Tuesday 20th February 2018

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Pandaemonium

A historical costume drama, it focuses on the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.

Pandaemonium highlights a problem familiar to teachers of English literature. You have this class. They’ve spent the weekend (you suspect) popping ecstasy and watching MTV. How do you make the 1802 Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, with all that high-toned stuff about “poetic diction”, sexy? Pandaemonium falls back on Oscar Wilde’s axiom: “Lies are more beautiful than truth.” What director Julien Temple and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce have created is visually striking – stunning at times. But these effects are achieved at the cost of biographical and historical truth. Does it matter? No, says the movie’s producer, Michael Kustow. Yes, says Professor Dryasdust.

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Temple’s movie opens with a wholly imaginary gathering. It is the election of the Poet Laureate, in 1813. Bizarrely, the Lord Chamberlain has decided to announce the royal choice of bard in the style of the Hollywood Oscars, in public, at Carlton House. Enter, from his stretch coach and horses, mad, bad Lord Byron. He throws his kerchief over his shoulder as he passes through the crowd. The Regency bobbysoxers go crazy. Byron, we apprehend, is the people’s poet. But whose will be the name in the envelope? From his Lakeland fells in stalks William Wordsworth, looking as if he had a shepherd’s crook stuffed up his jacksie. Robert Southey twitters in. Forget that no-talent versifier. Last but not least comes Samuel Taylor Coleridge, stoned out of his mind on laudanum, and looking (as played by Linus Roache) like Robert Downey Jr after a hard night. Sam promptly falls flat on his face. Laureate? Not a hope.
We flash back to Bristol in the revolutionary 1790s. Young Coleridge, clear-headed and vigorous, is a political firebrand. “No king! No war! No slavery!” is his rousing cry. In collaboration with the radical printer, John Thelwall, he is clandestinely distributing a seditious magazine, The Watchman. Coleridge brings into his radical gang a new, allegedly “democratic” friend, William. What next? Government heavies break down the door and throw Thelwall into the Tower, where they tear out his fingernails. The authorities publicly incinerate thousands of copies of Coleridge’s magazine, like Nazis in 1933. Who, you wonder, shopped Coleridge and Thelwall? Well, to be honest, you don’t wonder. Wordsworth, the rat.

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It’s rattling good stuff. There’s just one small objection. None of it ever happened. This is fantasy literary history.

The main section of Pandaemonium concentrates on the years 1797-8, when Coleridge and Wordsworth moved in together, at Nether Stowey and Alfoxden in Somerset. Here it was that they collaborated to produce Lyrical Ballads. The viewing audience is subjected to some gross simplifications. Sam has a toothache and starts on the slippery slope with some medicinal opium. He meets an ancient mariner (ho-hum). Uninspired Wordsworth goes walking with his sister, Dorothy: “I wander lonely as a cow,” he mutters. “Wouldn’t ‘cloud’ be better, William?” she sweetly suggests. This is also fantasy, but you can live with it. Drama has to make its short cuts.

But Pandaemonium takes other liberties which are harder to condone. Three years ago, the American critic Kenneth Johnston published a book called The Hidden Wordsworth. Among other assertions (argued soberly, and at immense length), Johnston alleged that Wordsworth was a founder member of the British secret service, a government informer or long-time, hireling snitch. Johnston’s revisionary thesis provoked furious controversy in the scholarly world. The consensus was that he had got it wrong. Wordsworth was exonerated. The creators of Pandaemonium have, perversely I think, swallowed The Hidden Wordsworth hook, line and sinker. And they go well beyond Johnston.

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Their Wordsworth is a despicable government spy. Worse than this, he is a psychopath: encouraged by his cold bitch of a wife, Mary, he methodically sets out to destroy Coleridge. Why? Because he is jealous of the other poet’s genius. Of course, we are to understand, Wordsworth himself has only a minor talent. He has embarked on some dreary white elephant called The Prelude (don’t bother to read it). But he is uneasily aware that Coleridge has created a “real” masterpiece, called Kubla Khan. As the master stroke of his Machiavellian schemes, Wordsworth ushers Coleridge into the presence of his sister, Dorothy. Once she was pert and bright as a pin. Now she is a harridan in a wheelchair, giggling and blowing raspberries.

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In the sonorous tones of a 19th-century drug tsar, Wordsworth tells Coleridge: “This is the end of the road to which Kubla Khan is the gateway. This is your ‘pleasure dome’.” Apparently Coleridge carries the only manuscript copy of the poem on his person. In a fit of remorse, he casts it in the fire. We see it consumed by the flames. Game, set and match to gloating William Wordsworth. But wait, wait! Poor mad Dorothy has memorised the poem and she begins to recite it. Kubla Khan is saved for literature! Hurrah! Church bells ring all over London, publishers dance in the streets. Wordsworth looks like the shepherd has stuck two crooks up his jacksie. None of this happened, of course. But, at this point, who cares? We’re in the literary Land of Oz.

Well, as it happens, I care. Of course, you can’t libel the dead. But this is dreadfully unfair to the Wordsworths. William never betrayed Coleridge. Their relationship was vexed, but essentially civilised and creative. Mary was a good friend to Coleridge. It is true that Dorothy was a victim of senile dementia – but it was many years after Coleridge died, and not drug-related. Kubla Khan was published quite normally. The Prelude is one of the two or three greatest poems in the English language. I know all this. Probably you do as well. But will those susceptible viewers, boning up the Romantics for their A levels, know it?

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At the very least, the makers of Pandaemonium should have appended a disclaimer to the opening credits: “This Film Will Seriously Injure Your Examination Prospects.” It’s entertaining, nice to look at and, in a Ken Russell kind of way, thrilling film-making. But, regarded as literary history, Pandaemonium is pure travesty. Who advised its makers? At the end of the credits, after acknowledgement of the services of the clapperboard operator, “special thanks” are offered to Richard Holmes, our most distinguished biographer of Coleridge. I can’t believe he would want to be associated with this film. Nor, even though it has been influenced by him, would Kenneth Johnston (I hope). Pandaemonium has been produced for the BBC with a generous subvention from the Lottery fund. Poetic licence I’ve heard of. This is TV licence run mad.

Kubla Khan

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A 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.

Coleridge

Shangdu

Marco Polo 1278

The Venetian explorer Marco Polo is widely believed to have visited Shangdu in about 1275. In about 1298–99, he dictated the following account, one of the most complete descriptions of the city as it existed:

And when you have ridden three days from the city last mentioned, between north-east and north, you come to a city called Chandu, which was built by the Khan now reigning. There is at this place a very fine marble palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment.

Round this Palace a wall is built, inclosing a compass of 16 miles, and inside the Park there are fountains and rivers and brooks, and beautiful meadows, with all kinds of wild animals (excluding such as are of ferocious nature), which the Emperor has procured and placed there to supply food for his gerfalcons and hawks, which he keeps there in mew. Of these there are more than 200 gerfalcons alone, without reckoning the other hawks. The Khan himself goes every week to see his birds sitting in mew, and sometimes he rides through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse’s croup; and then if he sees any animal that takes his fancy, he slips his leopard at it, and the game when taken is made over to feed the hawks in mew. This he does for diversion.

Moreover at a spot in the Park where there is a charming wood he has another Palace built of cane, of which I must give you a description. It is gilt all over, and most elaborately finished inside. It is stayed on gilt and lacquered columns, on each of which is a dragon all gilt, the tail of which is attached to the column whilst the head supports the architrave,and the claws likewise are stretched out right and left to support the architrave. The roof, like the rest, is formed of canes, covered with a varnish so strong and excellent that no amount of rain will rot them. These canes are a good 3 palms in girth, and from 10 to 15 paces in length. They are cut across at each knot, and then the pieces are split so as to form from each two hollow tiles, and with these the house is roofed; only every such tile of cane has to be nailed down to prevent the wind from lifting it. In short, the whole Palace is built of these canes, which I may mention serve also for a great variety of other useful purposes. The construction of the Palace is so devised that it can be taken down and put up again with great celerity; and it can all be taken to pieces and removed whithersoever the Emperor may command. When erected, it is braced against mishaps from the wind by more than 200 cords of silk.

The Khan abides at this Park of his, dwelling sometimes in the Marble Palace and sometimes in the Cane Palace for three months of the year, to wit, June, July and August; preferring this residence because it is by no means hot; in fact it is a very cool place. When the 28th day of [the Moon of] August arrives he takes his departure, and the Cane Palace is taken to pieces. But I must tell you what happens when he goes away from this Palace every year on the 28th of the August.

Toghon Temur 1368

“My Daidu, straight and wonderfully made of various jewels of different kinds
My Yellow Steppe of Xanadu, the summer residence of ancient Khans.
My cool and pleasant Kaiping Xanadu
My dear Daidu that I’ve lost on the year of the bald red rabbit
Your pleasant mist when on early mornings I ascended to the heights!
Lagan and Ibagu made it known to me, the Sage Khan.
In full knowledge I let go of dear Daidu
Nobles born foolish cared not for their state
I was left alone weeping
I became like a calf left behind on its native pastures
My eight-sided white stupa made of various precious objects
My City of Daidu made of the nine jewels
Where I sat holding the reputation of the Great Nation
My great square City of Daidu with four gates
Where I sat holding the reputation of the Forty Tumen Mongols
My dear City of Daidu, the iron stair has been broken.
My reputation!
My precious Daidu, from where I surveyed and observed
The Mongols of every place.
My city with no winter residence to spend the winter
My summer residence of Kaiping Xanadu
My pleasant Yellow Steppe
My deadly mistake of not heeding the words of Lagan and Ibagu!
The Cane Palace had been established in sanctity
Kublai the Wise Khan spent his summers there!
I have lost Kaiping Xanadu entirely – to China.
An impure bad name has come upon the Sage Khan.
They besieged and took precious Daidu
I have lost the whole of it – to China.
A conflicting bad name has come upon the Sage Khan.
Jewel Daidu was built with many an adornment
In Kaiping Xanadu, I spent the summers in peaceful relaxation
By a hapless error they have been lost – to China.
A circling bad name has come upon the Sage Khan.
The awe-inspiring reputation carried by the Lord Khan
The dear Daidu built by the extraordinary Wise Khan (Kublai)
The bejeweled Hearth City, the revered sanctuary of the entire nation
Dear Daidu
I have lost it all – to China.
The Sage Khan, the reincarnation of all bodhisattvas,
By the destiny willed by Khan Tengri (King Heaven) has lost dear Daidu,
Lost the Golden Palace of the Wise Khan (Kublai), who is the reincarnation of all the gods,
Who is the golden seed of Genghis Khan the son of Khan Tengri (King Heaven).
I hid the Jade Seal of the Lord Khan in my sleeve and left (the city)
Fighting through a multitude of enemies, I broke through and left.
From the fighters may Buqa-Temur Chinsan for ten thousand generations
Become a Khan in the golden line of the Lord Khan.
Caught unaware I have lost dear Daidu.
When I left home, it was then that the jewel of religion and doctrine was left behind.
In the future may wise and enlightened bodhisattvas take heed and understand.
May it go around and establish itself
On the Golden Lineage of Genghis Khan.”

Kubla Khan

Was the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empire, reigning from 1260 to 1294 (although due to the division of the empire this was a nominal position). He also founded the Yuan dynasty in China as a conquest dynasty in 1271, and ruled as the first Yuan emperor until his death in 1294.

Kublai was the fourth son of Tolui (his second son with Sorghaghtani Beki) and a grandson of Genghis Khan. He succeeded his older brother Möngke as Khagan in 1260, but had to defeat his younger brother Ariq Böke in the Toluid Civil War lasting until 1264. This episode marked the beginning of disunity in the empire. Kublai’s real power was limited to China and Mongolia, though as Khagan he still had influence in the Ilkhanate and, to a significantly lesser degree, in the Golden Horde. If one counts the Mongol Empire at that time as a whole, his realm reached from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea, from Siberia to what is now Afghanistan

In 1271, Kublai established the Yuan dynasty, which ruled over present-day Mongolia, China, Korea, and some adjacent areas, and assumed the role of Emperor of China. By 1279, the Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty was completed and Kublai became the first non-native emperor to conquer all of China.

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner  1834

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

How a Ship having passed the Line was driven by storms to the cold Country towards the South Pole; and how from thence she made her course to the tropical Latitude of the Great Pacific Ocean; and of the strange things that befell; and in what manner the Ancyent Marinere came back to his own Country.

PART I
It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—’
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

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 mariner’s 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.

PART II
The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariner’s hollo!

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head,
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.

And some in dreams assurèd were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

PART III
There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time! a weary time!
How glazed each weary eye,

When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist;
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water-sprite,
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could nor laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in.
As they were drinking all.

See! see! (I cried) she tacks no more!
Hither to work us weal;
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadies with upright keel!

The western wave was all a-flame.
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.

And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,
Like restless gossameres?

Are those her ribs through which the Sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a DEATH? and are there two?
Is DEATH that woman’s mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
‘The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!’
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out;
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.

We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dew did drip—
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The hornèd Moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

The souls did from their bodies fly,—
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul, it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my cross-bow!

PART IV
‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.

I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown.’—
Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding-Guest!
This body dropt not down.

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay dead like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.

The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.

An orphan’s curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man’s eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.

The moving Moon went up the sky,
And no where did abide:
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside—

Her beams bemocked the sultry main,
Like April hoar-frost spread;
But where the ship’s huge shadow lay,
The charmèd water burnt alway
A still and awful red.

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.

O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.

PART V
Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary Queen the praise be given!
She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven,
That slid into my soul.

The silly buckets on the deck,
That had so long remained,
I dreamt that they were filled with dew;
And when I awoke, it rained.

My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments all were dank;
Sure I had drunken in my dreams,
And still my body drank.

I moved, and could not feel my limbs:
I was so light—almost
I thought that I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed ghost.

And soon I heard a roaring wind:
It did not come anear;
But with its sound it shook the sails,
That were so thin and sere.

The upper air burst into life!
And a hundred fire-flags sheen,
To and fro they were hurried about!
And to and fro, and in and out,
The wan stars danced between.

And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge,
And the rain poured down from one black cloud;
The Moon was at its edge.

The thick black cloud was cleft, and still
The Moon was at its side:
Like waters shot from some high crag,
The lightning fell with never a jag,
A river steep and wide.

The loud wind never reached the ship,
Yet now the ship moved on!
Beneath the lightning and the Moon
The dead men gave a groan.

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;
Yet never a breeze up-blew;
The mariners all ‘gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do;
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools—
We were a ghastly crew.

The body of my brother’s son
Stood by me, knee to knee:
The body and I pulled at one rope,
But he said nought to me.

‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!’
Be calm, thou Wedding-Guest!
‘Twas not those souls that fled in pain,
Which to their corses came again,
But a troop of spirits blest:

For when it dawned—they dropped their arms,
And clustered round the mast;
Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths,
And from their bodies passed.

Around, around, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted to the Sun;
Slowly the sounds came back again,
Now mixed, now one by one.

Sometimes a-dropping from the sky
I heard the sky-lark sing;
Sometimes all little birds that are,
How they seemed to fill the sea and air
With their sweet jargoning!

And now ’twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute;
And now it is an angel’s song,
That makes the heavens be mute.

It ceased; yet still the sails made on
A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.

Till noon we quietly sailed on,
Yet never a breeze did breathe:
Slowly and smoothly went the ship,
Moved onward from beneath.

Under the keel nine fathom deep,
From the land of mist and snow,
The spirit slid: and it was he
That made the ship to go.
The sails at noon left off their tune,
And the ship stood still also.

The Sun, right up above the mast,
Had fixed her to the ocean:
But in a minute she ‘gan stir,
With a short uneasy motion—
Backwards and forwards half her length
With a short uneasy motion.

Then like a pawing horse let go,
She made a sudden bound:
It flung the blood into my head,
And I fell down in a swound.

How long in that same fit I lay,
I have not to declare;
But ere my living life returned,
I heard and in my soul discerned
Two voices in the air.

‘Is it he?’ quoth one, ‘Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless Albatross.

The spirit who bideth by himself
In the land of mist and snow,
He loved the bird that loved the man
Who shot him with his bow.’

The other was a softer voice,
As soft as honey-dew:
Quoth he, ‘The man hath penance done,
And penance more will do.’

PART VI

First Voice
‘But tell me, tell me! speak again,
Thy soft response renewing—
What makes that ship drive on so fast?
What is the ocean doing?’

Second Voice
Still as a slave before his lord,
The ocean hath no blast;
His great bright eye most silently
Up to the Moon is cast—

If he may know which way to go;
For she guides him smooth or grim.
See, brother, see! how graciously
She looketh down on him.’

First Voice
‘But why drives on that ship so fast,
Without or wave or wind?’

Second Voice
‘The air is cut away before,
And closes from behind.

Fly, brother, fly! more high, more high!
Or we shall be belated:
For slow and slow that ship will go,
When the Mariner’s trance is abated.’

I woke, and we were sailing on
As in a gentle weather:
‘Twas night, calm night, the moon was high;
The dead men stood together.

All stood together on the deck,
For a charnel-dungeon fitter:
All fixed on me their stony eyes,
That in the Moon did glitter.

The pang, the curse, with which they died,
Had never passed away:
I could not draw my eyes from theirs,
Nor turn them up to pray.

And now this spell was snapt: once more
I viewed the ocean green,
And looked far forth, yet little saw
Of what had else been seen—

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed a wind on me,
Nor sound nor motion made:
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade.

It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring—
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze—
On me alone it blew.

Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The light-house top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this mine own countree?

We drifted o’er the harbour-bar,
And I with sobs did pray—
O let me be awake, my God!
Or let me sleep alway.

The harbour-bay was clear as glass,
So smoothly it was strewn!
And on the bay the moonlight lay,
And the shadow of the Moon.

The rock shone bright, the kirk no less,
That stands above the rock:
The moonlight steeped in silentness
The steady weathercock.

And the bay was white with silent light,
Till rising from the same,
Full many shapes, that shadows were,
In crimson colours came.

A little distance from the prow
Those crimson shadows were:
I turned my eyes upon the deck—
Oh, Christ! what saw I there!

Each corse lay flat, lifeless and flat,
And, by the holy rood!
A man all light, a seraph-man,
On every corse there stood.

This seraph-band, each waved his hand:
It was a heavenly sight!
They stood as signals to the land,
Each one a lovely light;

This seraph-band, each waved his hand,
No voice did they impart—
No voice; but oh! the silence sank
Like music on my heart.

But soon I heard the dash of oars,
I heard the Pilot’s cheer;
My head was turned perforce away
And I saw a boat appear.

The Pilot and the Pilot’s boy,
I heard them coming fast:
Dear Lord in Heaven! it was a joy
The dead men could not blast.

I saw a third—I heard his voice:
It is the Hermit good!
He singeth loud his godly hymns
That he makes in the wood.
He’ll shrieve my soul, he’ll wash away
The Albatross’s blood.

PART VII
This Hermit good lives in that wood
Which slopes down to the sea.
How loudly his sweet voice he rears!
He loves to talk with marineres
That come from a far countree.

He kneels at morn, and noon, and eve—
He hath a cushion plump:
It is the moss that wholly hides
The rotted old oak-stump.

The skiff-boat neared: I heard them talk,
‘Why, this is strange, I trow!
Where are those lights so many and fair,
That signal made but now?’

‘Strange, by my faith!’ the Hermit said—
‘And they answered not our cheer!
The planks looked warped! and see those sails,
How thin they are and sere!
I never saw aught like to them,
Unless perchance it were

Brown skeletons of leaves that lag
My forest-brook along;
When the ivy-tod is heavy with snow,
And the owlet whoops to the wolf below,
That eats the she-wolf’s young.’

‘Dear Lord! it hath a fiendish look—
(The Pilot made reply)
I am a-feared’—’Push on, push on!’
Said the Hermit cheerily.

The boat came closer to the ship,
But I nor spake nor stirred;
The boat came close beneath the ship,
And straight a sound was heard.

Under the water it rumbled on,
Still louder and more dread:
It reached the ship, it split the bay;
The ship went down like lead.

Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound,
Which sky and ocean smote,
Like one that hath been seven days drowned
My body lay afloat;
But swift as dreams, myself I found
Within the Pilot’s boat.

Upon the whirl, where sank the ship,
The boat spun round and round;
And all was still, save that the hill
Was telling of the sound.

I moved my lips—the Pilot shrieked
And fell down in a fit;
The holy Hermit raised his eyes,
And prayed where he did sit.

I took the oars: the Pilot’s boy,
Who now doth crazy go,
Laughed loud and long, and all the while
His eyes went to and fro.
‘Ha! ha!’ quoth he, ‘full plain I see,
The Devil knows how to row.’

And now, all in my own countree,
I stood on the firm land!
The Hermit stepped forth from the boat,
And scarcely he could stand.

‘O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!’
The Hermit crossed his brow.
‘Say quick,’ quoth he, ‘I bid thee say—
What manner of man art thou?’

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.

 

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.

What loud uproar bursts from that door!
The wedding-guests are there:
But in the garden-bower the bride
And bride-maids singing are:
And hark the little vesper bell,
Which biddeth me to prayer!

O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide wide sea:
So lonely ’twas, that God himself
Scarce seemèd there to be.

O sweeter than the marriage-feast,
‘Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!—

To walk together to the kirk,
And all together pray,
While each to his great Father bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends
And youths and maidens gay!

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom’s door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

Robert-Southey-seated-540x510

Robert Southey was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the so-called “Lake Poets”, and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 until his death in 1843. Although his fame has long been eclipsed by that of his contemporaries and friends William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Southey’s verse still enjoys some popularity.

Southey was also a prolific letter writer, literary scholar, essay writer, historian and biographer. His biographies include the life and works of John Bunyan, John Wesley, William Cowper, Oliver Cromwell and Horatio Nelson. The last has rarely been out of print since its publication in 1813 and was adapted for the screen in the 1926 British film, Nelson. He was also a renowned scholar of Portuguese and Spanish literature and history, translating a number of works from those two languages into English and writing a History of Brazil (part of his planned History of Portugal, which he never completed) and a History of the Peninsular War. Perhaps his most enduring contribution to literary history is the children’s classic The Story of the Three Bears, the original Goldilocks story, first published in Southey’s prose collection The Doctor. He also wrote on political issues, which led to a brief, non-sitting, spell as a Tory Member of Parliament.

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

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