The Road to Xanadu - A Study in the Ways of the Imagination
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THE ROAD TO XANADU. PREFACE: THE story which this book essays to tell was not of the tellers choosing. I t simply came, with supreme indifference to other plans, and autocratically demanded right of way. A glittering eye and a skinny hand and a long gray beard could not have done more summary execution, nor, for that matter, could the Wedding-Guest himself who also had other fish to fry have been, at the outset, a more reluctant auditor. But the reluctance swiftly passed into absorbing interest, as the meaning of the chance glimpse which did the business was disclosed. For the agency which cast the spell was not, as it happened, a pair of marvellous fairy-tales at all, nor even the provocative and baffling personality of their creator. It was the imaginative energy itself, surprised as it seemed to me at work behind these fabrics of its weaving. If I Gas right, and if I could make clear to others what I thought I saw myself, I had no alternative. That the aperpi, such as it was, should come through The Ancient Mariner, when I wasintent at the moment upon Chaucers rich humanity, was, to be sure, more than a little disconcerting. It was so, however, that it chose to come, and Wyrd goeth as she will. Once started on, however, the story has been written in its present form I fear I. must confess quite frankly for the writers own enjoyment - in part for the sheer pleasure of following into unfamiliar regions an almost untrodden path not a little for that fearful joy one snatches from the effort to exhibit, with something that approaches clarity, the order which gives meaning to a chaos of details. It would have been easy in comparison to communicate, for the edification of a narrow circle only, a mass of observations to the pages of some learned journal, and let it go at that. But the subject in itself was far too interesting, and the light it seemed to throw upon a wider field far too significant, to warrant any but the broadest treatment I could give it. I am not sure, indeed, that one of the chief services which literary scholarship can render is not precisely the attempt, at least, to make its findings available and interesting, if that may be beyond the precincts of its own solemn troops and sweet societies. At all events, that is the adventurous enterprise of this volume. Its facts I think I can safely vouch for. As for the interpretation thereof, that is the core of the book...
minute or two —then at a vast distance their long slender head and neck only appear, much like a snake—no other part to be seen except sometimes the silvery tip of their Tail. Bartram hazards the guess that "if this bird had been an inhabitant of the Tiber in Ovid's days, it would have furnished him with a subject, for some beautiful and entertaining meta morphoses." 30 And with a dubious "perhaps," which is, I think, unique in the annals of his projects, Coleridge files the old traveller's hint
was the destined setting for Hartley's tranquillizing visit to the glimpses of the moon. "Written in April, 1798," says the title as it stood in the Lyrical Ballads; and the reading of Bartram's fascinating pages, interrupted only long enough to pick up Hartley, be longs, it is clear, to those same vernal hours. But for the mo ment alligators and Indians and maniacs in the woods have passed away, and it is the exceeding loveliness of spring in Somerset—the spring which this year had come slowly
reader; he was also an extremely thorough going one. And he had, as we have seen, the habit of verifying references. If the luminous fishes did impress him, there is at least the possibility that he had looked up Priestley's reference to find out more. Let us turn, then, to Volume Five of the Abridgement, on the chance that Coleridge did so too. The account of the fishes in the Transactions, to which Priestley had referred, turns out to be taken from certain observations of Father Bourzes on
phrase, as he read it, called up Dante's, and Dante's phrase, once rec ollected, carried along with it its accompantjing list. And as a result Chaucer's bead-roll of ladies dead and lovely knights The Deep Well 41 included not only every lover in Boccaccio's list, but every one of Dante's lovers too! 26 Through a flash of association by way of a common phrase, two objects have telescoped into a third. And at moments of high imaginative tension associ ations, not merely in pairs but in
an eminent psychoanalyst is that it was precisely the weakness of Coleridge's ego that allowed the remarkable access to the uncon scious mind that so charges the reference of his great poetic im ages. That the poems do well up from deep within the unconscious mind and engage the total spectrum of our own experience can be gauged from Coleridge's own obliviousness to the feminine sexual imagery of "Kubla Khan"—from the "pleasure dome" to the "deep romantic chasm" to the "milk of Paradise"—and