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Sorry Man, No Xanadu On:2004-10-01 04:52:48

"...Could I revive within me her symphony and song
"To such a deep delight would win me
"that ....1 I would build that dome in air,
"That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!
"And all who heard should see them there
"And all would cry Beware! Beware!
"His flashing eyes and floating hair,
"Weave a circle round him thrice,
"And close your eyes for holy dread
"For he on honey-dew hath fed
"And drunk the milk of Paradise..."
I bet that by now you are all saying "Thank God for that person from Porlock" or perhaps since I'm sure you are by now also in a more jaundiced and cynical mood "Thank God for drug induced memory loss" and you don't care if it's mine or Coleridge's.


Now I've mentioned in the past in these essays my terminal case of CPD (you remember that, don't you? It's Compulsive Poetry Disorder) so my only excuse for stirring up these old woes and this old pain is that they have just brought out a new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and, since that is such a high media attention event, the BBC made damn sure that there was a segment of their programme called The Ticket on the World Service the other morning in which the lady in charge of it made much of the new ODQ having lots of new quotes from new people--politicians and sportsmen and the like moderns--and to my utter agahstness they pointed out the ghastly fact that it now has much less poetry in it. And this is doubly sad because I believe that when they originally floated it (some time around 1915) it was intended to be purely a dictionary of POETICAL quotations.

And living now and living here it has come to me that there is precious little poetry left in our lives any more. Time was, ..Ah!.. when I was young, and a hottie, and in England, time was when one could (or at least I seemed to be able to) be so much more attractive to girls, and even to get to have sex, with poetry---and in fact I have just remembered how I was once in a launderette in Putney in south-west London and was chatting up a potential girlfriend (in fact a quasi-girlfriend already) by reciting from memory the whole of that Xanadu with which I started--acting it out too (why in those days I even had floating hair if not actual flashing eyes) to, at first, just her delight and then, as I got louder and more and more demonstrative, to the delight or at least the mild amusement (or maybe it was only the contemptuous tolerance) of the other six or seven washer-people present, and as we left and the poem finished I remember distinctly leaning half back through the launderette door as it closed to do the "And drunk the milk of Paradise..." line. And that they clapped! Probably from relief!
God we were silly in those days.

And it wasn't just in such sudsy surroundings that poetry came to the fore, and it wasn't just me spouting it, why I remember another belle dame sans ...whatever2, Christianne Heal, once when I had wandered far and long sent me a postcard with Mariana's famous plaint from her moated grange written in her beautiful italic Heal-ish handwriting (of which I was always so jealous):
"She only said, 'My life is dreary,
"He cometh not,' she said;
"She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
"I would that I were dead!'",
not that we took such threats seriously in those days, but we did appreciate the shear Tennysonian-ness of them---and , of course, the poetry. And it wasn't just the demoiselles who gave and took of poetry, even the most loutish of muddied oafs in the local pub would recite, after their usual few dozen pints, poems (often of great length) about Esquimaux Nell or young ladies from various exotic parts of Limerick .

But that was then, and now-a-days if a guy tried the poetic approach the girl would probably run off screaming or at the very least slouch off toward Bethlehem, PA to avoid being bored. So how can we demand more of the ODQ lady?
I would go on, had we but world enough and time, but both seem to be running out so...

Cheerio for now
from Richard Howland-Bolton.




Notes:

1 ....
"That with music loud and long" always seems to get left out---my memory of this poem is almost word-perfect but for this one line. I suspect that there is some deep psychological reason for me not wanting to dwell on the long or loud aspects of my performance! Maybe it's fear??.

2whatever
"...belle dame sans ...whatever" Didn't Keats write something like this?
The translation is, of course, "the beautiful lady who wouldn't say thank you," or whatever.

 

There are a few actual poetical quotations in this essay, not to mention a plagiarists hell of allusions to and illusions of them!




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