Wistful search for mysticism while " Blowin' in the Wind."

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Feb 9Liked by Debra Esolen

As you know, my major in college was mathematics, but my wife was fond of telling people of my confession that the two most-influential (to my intellectual development) courses I took in college were two particular classes, one in music appreciation and the other a poetry class. I was first introduced to Kubla Khan in that college poetry class, and the first assignment in the class was to write a paper on Kubla Khan. The professor's teaching focus at that point was about how the more subtle and less-noticed (consciously anyway) aspects of a great poem play into its greatness, and his examples of poetic subtilty in various poems resonated with me strongly at the time (and still do).

I remember writing the KK paper with that in mind and (I wish I had it in hand to review those loooong-ago and mostly forgotten points but alas, the paper is long gone now...), and I vaguely remember mentioning something (among several other things) about the poem's intermingling contrasts (ie, "nearly opposite" aspects, in fact) between the various descriptions of wide open and vast images against (sometimes within the very same object being described) "enclosed" areas and images (eg, measureless/seas/twice-five-miles/etc as "vast and wide open" imagery contrasted with dome/caverns/sunless/etc as "enclosed" imagery). And lots more other sorts of subtilty throughout the rest of the poem that I can't recall the details of now.

And I mention that because, as I recalled that paper while reading your column, it resonated with your line (among other comments), "when art and nature seem to strive and yet to be as one, it opens up the soul, and then you may just gain the power to do wonders."

And reading through the poem now with those thoughts in mind, I especially notice the intense alliteration and assonance on each line (mostly at the end of each line, but also strewn throughout here and there -- eg, Kubla Khan, dome decree, river ran, measureless to man, sunless sea, etc, on and on throughout nearly the whole poem).

And, phew!, how about those THREE-syllable rhymes (or at least near-rhymes) -- and we're talkin' high-powered rhymes here -- at the top of the poem: fertile ground/girdled round, cedarn cover/demon-lover. You can almost see those rhyme-heavy line endings as the very "walls and towers" that girdle round and enclose the fertile ground! I would even say (but I can imagine someone disagreeing here, not sure) that the phrases "oh! that deep" and "romantic" are another three-syllable "close rhyme" (I don't know if there is a technical term for "close rhyme").

Well anyway, it seems like every line screams out with alliterations and assonances and internal rhymes and on and on, and back and forth, that aurally mimic your description, "a lot of wild and spirit-moving sights and sounds," at least to me, it seems.

And as another side-track, I have to mention one example of why it is often good to "know" the period of the poem or work one is reading, lest misunderstandings occur. For as I read about "this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething," I couldn't help wondering what a pair of "fast thick pants" might be like, let alone being worn by a personified "earth" breathing (in ceaseless turmoil seething, no less). Of course I fairly quickly (after a brief head-scratching moment) realized the pants were of the sort a dog does and not the sort a man wears.

(And now I come to it, I would even say that "turmoil seething" and "pants were breathing" is another sorta-three-syllable rhyme with the "tur/were, seething/breathing" -- despite the intermingling "-moil" there, but I say that that disruption is "helped along" by the rather chaotic-inducing and assonantic [ok, ok, I just now coined that word -- so sue me], adjective, "ceaseless" just before "turmoil" to create a kind of category 5 hurricane of sounds with "ceaseless turmoil seething". So there! :-) )

And, since I've strayed so far from home already, I'll just add the conclusion of that college poetry class paper story, if only because it is one of my "proud" moments: When I handed the paper in, I felt pretty shy and embarrassed. That's because, though I wrote it in seriousness, I couldn't help feeling like the professor would read it and see it as a kind of last minute, frantic, reaching-for-straws attempt to put SOMETHING -- ANYTHING down on paper to get the assignment done in time no matter how much "Huh? what in the heck is Stanley talking about here?" sense it seemed to make. I dreaded getting it back -- really, truly.

The next day (or couple days later, can't remember now), the professor came in with a stack of the class's graded papers and began handing them out, calling each name to hand it back to the student -- name, hand paper back, name, hand paper back, name, hand paper back. But when he got to "Stanley," he paused, and suddenly announced to the entire class that this was the only paper that got an A in the class. Totally embarrassed was I of course, but internally, my inner weak-self-confidence child was dancing a jig, you might say.

In ANY CASE, you can probably imagine that Kubla Khan ranks as one of my dearest college memories for that reason :-)

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Feb 8Liked by Debra Esolen

Many of your readers most likely know the back story of the expression, Person from Porlock. But for those, like myself who didn't, the link below is very helpful.


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Two recommendations in case you might be interested: Andrew Klavan, convert to Xty from secularism, has written a beautiful book, The Truth and Beauty, all about the romantic poets and Christ. Also, in regards to the muse of inspiration, Tim Powers, Catholic novelist of the supernatural and strange, has written a couple of marvelous stories about the muse being vampiric. The Stress of Her Regard is one, Hide Me among the Graves, another.

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