Just Believe: Poems and Stories of the Supernatural


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So twice six miles of fertile ground With Walls and Towers were compass'd round. Crewe Manuscript. So twice five miles of fertile ground With walls and towers were girdled round. Paradise Lost , iv. Whereas in the final published version, Mount Abora was purely imaginary, evidently chosen simply for the beauty of its sound. Unlike Coleridge's usual approach to his poetry, he did not mention the poem in letters to his friends.

The first written record of the poem is in Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal, October It is possible that the poem was recited to his friends during this time and was kept for private use instead of publication. However, the exact date of the poem is uncertain because Coleridge normally dated his poems but did not date Kubla Khan. The thoughts expressed in Coleridge's letter date Kubla Khan to October , but two alternatives have been postulated by Coleridge's biographers: May and October These were both times he was in the area, and, by , Coleridge was able to read Robert Southey 's Thalaba the Destroyer , a work which also drew on Purchas's work.

It is possible that he merely edited the poem during those time periods, and there is little evidence to suggest that Coleridge lied about the opium-induced experience at Ash Farm. The work was set aside until when Coleridge compiled manuscripts of his poems for a collection titled Sibylline Leaves. Leigh Hunt , the poet and essayist, witnessed the event and wrote, "He recited his 'Kubla Khan' one morning to Lord Byron, in his Lordship's house in Piccadilly, when I happened to be in another room. I remember the other's coming away from him, highly struck with his poem, and saying how wonderfully he talked.

This was the impression of everyone who heard him. A contract was drawn up on 12 April for 80 pounds. However, not everyone was happy with the idea of the poem's being published, as Coleridge's wife, who was not with him, wrote to Thomas Poole , "Oh! The collection of poems was published 25 May , [22] and Coleridge included "A Fragment" as a subtitle to the 54 line version of the poem to defend against criticism of the poem's incomplete nature.

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A Fragment". In some later anthologies of Coleridge's poetry, the Preface is dropped along with the subtitle denoting its fragmentary and dream nature. Sometimes, the Preface is included in modern editions but lacks both the first and final paragraphs. The poem is different in style and form from other poems composed by Coleridge. While incomplete and subtitled a "fragment", its language is highly stylised with a strong emphasis on sound devices that change between the poem's original two stanzas. The first stanza of the poem describes Khan's pleasure dome built alongside a sacred river fed by a powerful fountain.

The second stanza of the poem is the narrator's response to the power and effects of an Abyssinian maid's song, which enraptures him but leaves him unable to act on her inspiration unless he could hear her once again. Together, they form a comparison of creative power that does not work with nature and creative power that is harmonious with nature. The poem according to Coleridge's account, is a fragment of what it should have been, amounting to what he was able to jot down from memory: 54 lines. The second stanza is not necessarily part of the original dream and refers to the dream in the past tense.

The poem relies on many sound-based techniques, including cognate variation and chiasmus. Its rhyme scheme found in the first seven lines is repeated in the first seven lines of the second stanza. There is a heavy use of assonance , the reuse of vowel sounds, and a reliance on alliteration, repetition of the first sound of a word, within the poem including the first line: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan". The stressed sounds, "Xan", "du", "Ku", "Khan", contain assonance in their use of the sounds a-u-u-a, have two rhyming syllables with "Xan" and "Khan", and employ alliteration with the name "Kubla Khan" and the reuse of "d" sounds in "Xanadu" and "did".

To pull the line together, the "i" sound of "In" is repeated in "did". Later lines do not contain the same amount of symmetry but do rely on assonance and rhymes throughout. The only word that has no true connection to another word is "dome" except in its use of a "d" sound. Though the lines are interconnected, the rhyme scheme and line lengths are irregular.

The first lines of the poem follow iambic tetrameter with the initial stanza relying on heavy stresses. The lines of the second stanza incorporate lighter stresses to increase the speed of the meter to separate them from the hammer-like rhythm of the previous lines. Kubla Khan is also related to the genre of fragmentary poetry, with internal images reinforcing the idea of fragmentation that is found within the form of the poem.

The Preface of Kubla Khan began by explaining that it was printed [25] "at the request of a poet of great and deserved celebrity, and as far as the author's own opinions are concerned, rather as a psychological curiosity, than on the ground of any supposed poetic merits". After reading from Purchas's book, [42] "The Author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he had the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two or three hundred lines On Awaking 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.

Instead, the effects of the opium, as described, are intended to suggest that he was not used to its effects. There are some problems with Coleridge's account, especially the claim to have a copy of Purchas with him. It was a rare book, unlikely to be at a "lonely farmhouse", nor would an individual carry it on a journey; the folio was heavy and almost pages in size. The passage continues with a famous account of an interruption: [47] "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 purpose 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!

As a symbol within the preface, the person represents the obligations of the real world crashing down upon the creative world or other factors that kept Coleridge from finishing his poetry. The claim to produce poetry after dreaming of it became popular after "Kubla Khan" was published. Rauber claimed that the man was "necessary to create the illusion of the cut short rather than the stopped". The Preface to the poem suggests that the poem was not supposed to be printed, that it was a fragmentary work that he was unable to complete, and that the work itself was provided to him through involuntary inspiration.

When the Preface is dropped, the poem seems to compare the act of poetry with the might of Kubla Khan instead of the loss of inspiration causing the work to have a more complex depiction of the poetic power. Taken together, the Preface could connect with the first half of the poem to suggest that the poem is from the view of a dreaming narrator, [52] or it could connect with the second half of the poem to show how a reader is to interpret the lines by connecting himself with the persona in a negative manner.

The poet of the Preface is a dreamer who must write and the poet of the poem is a vocal individual, but both are poets who lose inspiration. Only the poet of the poem feels that he can recover the vision, and the Preface, like a Coleridge poem that is quoted in it, The Picture , states that visions are unrecoverable. The poem begins with a fanciful description of Kublai Khan's capital Xanadu , which Coleridge places near the river Alph, which passes through caverns before reaching a dark or dead sea.

Although the land is one of man-made "pleasure", there is a natural, "sacred" river that runs past it. The lines describing the river have a markedly different rhythm from the rest of the passage: [32]. The land is constructed as a paradisical garden, but like Eden after Man's fall, Xanadu is isolated by walls. The finite properties of the constructed walls of Xanadu are contrasted with the infinite properties of the natural caves through which the river runs.

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. There are some small variations in different versions of this text. The version published in reads:. While the holograph copy handwritten by Coleridge himself the Crewe manuscript, shown at the right says:. And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills, [55].

The poem expands on the gothic hints of the first stanza as the narrator explores the dark chasm in the midst of Xanadu's gardens, and describes the surrounding area as both "savage" and "holy". Yarlott interprets this chasm as symbolic of the poet struggling with decadence that ignores nature. But oh! A savage place! From the dark chasm a fountain violently erupts, then forms the meandering river Alph, which runs to the sea described in the first stanza.

Fountains are often symbolic of the inception of life, and in this case may represent forceful creativity. 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: lines 17— Kubla Khan hears voices of the dead, and refers to a vague "war" that appears to be unreferenced elsewhere in the poem.

Yarlott argues that the war represents the penalty for seeking pleasure, or simply the confrontation of the present by the past: [58]. Though the exterior of Xanadu is presented in images of darkness, and in context of the dead sea, we are reminded of the "miracle" and "pleasure" of Kubla Khan's creation. The vision of the sites, including the dome, the cavern, and the fountain, are similar to an apocalyptic vision. Together, the natural and man-made structures form a miracle of nature as they represent the mixing of opposites together, the essence of creativity: [59].

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! The narrator turns prophetic, referring to a vision of an unidentified "Abyssinian maid" who sings of "Mount Abora". Harold Bloom suggests that this passage reveals the narrator's desire to rival Khan's ability to create with his own.

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! The subsequent passage refers to unnamed witnesses who may also hear this, and thereby share in the narrator's vision of a replicated, ethereal, Xanadu. Harold Bloom suggests that the power of the poetic imagination, stronger than nature or art, fills the narrator and grants him the ability to share this vision with others through his poetry. The narrator would thereby be elevated to an awesome, almost mythical status, as one who has experienced an Edenic paradise available only to those who have similarly mastered these creative powers: [61].

And all who heard should see them there, And all should cry, 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. One theory says that "Kubla Khan" is about poetry and the two sections discuss two types of poems.

The poem celebrates creativity and how the poet is able to experience a connection to the universe through inspiration. As a poet, Coleridge places himself in an uncertain position as either master over his creative powers or a slave to it. The poet is separated from the rest of humanity after he is exposed to the power to create and is able to witness visions of truth. This separation causes a combative relationship between the poet and the audience as the poet seeks to control his listener through a mesmerising technique.

The Preface then allows for Coleridge to leave the poem as a fragment, which represents the inability for the imagination to provide complete images or truly reflect reality. The poem would not be about the act of creation but a fragmentary view revealing how the act works: how the poet crafts language and how it relates to himself. Through use of the imagination, the poem is able to discuss issues surrounding tyranny, war, and contrasts that exist within paradise. The poet, in Coleridge's system, is able to move from the world of understanding, where men normally are, and enter into the world of the imagination through poetry.

When the narrator describes the "ancestral voices prophesying war", the idea is part of the world of understanding, or the real world. As a whole, the poem is connected to Coleridge's belief in a secondary Imagination that can lead a poet into a world of imagination, and the poem is both a description of that world and a description of how the poet enters the world. The water imagery is also related to the divine and nature, and the poet is able to tap into nature in a way Kubla Khan cannot to harness its power.

Towards the end of , Coleridge was fascinated with the idea of a river and it was used in multiple poems including "Kubla Khan" and "The Brook". In his Biographia Literaria , he explained, "I sought for a subject, that should give equal room and freedom for description, incident, and impassioned reflections on men, nature, and society, yet supply in itself a natural connection to the parts and unity to the whole. Such a subject I conceived myself to have found in a stream, traced from its source in the hills among the yellow-red moss and conical glass-shaped tufts of bent, to the first break or fall, where its drops become audible, and it begins to form a channel".

Additionally, many of the images are connected to a broad use of Ash Farm and the Quantocks in Coleridge's poetry, and the mystical settings of both Osorio and "Kubla Khan" are based on his idealised version of the region. However, the styles are very different as one is heavily structured and rhymed while the other tries to mimic conversational speech.

What they do have in common is that they use scenery based on the same location, including repeated uses of dells, rocks, ferns, and a waterfall found in the Somerset region. When considering all of The Picture and not just the excerpt, Coleridge describes how inspiration is similar to a stream and that if an object is thrown into it the vision is interrupted.

The Tatars ruled by Kubla Khan were seen in the tradition Coleridge worked from as a violent, barbaric people and were used in that way when Coleridge compared others to Tatars. They were seen as worshippers of the sun, but uncivilised and connected to either the Cain or Ham line of outcasts. However, Coleridge describes Khan in a peaceful light and as a man of genius.

He seeks to show his might but does so by building his own version of paradise. The description and the tradition provide a contrast between the daemonic and genius within the poem, and Khan is a ruler who is unable to recreate Eden. Though the imagery can be dark, there is little moral concern as the ideas are mixed with creative energies.

Nature, in the poem is not a force of redemption but one of destruction, and the paradise references reinforce what Khan cannot attain. Although the Tatars are barbarians from China, they are connected to ideas within the Judaeo Christian tradition, including the idea of Original Sin and Eden. The place was described in negative terms and seen as an inferior representation of paradise, and Coleridge's ethical system did not connect pleasure with joy or the divine.

The river, Alph, replaces the one from Eden that granted immortality [ citation needed ] and it disappears into a sunless sea that lacks life. The image is further connected to the Biblical, post-Edenic stories in that a mythological story attributes the violent children of Ham becoming the Tatars, and that Tartarus, derived from the location, became a synonym for hell.

Coleridge believed that the Tatars were violent, and that their culture was opposite to the civilised Chinese. The land is similar to the false paradise of Mount Amara in Paradise Lost , especially the Abyssinian maid's song about Mount Abora that is able to mesmerise the poet.

In the manuscript copy, the location was named both Amora and Amara, and the location of both is the same. In post-Milton accounts, the kingdom is linked with the worship of the sun, and his name is seen to be one that reveals the Khan as a priest. This is reinforced by the connection of the river Alph with the Alpheus, a river that in Greece was connected to the worship of the sun. As followers of the sun, the Tatar are connected to a tradition that describes Cain as founding a city of sun worshippers and that people in Asia would build gardens in remembrance of the lost Eden.

In the tradition Coleridge relies on, the Tatar worship the sun because it reminds them of paradise, and they build gardens because they want to recreate paradise. Kubla Khan is of the line of Cain and fallen, but he wants to overcome that state and rediscover paradise by creating an enclosed garden. The dome, in Thomas Maurice's description, in The History of Hindostan of the tradition, was related to nature worship as it reflects the shape of the universe.

Coleridge, when composing the poem, believed in a connection between nature and the divine but believed that the only dome that should serve as the top of a temple was the sky. He thought that a dome was an attempt to hide from the ideal and escape into a private creation, and Kubla Khan's dome is a flaw that keeps him from truly connecting to nature. Maurice's History of Hindostan also describes aspects of Kashmir that were copied by Coleridge in preparation for hymns he intended to write.

The work, and others based on it, describe a temple with a dome. The use of dome instead of house or palace could represent the most artificial of constructs and reinforce the idea that the builder was separated from nature. However, Coleridge did believe that a dome could be positive if it was connected to religion, but the Khan's dome was one of immoral pleasure and a purposeless life dominated by sensuality and pleasure. The narrator introduces a character he once dreamed about, an Abyssinian maid who sings of another land.

She is a figure of imaginary power within the poem who can inspire within the narrator his own ability to craft poetry. The connection between Lewti and the Abyssinian maid makes it possible that the maid was intended as a disguised version of Mary Evans , who appears as a love interest since Coleridge's poem The Sigh. Evans, in the poems, appears as an object of sexual desire and a source of inspiration.

The figure is related to Heliodorus 's work Aethiopian History , with its description of "a young Lady, sitting upon a Rock, of so rare and perfect a Beauty, as one would have taken her for a Goddess, and though her present misery opprest her with extreamest grief, yet in the greatness of her afflection, they might easily perceive the greatness of her Courage: A Laurel crown'd her Head, and a Quiver in a Scarf hanged at her back". She is similar to John Keats's Indian woman in Endymion who is revealed to be the moon goddess, but in "Kubla Khan" she is also related to the sun and the sun as an image of divine truth.

In addition to real-life counterparts of the Abyssinian maid, Milton's Paradise Lost describes Abyssinian kings keeping their children guarded at Mount Amara and a false paradise, which is echoed in "Kubla Khan". In the Crewe manuscript, the earlier unpublished version of the poem, the Abyssinian maid is singing of Mount Amara, rather than Abora.

It was a natural fortress, and was the site of the royal treasury and the royal prison. The sons of the Emperors of Abyssinia, except for the heir, were held prisoner there, to prevent them from staging a coup against their father, until the Emperor's death. Mount Amara was visited between and by the Portuguese priest, explorer and diplomat Francisco Alvares — , who was on a mission to meet the Christian king of Ethiopia.

His description of Mount Amara was published in , and appears in Purchas, his Pilgrimes , the book Coleridge was reading before he wrote "Kubla Khan". The custome is that all the male child of the Kings, except the Heires, as soone as they be brought up, they send them presendly to a very great Rock, which stands in the province of Amara, and there they pass all their life, and never come out from thence, except the King which reignith departeth their life without Heires.

Mount Amara also appears in Milton's Paradise Lost :. In fact the Blue Nile is very far from the other three rivers mentioned in Genesis —14, but this belief led to the connection in 18th and 19th century English literature between Mount Amara and Paradise. There are many sources attributed to "Kubla Khan" for the style, imagery, and topic.

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As noted above, the description of the size and landscape of Xanadu and of the Pleasure Dome was taken directly from Purchas, who took it from the description of Marco Polo, who had visited Xanadu. Coleridge may also have been influenced by the surrounding of Culbone Combe and its hills, gulleys, and other features including the "mystical" and "sacred" locations in the region. Also, the name "Alph" could connect to the idea of being an alpha or original place.

Much of the poem could have been influenced by Coleridge's opium dream or, as his friend and fellow poet Robert Southey joked, "Coleridge had dreamed he had written a poem in a dream". It is possible that the dream affected Coleridge's later mood and caused him to enter into a depression, influencing the ideas in his writing that followed the dream night. Of these ideas, Coleridge's emphasised the vastness of the universe and his feeling overwhelmed by how little the universe seemed to him.

The poem could have provided Coleridge with the idea of a dream poem that discusses fountains, sacredness, and even a woman singing a sorrowful song. In terms of spelling, Coleridge's printed version differs from Purchas's spelling, which refers to the Tartar ruler as "Cublai Can", and from the spelling used by Milton, "Cathaian Can". The person who was the closest match to the figure was Evans, the subject of Coleridge's Lewti. The poem's claim that the narrator would be inspired to act if the song of the maid could be heard was a belief that Coleridge held regarding Evans after she became unattainable to him.

According to some critics, the second stanza of the poem, forming a conclusion, was composed at a later date and was possibly disconnected from the original dream. Before the poem was published, it was greatly favoured by Byron, who encouraged Coleridge to publish the poem, [] and it was admired by many people including Walter Scott. However, the immediate response to the collection was to ignore Christabel and "Kubla Khan" or simply to attack "Kubla Khan".

Many of the attacks started as a new generation of critical magazines, including Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine , Edinburgh Review , and Quarterly Review , were established at the beginning of the 19th century. The critics were more provocative than those of the previous generation, and much of the bad reception was based on Coleridge's timing of publication and his own political views, much of which contrasted with those of the critics, than actual content. Another reason for negative reviews was a puff piece written by Byron about the Christabel publication.

I fear lest it should be discovered by the lantern of typography and clear reducing to letters, no better than nonsense or no sense. The first of the negative reviews was written by William Hazlitt , literary critic and Romantic writer. He reviewed the collection of poems for 2 June Examiner , and, in his analysis, he attacked the fragmentary nature of the work and argued, "The fault of Mr Coleridge is, that he comes to no conclusion With regard to the former, which is professedly published as a psychological curiosity, it having been composed during sleep, there appears to us nothing in the quality of the lines to render this circumstance extraordinary.

Coleridge of a reverend friend of ours, who actually wrote down two sermons on a passage in the Apocalypse, from the recollection of the spontaneous exercise of his faculties in sleep. To persons who are in the habit of poetical composition, a similar phenomenon would not be a stranger occurrence, than the spirited dialogues in prose which take place in dreams of persons of duller invention than our poet, and which not unfrequently leave behind a very vivid impression.

Coleridge's statements on the origin of the poem were considered again by various critics with an emphasis on how the origins affected the merits of the poem. In an anonymous review for the July Literary Panorama , the reviewer claimed, "'Kubla Khan' is merely a few stanzas which owe their origin to a circumstance by no means uncommon to persons of a poetical imagination It should however be recollected, that in sleep the judgment is the first faculty of the mind which ceases to act, therefore, the opinion of the sleeper respecting his performance is not to be trusted, even in his waking moments.

Coleridge's two hundred lines were all of equal merit with the following which he has preserved, we are ready to admit that he has reason to be grieved at their loss. Reviews following months after publication contained limited positive appraisal of the poem. William Roberts's review, for the August British Review , was more positive than previous analysis but with no detail about the work: "passing over the two other poems which are bound together with 'Christabel', called 'The Fragment of Kubla Khan', and 'The Pains of Sleep'; in which, however, there are some playful thoughts and fanciful imagery, which we would gladly have extracted if our room would have allowed it.

Coleridge, we would yet ask him whether this extraordinary fragment was not rather the effect of rapid and instant composition after he was awake, than of memory immediately recording that which he dreamt when asleep? By what process of consciousness could he distinguish between such composition and such reminiscence? Impressed as his mind was with his interesting dream, and habituated as he is We would dismiss it with some portentous words of Sir Kenelm Digby, in his observations on Browne's religio Medici : 'I have much ado to believe what he speaketh confidently; that he is more beholding to Morpheus for learned and rational as well as pleasing dreams, than to Mercury for smart and facetious conceptions'.

Positive analysis of the poem came from Leigh Hunt, in 21 October Examiner when Hunt wrote a piece on Coleridge as part of his "Sketches of the Living Poets" series. When coming to "Kubla Khan", he pointed out: "instead of being content to have written finely under the influence of laudanum , recommends 'Kubla-Khan' to his readers, not as a poem, but as 'a psychological curiosity' Every lover of books, scholar or not, who knows what it is to have his quarto open against a loaf at his tea Justly is it thought that to be able to present such images as these to the mind, is to realise the world they speak of.

We could repeat such verses as the following down a green glade, a whole summer's morning". When discussing the work along with the origins of the poem, Bowring stated, "The tale is extraordinary, but 'Kubla Khan' is much more valuable on another account, which is, that of its melodious versification. It is perfect music. The effect could scarcely have been more satisfactory to the ear had every syllable been selected merely for the sake of its sound.

And yet there is throughout a close correspondence between the metre, the march of the verse, and the imagery which the words describe. The verses seem as if played to the ear upon some unseen instrument. And the poet's manner of reciting verse is similar. Victorian critics praised the poem and some examined aspects of the poem's background. John Sheppard, in his analysis of dreams titled On Dreams , lamented Coleridge's drug use as getting in the way of his poetry but argued: "It is probable, since he writes of having taken an 'anodyne,' that the 'vision in a dream' arose under some excitement of that same narcotic; but this does not destroy, even as to his particular case, the evidence for a wonderfully inventive action of the mind in sleep; for, whatever were the exciting cause, the fact remains the same".

Hall Caine, in survey of the original critical response to Christabel and "Kubla Khan", praised the poem and declared: "It must surely be allowed that the adverse criticism on 'Christabel' and 'Kubla Khan' which is here quoted is outside all tolerant treatment, whether of raillery or of banter. It is difficult to attribute such false verdict to pure and absolute ignorance. Even when we make all due allowance for the prejudices of critics whose only possible enthusiasm went out to 'the pointed and fine propriety of Poe,' we can hardly believe that the exquisite art which is among the most valued on our possessions could encounter so much garrulous abuse without the criminal intervention of personal malignancy.

Traill writes: 'As to the wild dream-poem 'Kubla Khan,' it is hardly more than a psychological curiosity, and only that perhaps in respect of the completeness of its metrical form. Critics at the end of the 19th century favoured the poem and placed it as one of Coleridge's best works. When discussing Christabel , Rime of the Ancient Mariner and "Kubla Khan", an anonymous reviewer in the October The Church Quarterly Review claimed, "In these poems Coleridge achieves a mastery of language and rhythm which is nowhere else conspicuously evident in him.

The earliest pieces hold no promise of these marvels. They come from what is oldest in Coleridge's nature, his uninvited and irrepressible intuition, magical and rare, vivid beyond common sight of common things, sweet beyond sound of things heard. In these it will be said there is both a world of nature new created, and a dramatic method and interest.

It is enough for the purpose of the analysis if it be granted that nowhere else in Coleridge's work, except in these and less noticeably in a few other instances, do these high characteristics occur. The s contained analysis of the poem that emphasised the poem's power. But the amazing modus operandi of his genius, in the fresh light which I hope I have to offer, becomes the very abstract and brief chronicle of the procedure of the creative faculty itself.

And with it ends, for all save Coleridge, the dream. And over it is cast the glamour, enhanced beyond all reckoning in the dream, of the remote in time and space — that visionary presence of a vague and gorgeous and mysterious Past which brooded, as Coleridge read, above the inscrutable Nile, and domed pavilions in Cashmere, and the vanished stateliness of Xanadu. That is something more impalpable by far, into which entered who can tell what tracelesss, shadowy recollections The poem is steeped in the wonder of all Coleridge's enchanted voyagings.

In 'Kubla Khan' the linked and interweaving images irresponsibly and gloriously stream, like the pulsing, fluctuating banners of the North. And their pageant is as aimless as it is magnificent There is, then Eliot attacked the reputation of "Kubla Khan" and sparked a dispute within literary criticism with his analysis of the poem in his essay "Origin and Uses of Poetry" from The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism : "The way in which poetry is written is not, so far as our knowledge of these obscure matters as yet extends, any clue to its value The faith in mystical inspiration is responsible for the exaggerated repute of "Kubla Khan".

The imagery of that fragment, certainly, whatever its origins in Coleridge's reading, sank to the depths of Coleridge's feeling, was saturated, transformed there A single verse is not poetry unless it is a one-verse poem; and even the finest line draws its life from its context. Organization is necessary as well as 'inspiration'. The re-creation of word and image which happens fitfully in the poetry of such a poet as Coleridge happens almost incessantly with Shakespeare. On 24 April Sir Timothy Shelley died, leaving his estate and title to Percy Florence Shelley; but in the following year two blackmail schemes against her came close to crushing her spirit.

Near the end of her Continental excursion in , Mary Shelley had befriended in Paris a down-and-out Italian political exile named Ferdinando Gatteschi. It was for him that she wrote her Rambles , and she sent him the proceeds, as well as a continual flow of caring, supportive letters. The language of these heartfelt letters, however, was so sentimental that Gatteschi, realizing that the tone could be misconstrued as seductive, demanded further payment from Mary Shelley to keep them from the press.

She was saved by another acquaintance from her travels, who had the Parisian police seize all Gatteschi's papers and retrieved the letters. Another attempt at blackmail by a literary forger known as George Byron, who claimed to be the poet's son, was also thwarted. The last six years of Mary Shelley's life were spent in relative peace and retirement. She lived to see her son married on 22 June , now secure as Sir Percy Shelley.

Text: Richard H. Hart, “The Supernatural in Edgar Allan Poe,” typescript draft, January 1936

On 1 February Mary Shelley died in London at the age of fifty-three. Though Frankenstein assures Mary Shelley a permanent place in literary history and though some of her other novels are praised by critics, her nonfiction prose, particularly in the forms of biography and travel essay, ranks with some of the best writing in those genres. Indeed, when Rambles and her Cyclopedia biographies are considered next to her fiction of the period after , it must be admitted that the nonfiction is superior writing.

Mary Shelley herself thought so: near the end of her literary career, she told her husband's publisher, Edward Moxon, "I should prefer quieter work Mary Shelley's first adult work, History of a Six Weeks' Tour , introduced her into the peculiar genre of travel writing almost by accident.

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Though Mary Shelley knew that much of the interest in the work would be based on hopes of catching glimpses of her husband's life, the book's main strength is the vivid description that had become a hallmark of Romanticism. Moreover, the description is of that essentially Romantic type which describes the observer as much as the scene, and senses a supernatural presence in nature. In her preface she tells the reader:. That "great poet," of course, is her husband, and the reference is to his blank-verse masterpiece Mont Blanc , which was first published in this book.

In her preface she is acknowledging that travel writing is not poetry, but that it is more than just clinical and objective description: it is an attempt to bring the reader imaginatively into scenes described. Mary Shelley's English audience, starved for real experience of the Continent Napoleon's wars made travel there dangerous until the peace of , was eager for new accounts of travel there. Mary Shelley's literary career began and ended with travel books. Of all of her writings, her last, Rambles in Germany and Italy , suffers most from the constraint of writing for money.

Pushed into writing by a need for money for Gatteschi, Mary Shelley's heart was not always in what she wrote. Nevertheless, there are passages in which her heart was too much with her: again and again a scene would remind her of how she first saw it with her husband. Yet she does not allow the reminiscence to obscure the description for the reader. This work too has affinities to descriptive-meditative verse. It maintains the sense of a supernatural presence behind nature:. There is also a political element to the book, consisting mostly of laments over the increasing oppression of Italy under Austria, but this part owes most to Gatteschi, and is not Mary Shelley's best writing.

When she breaks away from Italian politics and writes of Italian literature, Mary Shelley is at her best, and some sections dealing with Italian culture are as good as her periodical essays on Italy or her Cyclopedia entries on Italian writers. Letter XVI, in the second volume of Rambles in Germany and Italy , is a complete history of Italian literature: she is particularly eloquent in her discussion of the Italian Romantics, using military language to describe the struggle between classic and romantic. There is a fair portion of art criticism in the book as well, but it is not as good as her literary history.

Mary Shelley's periodical essays of the s establish her as a leading ambassador of Italian culture in England. Her very first published essay was a review of the Italian historian Giovanni Villani's Chroniche Fiorentine. Her focus is telling: after a vigorous defense of modern writers as opposed to classical; that is, since Dante , she praises Villani for his illumination of the places and people mentioned in Dante's Divine Comedy.

She presents Villani as the very type of narrator she has been in her travel writing,. More than any other topic, Mary Shelley's articles through the s dealt with presenting Italy and its culture to English readers. Her "Defense of Velluti" in the Examiner for 11 June was signed "Anglo-Italicus," another indication of the extent to which Italy became a part of her literary identity. A review article in the October Westminster Review examining three English travel books about Italy shows how well Mary Shelley understood the genre, and the confidence with which she judged the expertise of other "authorities" on Italy.

A similar essay in the same magazine three years later July reviewed two books for English travelers in Italy. What is striking about these essays, as criticism, is one judgment which is out of line with those of her day and ours. It is the identification of a genre she terms "Anglo-Italian literature," inaugurated, she says in the first article, by Byron's "Beppo" and represented by the five books she reviews in both essays. The fact that Mary Shelley discerned a "school" of English expatriate authors writing in and about Italy suggests one reason for her preoccupation with Italy in her nonfiction: she saw Anglo-Italian literature as a category as distinct as biography or travel writing.

These two essays, "The English in Italy" and "Modern Italy," form an important link between her travel writing and her writings about Italy, having elements of both. Mary Shelley's book reviews of non-Italian topics are not nearly as engaging, but they are of some biographical interest when the reader speculates how peculiarly fitting each is to her personality, and how each in some way illuminates her other work.

Her essay "On Ghosts" London Magazine , March strikes those who know Mary Shelley only through Frankenstein as very much a part of her Gothic sensibility, and captures the mood that must have presided over that ghost-story session with Byron at Lake Geneva in Yet its tone is analytical, and it presents the Gothic as a yearning for a lost innocence of superstition. She suggests a central tenet of Romanticism and Gothicism: the Enlightenment did not totally exorcise the supernatural from human consciousness, and that is a good thing.

Each of the remaining essays bears some connection with an aspect of Mary Shelley's life. Her review, in the same issue, of The Loves of the Poets , by Anna Brownell Jameson, is poignant with the unstated realization that she too would be the subject of just such literary biography: the definition of love she cites is from her husband's essay "On Love.

Mary Shelley's review of Thomas Moore 's Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald in the January Westminster Review is interesting as a gauge of her demands on biography, the genre which would absorb most of her literary energies for the next decade. Her review of her father's novel Cloudesley in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine for May holds a twofold interest: as her only public critical comment on a work of fiction not her own and as a sign of her affection for her father, a glimpse at the critical biography that she planned but never finished though portions of it appear in Kegan Paul's biography of Godwin.

The review also illuminates Mary Shelley's own thoughts on novel writing. It begins with a summary of the theory of the novel presented in Godwin's preface to Cloudesley , supported by lengthy quotations. Shelley then contrasts Godwin's theory with Edward Bulwer-Lytton's, as expressed in his preface to Pelham The comparison serves to assert Godwin's supremacy in the art of the novel.

Bulwer," Shelley states, "gives us The high-wrought and noble tone of his mind spreads a sacred and even mysterious grandeur over his pages. Cloudesley is then presented as "a fresh example of what we have been saying. Her image of Bulwer-Lytton's is very like the Victorian age caricature of Romanticism: overrich, grandiose, overstuffed with the author's ego. Her concept of her father's practice represents what the Romantics themselves thought they were doing: balancing reason and emotion, subject and object, classical form and "Gothic" ornament.

There is little to lament in this irony: the type of work these sketches form may be best termed "serviceable. Mary Shelley's studies of the great men of Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France display a Romantic tendency to explore the inner workings of the subject's mind, insofar as they can be discerned. This imaginative quality in her biographies makes them more compelling than others before her time; yet there is no lack of hard fact or logical analysis in these accounts.

The last genre attempted by Mary Shelley is in many ways a continuation of her work in biography and literary history, for her notes and prefaces to Shelley's poems are mostly biographical rather than critical. There is varying critical opinion today concerning how careful Mary Shelley was as an editor, but most of the cavils—silent emendation, or even suppression of some material—are the result of demanding twentieth-century editorial values of a nineteenth-century editor.


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Her last paragraph in the preface to Posthumous Poems may be a key to the lack of any evaluative tone in her notes:. Since the Oxford and other standard editions of Percy Shelley's works have incorporated all "Mrs. Shelley's" notes and prefaces, it may be that, after Frankenstein , the most-read works from her pen are her editorial works, which provide the most thorough and reliable biographical back-ground to Shelley's poems of any single source. Mary Shelley's letters and journals must be evaluated by different criteria, as they were not written for publication.

This is not a universal rule: many of her literary contemporaries wrote each slightest note with an eye toward the public, and it was not unusual to prepare one's own letters and journals for publication. To some extent, Mary Shelley did this with her travel journals and related letters. But with those excepted, most of her letters and journals are personal, showing the verbal shorthand one uses with close friends.

The journals are not typical of Shelley's prose style: they are more memoranda than diaries; telegraphic and abbreviated for the most part. Two exceptions are notable: travel entries, especially her descriptions of Geneva in ; and the melancholy entries following the three-month gap in her journal after Percy Shelley's death in Here she confides to herself the minutest feelings that had been previously found only in letters, and rarely there.

Perhaps it was her husband's death that unleashed this eloquent self-communion, since her ideas and feelings before had always been tested against his. She says in the first entry 2 October after the poet's death on 8 July:. Yet it is out of this solitude that Mary Shelley forged some of her greatest writing. The extent to which Mary Shelley's mind was connected with her husband's before his death can also be seen in their letters. Many of her letters in the eight years of her marriage were postscripts to her husband's.

Virtually every variety of style may be read in her letters. There is a breathless, precipitous jumble of emotions and half-uttered sentiments in her billets-doux to Shelley, such as this letter of 25 October , when he was running to escape imprisonment for debt:. In contrast is the florid "Continental" ornament of her formal epistles to French and Italian correspondents, such as this 11 November letter to Lafayette:. Yet another style is the respectful, almost deferential balance of dignity and humility in her formal letters to those she thought to be above her station, either in society or in letters.

Mary Shelley's business correspondence is pointed, succinct, and direct, as we see in this 6 August query to Charles Ollier about royalties:. Mary Shelley's letters are of interest not only as sources for biography, but also as further indications of her literary skill. For whichever of her "four fames" draws us to her—her mother, her father, her husband, or her monster—everything from Mary Shelley's pen claims for her prodigious territory in English Romantic prose.

Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Newsletter Subscribe Give. Poetry Foundation. Back to Previous. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. In addition to further isolating her from the father she loved, the two years in Scotland nurtured Mary's literary imagination, as she records in her preface to the single-volume, Standard Novels edition of Frankenstein : They were my eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy.

I wrote then—but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered. In her preface she tells the reader: Those whose youth has been past as theirs with what success it imports not in pursuing, like the swallow, the inconstant summer of delight and beauty which invests this visible world, will perhaps find some entertainment in following the author, with her husband and friend, on foot, through part of France and Switzerland, and in sailing with her down the castled Rhine, through scenes beautiful in themselves, but which, since she visited them, a great poet has clothed with the freshness of a diviner nature.

It maintains the sense of a supernatural presence behind nature: It has seemed to me—and on such an evening, I have felt it,—that this world, endowed as it is outwardly with endless shapes and influences of beauty and enjoyment, is peopled also in its spiritual life by myriads of loving spirits; from whom, unawares, we catch impressions, which mould our thoughts to good, and thus they guide beneficially the course of events, and minister to the destiny of man.

Whether the beloved dead make a portion of this holy company, I dare not guess; but that such exists, I feel.


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  • It began in , when Berchet, a poet of merit, descended suddenly into the arena, throwing, by way of challenge, a translation of the Leonora of Burgher, accompanied by an essay, discarding the old models and planting a new banner She presents Villani as the very type of narrator she has been in her travel writing, the writer who makes the persons of Dante's Spirits familiar to us; who guides us through the unfinished streets and growing edifices of Firenze la bella, and who in short transports us back to the superstitions, party spirit, companionship, and wars of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

    Is he not that which wakens melody in the silent chords of the human heart? A light which arrays in splendor things and thoughts which else were dim in the shadow of their own significance. His soul is like one of the pools in the Ilex woods of the Maremma, it reflects the surrounding universe, but it beautifies, groups, and mellows their tints, making a little world within itself, the copy of the outer one; but more entire, more faultless. But above all, a poet's soul is Love; the desire of sympathy is the breath that inspires his lay, while he lavishes on the sentiment and its object, his whole treasure-house of resplendent imagery, burning emotion, and ardent enthusiasm.

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