Samuel Taylor Coleridge (YGtCTO Words #88)

Kubla Khan

Poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

There is something about any education in literature that bears a striking resemblance to throwing mud at a wall and seeing what sticks. That’s no disparagement as much as it’s a reality of trying to guess what art will make an impression on someone at a particular moment in time. In the case of school, you also get the added pressure of treating it all with importance. This is what makes it worse than giving recommendations to friends about a good book you just read. Hardly anyone anymore ever says they just finished Madame Bovary.

Of course, school teachers still have a little leeway on content (very little). If the school district still requires a dip into poetry and the teacher had to pass a couple poetry classes in college, then you also may have been exposed to English poetry of the 18th and 19th century. Byron and Shelley and Browning all made appearances. Someone was called upon to read aloud and probably made a hash of it. We don’t speak that way anymore. You do have to wonder if anyone ever did.

Then they pass out a photostat of something by Coleridge, which looks no more promising than all the rest. However, there is usually someone in the class whose eyes light up as they read. In my class, that was me in the back row, having the snark wiped from my mind.

I was ripe for this stuff. And I loved the background story about it being pulled from an opium dream. What teenager doesn’t prefer their artists with a hint of doom? Honestly, when Morrissey came along, I pretty much envisioned him as some dude in breeches with a Coleridge hairdo. In reality, they were both pretty weird, but I was definitely out of my mind.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

An excerpt:

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.

As part of the last class anywhere to ever have to do so, we had to memorize poems and this is the only bit I remember. I’m sort of proud of that, but really it is fading for me now.

Overall, I thought Coleridge was going to be my model for life and I knew absolutely nothing about him. My parents knew nothing about him, but bought me a biography for a birthday gift. He certainly seemed like a better role model than Jim Morrison, whose biography I was reading at the time.

I nudged around inside the biography and couldn’t get past how alien the man truly was. Some of that was because he seemed so damn smart and so incredibly bad at life. You would think that would seem cool, because it certainly was in a rock star, but somehow Coleridge still seemed more like a grandfather. I didn’t want to know my ancestor lived on a commune and drank laudanum. It was a step too far. Now that I’m closer in age to a grandfather, well… is that absinthe you’re having?

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 37 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

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