of the QOTD.

    Man, would I have treasured you as a graduate student! I bet your professors showered praise on you. Wait a minute, one treasured you so much that he married you. That’s right, isn’t it?

    Thanks, and you are correct!  40 years ago yesterday.  I wish we could have celebrated it together, but we had almost exactly 39 years, the very great majority of them wonderful.

    • #5
  6. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    This is the Quote of the Day. July’s sign-up sheet is here,  and there are still a few dates available.  Please sign up today!

    If you’re new at this game, it’s a easy way to get your feet wet and start a conversation; if you’re an old-timer, you already know the ropes.  Either way, please sign up to speak up.

    Another ongoing project to encourage new voices is our Group Writing Project. July’s theme is “We Hold These Truths (or Fictions).”  If you’d like to weigh in, please sign up for Group Writing too!

    • #6
  7. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Coleridge captivated me with his language and storytelling. Unlike other poets of that general era, whom I found tedious and pretentious. 

    • #7
  8. Belt Member
    Belt
    @Belt

    At one point I had this poem memorized.  I can still recite the last section..  The poem is really about the creative process, and our inability to achieve the purity of the original vision within our mundane reality.  I read someone once (I think in a poem) who postulated that there really was no visitor from Porlock, and that Coleridge just ran out of gas and gave up.  A story with a similar theme is “Leaf by Niggle” by JRR Tolkein.

    This still is a wonderful poem, and I think it grabs people because of what it suggests could have been, and and appeals to everyone’s desire to produce something pure and transcendent.  We faintly hear that dulcimer, and imagine what might yet be someday.

    • #8
  9. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    I tried memorizing this poem. I didn’t get all that far; whenever I’d get to 

    And here were forests ancient as the hills
    Enfolding sunny spots of greenery

    I always ended up pronouncing greenery like in the line “Do you want me to put you back where I found you? Helpless, hopeless, unemployed in Greenland!”

    Completely shifts the mood.

    • #9
  10. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Mrs. She, that’ll teach you for getting all literary on us.  I tried it a couple of time myself, once with a post on Samuel Johnson and once on Swift.   My Likes were in the single digits and my popularity plummeted.

    Those posts fared even worse than my posts on the wonders of vegetarianism.

    I almost wrote a post on Ben Jonson before I came to my senses.

    • #10
  11. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Mrs. She, that’ll teach you for getting all literary on us.  I tried it a couple of time myself, once with a post on Samuel Johnson and once on Swift.   My Likes were in the single digits and my popularity plummeted.

    Those posts fared even worse than my posts on the wonders of vegetarianism.

    I almost wrote a post on Ben Jonson before I came to my senses.

    What, “O Rare Ben Jonson?” (I suppose that’s to distinguish him from Medium Ben Jonson, or Well-Done Ben Jonson.)

    Probably just as well.

    I don’t mind.  Some of my favorite people have stopped by to chat, and someone I don’t hear from too often, and that’s what I like to see.

    PS:  My Jonathan Swift post got promoted, as did my previous one on Kubla Khan.  Neener neener.  I don’t think I’ve written a post on Samuel Johnson, but I’ll take it as a challenge, one of these days.

    PPS: Isn’t Jonson buried upside down, head first, or something?

    • #11
  12. KCVolunteer Lincoln
    KCVolunteer
    @KCVolunteer

    Who among us has not, at one point or another in his or her life, been interrupted in the production of a simply magnificent magnum opus by the annoying “Person from Porlock”** who shows up uninvited, and perhaps even unwelcome, to wreak havoc in our lives?

    My problems sometimes come from actual…squirrels. We once had one find its way into the ductwork, I still can’t figure how, and never found it’s way back out again. I became aware of the demise of the creature by a telltale odor emanating from the system. Luckily the ductwork was all exposed in the basement. I started by removing sections near the end of each runs where the smell seemed strongest and looking in hoping to find the scoundrel. I had all but given up hope when, after managing to get the reducer portion off the blower end of the evaporator unit, there was the the unfortunate cadaver tucked under a shelf (don’t ask, I’m not a mechanical engineer, so can’t explain the reason for the shelf’s existence) just after the the fan. The fan incidentally known as a squirrel cage blower. I gently returned him to nature to complete the cycle of life. Then put things back to right. No mean feat.

    What as I doing before this stole my attention? What could I have achieved had this not distracted me from more important endeavors?

    What ever it could have been has been lost forever.

    • #12
  13. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    KCVolunteer (View Comment):

    Who among us has not, at one point or another in his or her life, been interrupted in the production of a simply magnificent magnum opus by the annoying “Person from Porlock”** who shows up uninvited, and perhaps even unwelcome, to wreak havoc in our lives?

    My problems sometimes come from actual…squirrels. We once had one find its way into the ductwork, I still can’t figure how, and never found it’s way back out again. I became aware of the demise of the creature by a telltale odor emanating from the system. Luckily the ductwork was all exposed in the basement. I started by removing sections near the end of each runs where the smell seemed strongest and looking in hoping to find the scoundrel. I had all but given up hope when, after managing to get the reducer portion off the blower end of the evaporator unit, there was the the unfortunate cadaver tucked under a shelf (don’t ask, I’m not a mechanical engineer, so can’t explain the reason for the shelf’s existence) just after the the fan. The fan incidentally known as a squirrel cage blower. I gently returned him to nature to complete the cycle of life. Then put things back to right. No mean feat.

    What as I doing before this stole my attention? What could I have achieved had this not distracted me from more important endeavors?

    What ever it could have been has been lost forever.

    That’s a great story.  I am desolate at the world’s loss of … whatever it was you might have accomplished otherwise.

    • #13
  14. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Belt (View Comment):
    I read someone once (I think in a poem) who postulated that there really was no visitor from Porlock, and that Coleridge just ran out of gas and gave up.

    I think that’s quite likely.  STC wouldn’t have been the first, and I’m sure he won’t be the last to pull a dodge like that.

    • #14
  15. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    In one of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently novels he had to travel through time back and pretend to have some business from the poet in order to stop him from writing and save the future.

    • #15