HauteLit from HotLanta: Romanticism
“Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burden of the mystery
In which the heavy and weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened (37-41)
-William Wordsworth, “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”
Having ingested Kerouac, Bukowski, Ginsberg and Williams in many chunks ground thoroughly between the teeth of the literary monster inside of me, I was not at all enthused about the commandment to read the Lake Poets in my intro English class in college. I judged the poets by their leathery, mothball-smelling cover like I was told never to do. In fact I avoided opening my Longman Anthology for many days upon days, until I realized that the assignment would not culminate in a class discussion where I could simply get by through an employment of my natural introversion, my nod and point technique or my dispersal of vague comments. No, I would have to write a paper and thus could not avoid reading it. If I was to critique the works of the lake poets it was necessary to be well-versed. I don’t enjoy writing if I must employ the age-old skill of “BS,” (a.k.a: BullShitidus-explanitum). Sure, I can BS like the best of them and the rest of them, but I take no pleasure in it and I never did, so no matter the hour or the deadline, I unfailingly did the time for the pieces I was to write about.
Let me assure you, when I did open the book to that fated page, the one that would change my poetry and interest in literature forever, I was more than enthused, I was inspired. “Kubla Khan,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge not only epitomized my experience as a creative person, but changed my perspective completely on literary works outside the contemporary era. Coleridge was a certified visionary (which could have been slightly amplified by his heavy use of opiates, but hey, in those times it was prescribed and accepted). Let me first say that STC and I have a lot in common. We’ve both suffered from depression and, well, ok that’s it, but I thought it was a lot more than that. Although, I can’t say that I’ve ever taken laudanum as treatment, I understand how the creative flow can lift one’s spirits immensely and interruption to said kaleidoscope of ideas, creativity and visions can be deeply disturbing and depressing.
What struck me the most about Coleridge’s “fragment” of a larger work is not the work itself (although I love that, too), but the preface to the work in which he explains that he awoke from an opium dream completely inspired. Many writers, I’m sure, can agree that sleep or the time right before or after sleep can sometimes yield the very best of ideas and it’s the worst time because it’s so rare to have a pen and paper handy underneath your pillow. Coleridge immediately ran to his pen and paper and began writing in a feverish haze, but was interrupted midway through by a mysterious caller whose identity has never been nailed down, or perhaps the caller was only a figment induced by opiates. Regardless, Coleridge was detained for an hour and by the time that hour had passed, the “pleasure dome” of his creative inspiration had floated off in chunks down the sacred river never to be pieced together again.
Haven’t we all experienced such an event? But Coleridge describes it so well in Kubla Khan. In the preface, he says that he publishes it, not to highlight poetic skill, but to instead propose a psychological curiosity. To turn Creativitus Interruptus into a published work that was first highly criticized and then later openly admired and applauded by critics is an amazing thing. It’s impossible to write a gem every time pen is put to paper, but to see the beauty in the imperfections in one’s writing and to then turn them into something amazing is true skill.
In reading Kubla Khan again, I realize that more than any of the contemporary poets I admire, I have been most influenced by Coleridge. Sure, I don’t follow the rhyming scheme that he does preferring syllabic rhythm , but the lyricism of his poetry, the way he puts words and images together stuck with me and has continued to influence the way that I see the world and later write about it. I recognize kindred soul when I read Coleridge’s poetry.
This week, after completely failing at being an extrovert in several situations and interacting with other human beings, I got an ice cream cone and parked my car under the bridge. I felt stalled, uninspired, and parked literally and metaphorically, but then, I observed my surroundings. The bridge, the movement of the water, the algae covering the concrete posts rooted in mud, the floating paper that at first could have been mistaken for a bird, moved me because I saw in nature, my place within it, somewhere I belonged and yet somewhere where I could never fully understand HOW I belonged.
I thought of Coleridge’s words and I began to think that maybe this experience could actually be something to write about. Maybe, I could describe the angst and struggle of feeling like an outsider to my own hometown, to my own life, to my own body. I hurried home to begin writing, but was detained as is to be expected, by responsibility. When I came back to the story, I ultimately employed some experimental devices I wouldn’t have otherwise employed had it not been for the interruption. I hope that I will be as lucky as Coleridge to have it published by one of the many places I submitted it to, but even if that does not happen, I have learned and it is all thanks to the poets who opened my eyes up to the sublime. As humans, we see our potential in nature, but also, nature becomes a symbol of our human realities (Christian Hirschfeld).
**I recommend reading Kubla Khan and Rime of the Ancient Mariner while listening to Shubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet in D Minor linked below. **
If you’ve ever experiences the rush of creative freedom, the realization of yourself through the sublime or the destructive forces of interruption to one’s creativity, please share your experience!
William Wordsworth, “Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”
William Wordsworth, “The Lyrical Ballads“
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”
Lord Byron, “Don Juan”
Edgar Allen Poe, “The Raven”
Edgar Allen Poe, “The Telltale Heart and Other Writings”
Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Scarlet Letter”
Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables”
Theadore Gericault, “The Raft of the Medusa”
Francisco Goya, “The Third of May 1808”
Henry Fuseli, “The Nightmare”
Franz Schubert, “String Quartet No. 14: Death and the Maiden Quartet”
Felix Mendelssohn, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, Op. 21″