Then all the charm
Is broken—all that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,
And each mis-shape the other. Stay awhile,
Poor youth! who scarcely dar’st lift up thine eyes—
The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon
The visions will return! And lo! he stays,
And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms
Come trembling back, unite, and now once more
The pool becomes a mirror.
Kubla Khan – Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment – Coleridge.
Sonnet: To The River Otter
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge
How many various-fated years have passed,
What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! Yet so deep impressed
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray,
But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that, veined with various dyes,
Gleamed through thy bright transparence! On my way,
Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled
Lone manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs:
Ah! that once more I were a careless child!
We live in paradise even if we lose sight of Xanadu now and again. I have a hard time connecting to the constant drone of bad environmental news that seems to endlessly bombard us from all sides in the media. It’s not that I avert my eyes to the very real threat that rising carbon dioxide levels and global warming poses to reshaping this planet in ways that could forever alter the stability of our society. Nor am I insensitive to the corresponding threat to a million species at risk of extinction or the presence of plastic, pollution and exotic contaminants that degrade even in the most remote places of the world caused by the carelessness and industrialization of our lives. I am keenly aware of this insanity. I am indigent to the destruction that humans are causing our planet and aware of the brokenness of our consumptive lifestyles and unsustainable appetite of economies based on free market capitalism, a false idea that growth is what’s “healthy” and necessary. You have to be willfully blind to think this is going to end well or is sustainable. It’s that I don’t choose to live a daily life focused on that negative reality of the cause and effect of over 7 billion people on this planet as there is no reasonable option to figure out what is a sustainable population or how to implement such a thing. It’s beyond our human ability for collective decision making. So I instead choose to focus on other things. I am admittedly one of the members of the band still playing on the deck of the Titanic, probably the baritone, that will keep on playing their part even as my feet sink below the surface.
I am not a believer that the world is going to come to an end, nor that homo sapiens aren’t part of the very distant future. Life on this planet is nothing if not resilient. But as the painting above illustrates there are plenty of birds of paradise, like the dodo bird and passenger pigeon, that were plentiful not that long ago, that disappeared with little warning and without conservation because of human stupidity. So where’s the middle ground between a life of avid protectionism and environmental activism and living in peaceful, albeit transient ignorance? It’s right here, in my favorite writing chair, listening to the rain outside and smelling the fragrance of crab apple blossoms coming in my open window, enjoying the playfulness of paradise in the hands of a talented poet, while keeping a slumbering eye on this restless and damaged but beautiful world.
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were 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 a 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 ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with 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 Kubla 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 a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in 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 with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.