“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”- By S.T.Coleridge

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.

The nine stanzas are from the longer poem of Coleridge and are widely known for their imagery- a collection of some of the finest images used in Romantic poetry. The ship entered a silent sea after a spell of a fine wind .The mariner killed the albatross that brought the good fortune of the wind and has now to wear the dead albatross around his neck as if it is the cross. The wind no longer carries the sail.

The deathly silence of the sea is beautifully captured in the four lines:

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!

The silence of the sea is conveyed by the preponderance of monosyllables (except the word “silence” itself which is di-syllabic).

“Down dropt the breeze,the sails dropped down” is almost onamatopaeic, a repeated “d” sound that forebodes a deathly silence. The silence is accentuated by the repetition of the soft “s” sound:

’twas sad as sad could be
and we did speak only to break
the silence of the sea

The sky is equally hostile ,with a bloody sun just above the ship’s mast:

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

“Hot and copper” sky with a bloody sun is an evocative image. Hot and copper are adjectives reinforcing each other.Copper is copper in color, a visual image and at the same time ,has the property of hotness, implying a tactile image. A bloody sun makes the sky copper -red and copper-hot.

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

“As idle as a painted ship/upon a painted ocean” is an image in which nature is made to imitate art. A ship in a painting is good art as still life but not in life without breath or motion.

These classic lines are a fine piece of music, evoking a passage of time that has alarmingly shrunk the drinking water supply on board.

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

The deepest irony is felt in the scarcity of water surrounded by vast quantities of it not suitable for quenching human thirst.

“water water everywhere : in the first line suggests the depleting water supply in the boards in the midst of plenty of sea water.With no wind in the sails time is running out and no water replenishment is available.

The repeat “water water everywhere” in the third line elaborates on the first line pinpointing water’s unavailability for quenching human thirst.The lines have exquisite lyrical beauty.

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

The sea is rotting deep below with slimy creatures crawling upon the sea.(devils representing the evil forces) .”O Christ” is an invocation to the Son of God who alone can deliver the mariners from the rotting sea that has a spirit six fathoms below controlling the slimy creatures. The spirit has been following the ship since the albatross had been killed by the mariner.

The albatross is a bird of good omen that brings good luck to a sailing ship . It had followed the ship with a fine breeze that carried its sails. The mariner shot it dead from his cross bow bringing a curse on the ship. Hence the calamity that has overtaken the ship.His mates have held him solely responsible for the curse and punished him by hanging the dead albatross around his neck as if it were the cross. The albatross has come to mean a psychological burden that one bears as a penance for a curse.

Willing suspension of disbelief

Kubla Khan
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In Xanadu did Kublai 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 was 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 the 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 ‘midst these dancing rocks at once and ever,
It flung up momently the sacred river!
Five miles meandering with ever 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, Kublai 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 deep delight ‘twould win me
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome within the 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 in holy dread:
For he on honeydew hath fed,

The poem seems a loosely structured composition, the first part being an opium-induced dream . The second part deals with his regret about forgetting the dream, like what we all experience after a dream. The poet lapses into an opium-induced dream while reading about Kubla Khan’s Xanadu. He composes the first three stanzas describing the dream and in the last stanza he suddenly shifts gears to talk about a vision he had earlier about a damsel with a dulcimer singing a melodious composition.The reader is free to piece together all this in an effort to make sense out of it or is free to leave it at that .Coleridge says willing suspension of disbelief for the moment is what constitutes the poetic faith.

The term was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 with the publication of his Biographia literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions:

“In this idea originated the plan of the ‘Lyrical Ballads’; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.

The abrupt switch in the poem occurs after a distraction takes place in the poet’s thoughts about the dream trying to remember its contents. The distraction comes in the form of an hour’s interruption by the visit of a certain Porlack. Who is Porlack? A visitor who interrupts his efforts to remember the opium dream bringing him back to the workaday world and robs him of the completeness of the dream .

Two extended metaphors work in the poem ,loosely connected with each other. The first metaphor is about a pleasure dome commanded to be built by Kublai Khan.The metaphor is a self-contained piece of fiction maintaining a semblance of a workaday world’s logic. But it is loosely structured, created in the haze of an opium-induced dream . The pleasure dome has all the elements of mystery and exoticism.

Alph , the sacred river runs through caverns measureles to man
down to a sunless sea
gardens bright with sinuous rills
incense-bearing tree
romantic chasm
savage place
woman waiting for her demon lover
huge fountains etc.

We have to stretch our suspension of disbelief a little more when we come to the bit about how Kubla Khan starts hearing prophesies of war from ancient voices. Amid all this tumult,says the poet, almost with the tongue in cheek. The internal consistency of the dream need not be questioned . Dreams have no logic like what we have in real life and it is our memory of a dream that imposes a logical framework linking the individual elements to the total meaning. Unfortunately Porlack comes and interrupts the poet’s recollection of the dream and what is resumed after an hour is bound to be incoherent and out of piece with the earlier account of the dream.

But in the last stanza the poet makes a brave attempt to link the post-Porlack thoughts with the earlier recollections of the dream. Hence a damsel with a dulcimer rises up to the surface and what had happened earlier in the dream is linked to these thoughts.Her music is such as to enable a creation of a xanadu and if only he could hear her melody ! The poet finds it difficult to suspend his own disbelief.

Some memorable usages :

“incense-bearing tree”- ( frankincense and myrrh , referred to in the Bible)

“romantic chasm” that slanted down the green hill
(romantic chasm sounds sarcastic in the sense of a chasm between lovers that increases their passion but here romantic does not mean loverly distance but something like what we mean by romantic poetry)

“as if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing”(earth in thick fast pants sounds hip! but pants mean not trousers but only long measured breaths)

“huge fragments vaulted like resounding hall”
chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail…

“For he on honeydew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise!”

Indeed the poet hath fed on honey-dew and drunk the milk of Paradise.

The second extended metaphor is a self-contained vision of a damsel with her dulcimer singing symphony and song . The only connection with the first metaphor( of the Xanadu dream) is the poet’s wish to create a similar paradise in the air if only he could hear her song. Both the extended metaphors have a running logic within them, the logic of a dream in the first metaphor and that of a vision in the second one.But when we see the dreamer hath fed on honeydew and drunk the milk of paradise , our disbelief is easily suspended and poetic faith restored.

“To A Skylark”-A poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun
O’er which clouds are bright’ning,
Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

The pale purple even
Melts around thy flight;
Like a star of Heaven
In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight:

Keen as are the arrows
Of that silver sphere,
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see–we feel that it is there.

All the earth and air
With thy voice is loud.
As, when night is bare,
From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflowed.

What thou art we know not;
What is most like thee?
From rainbow clouds there flow not
Drops so bright to see
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.

Like a poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

Like a high-born maiden
In a palace tower,
Soothing her love-laden
Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

Like a glow-worm golden
In a dell of dew,
Scattering unbeholden
Its aerial hue
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:

Like a rose embowered
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflowered,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet these heavy-winged thieves.

Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,
Rain-awakened flowers,
All that ever was
Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.

Teach us, sprite or bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

Chorus hymeneal
Or triumphal chaunt
Matched with thine, would be all
But an empty vaunt–
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

What objects are the fountains
Of thy happy strain?
What fields, or waves, or mountains?
What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?

With thy clear keen joyance
Languor cannot be:
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee:
Thou lovest, but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety.

Waking or asleep,
Thou of death must deem
Things more true and deep
Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

Yet if we could scorn
Hate, and pride, and fear;
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now!

As I read this under-grad poem once again, what has struck me most is the use of the negative prefix “un” to suggest the ethereal as distinguished from the physical:

Unpremeditated art
Scattering unbeholden
Singing (hymns) unbidden
Unbodied joy

Everything about the skylark is ethereal, with no interference from the sensory perceptions of a human being.Its song is art but with no premeditated music scheme.Its light scatters like a glow-worm,unbeholden(by the human eye) in the grass and flowers. It sings hymns like a poet hidden, without being bidden by a church priest. It is pure “unbodied joy”,the result of an ecstacy pure in its form, unconnected with the pleasures of the senses. Everything about it is moving away from the body, from the drossness of a carnal being.

Remember it is not non-bodied joy ,but unbodied joy which means a calculated human effort to move away from the physical.

Another nice negative prefix used is in “deflowered” , a beautiful sensory term used for the rose temporarily hidden behind the leaves as a result of the wind’s blowing.Here the wind is the molester ,who deflowers the rose.

Of course ,the most memorable lines are:

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

The allierated “s” (sincerest,some,sweetest,songs,saddest) lends a soft tonality to the lines as they are recited.

“The world is too much with us”- By William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathéd horn.

The sonnet, written in the Petrarchan form, speaks of the poet’s concern for humankind moving away from nature in the pursuit of material gains, the latter acquired at the expense of our innate powers to see ourselves in nature. Kinship being lost with nature is a familiar theme of Wordsworth’s poetry.

The first line “The world is too much with us, late and soon” is epigrammatic. “A sordid boon” is an image that recalls Faust’s boon of supernatural powers acquired by exchanging his soul with the devil. The one image that I personally like in the poem is the winds that are upgathered now like sleeping flowers”, an exquisite image indeed.

Wordsworth feels out of place in a world obsessed with the material prosperity and rather prefers to be a “pagan suckled in a creed outworn”-another interesting image, notable for its graphic quality. A pagan from aboriginal tribes is more in tune with nature, although “suckled in a creed outworn”.

Unheard melodies

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! “

(Stanza 2 from John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn)

When we were in college we were not too much overwhelmed by the beauty of these lines which merely seemed epigrammatic, one of amazing brevity and language terseness. An old English teacher may talk about it at length stressing the beauties of the language but thought? We were not impressed whatever be the precocious genius of Keats. Now that we ourselves could be Old English teachers (though we are not) we suddenly realize that all that is not so much sound and fury but one that signifies a lot.

“Heard melodies are sweet but those unheard are sweeter” is not mere Polonius type of brevity. An exquisite auditory experience from the melodies yet to be played by the musicians on the urn is conveyed through a visual medium of painting . How art is long and life is brief ,how art freezes the transient beauties of sensory experiences in a fourth dimension of time. The urn itself stands for the impermanence of life ,carrying its ashes in its beauty.That is how beauty becomes truth and truth beauty.

“This Living Hand” by John Keats

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed–see here it is–
I hold it towards you.

The living hand I am extending towards you, now capable of earnest grasping. When death occurs the same hand drained of its red life will haunt your days and chill your nights. And it will make you wish that the blood coursing in your living veins be drained and instead flow in the dead poet’s veins. That will set at rest your conscience.

Whether or not it was meant for Fanny Brawne , the poem does indeed raise gloomy thoughts . A poem written in the last years of the young poet who knew he was dying would speak of a state of existence in death- a hand ,now living and capable of grasping would lie in the tomb ,cold and drained of blood. The thoughts are of a living man projecting his existence on to an existence devoid of life. The process of the living hand transforming to lifelessness can only be imagined by a living man about to die. The poem makes the reader project his own conscious life on to such an existence as though the poet is holding his hand towards him.

“Ode to Autumn” by John Keats

Ode To Autumn
Poem lyrics of Ode To Autumn by John Keats.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cell.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir, the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

The poem “Ode to Autumn” is one of the more popular poems of Keats and is known for its undercurrents of death and dying being signified by autumn and mellow fruitfulness.The poem lacks the complexity of thought and classical allusions of the other poems of the poet but is full of exquisite sensory imagery ,more particularly visual imagery. The entire season has been described with “visual-dynamic” images suggesting growth ,decay and death .The images thus refer to the process rather than static objects thereby reinforcing the seasons being born,slowly growing and then maturing and ripening. Just look at the “growing” images-“load and bless”,”vines that round the thatch run”,”swell the gourd”,”budding”,”more and still more”,”over-brimmed”,”seen thee”,”sitting careless”,”soft-lifted”,”winnowing wind”,”twined flowers”,”last oozings”.

Now let us look at the “dying” images -“soft-dying day”,”touch the stubble fields -a tactile-visual image of harvested fields,”small gnats mourn”(death image),”light wind lives or dies”( a dying image),”full-grown lambs loud bleat”(auditory-dynamic image suggestive of the imminent slaughter of the sheep)”gathering swallows “(readying for migration)