The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination (Princeton Legacy Library)

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  1. Breadcrumb
  2. Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  3. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY - Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu
  4. Coleridge's notebooks

But in any case this at least is true: they rest, every one of them, not upon preconceived notions, but on concrete facts. If the conclusions are faulty, the facts are there by which they may be tested, and at need amended. And therein lies, I think, such value as this study may possess.

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Our first business, then, will be with the incongruous, chaotic, and variegated jumble out of which emerged the two unique poems which I have named. The goal of our passage through chaos, however, lies, not in the phantasmagoria itself, but in the operations of that shaping spirit of imagination which, likewise moving through the welter, fashions its elements into lucid and ordered unity.


That the moulding imagination in this instance happens to be Coleridge's and not another's, is the accident of a chance page of Purchas, which one day flew a signal and beckoned down a trail which turned out to lead through the uncharted regions tributary to "The Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Khan. But the amazing modus operandi of his genius, in the fresh light which I hope I have to offer, becomes the very abstract and brief chronicle of the procedure of the creative faculty itself.

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I am not so rash, I trust, as to essay to pluck out the heart of the mystery. But the game of coming to close quarters with the riddle is more than worth the candle. We shall be occupied first, accordingly, with the raw stuff of poetry. The finished product will concern us later.

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  4. With that positive assurance to support us, we may strike at once into the thick of a farrago which will triumphantly justify, I think, the title of this chapter. In the British Museum is a small manuscript volume of ninety leaves, which is, in my judgment, one of the most illuminating human documents even in that vast treasure-house.

    About this book

    It is a, note book kept by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, partly in pencil, partly in ink, and always with most admired disorder. There are just two dates from cover to cover, but internal evidence makes clear that it embraces a period of about three years, from the spring of to the spring or summer of , the years which lead up to and include the magnificent flowering of Coleridge's genius on which his renown as a poet rests. It was printed thirty years ago by Professor Brandl of Berlin, but it lies so effectively buried in a German philological periodical that the latest English edition of Coleridge refers to it as vaguely as if it had been published in the moon.

    Yet its value is incalculable, not only for the understanding of Coleridge, but also as a document in the psychology of genius, and as a key to the secrets of art in the making. And its service is inestimable to our present enterprise. It is, on the whole, the strangest medley that I know.

    Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Milton's Commonplace Book is a severely ordered collectanea of extracts culled from his reading, docketed alphabetically, and methodical as a ledger. Shelley's note books, written upside down, sidewise, and even right side up, with their scribbled marginal sketches of boats and trees and human faces — these battered and stained and happy-go-lucky little volumes are a priceless record of the birth-throes of poetry. But it is chiefly poetry, beating its wings against the bars of words, which they contain. There are few notes of Shelley's reading. The Coleridge Note Book is like neither. It is a catch-all for suggestions jotted down chaotically from Coleridge's absorbing adventures among books.

    It is a repository of waifs and strays of verse, some destined to find a lodgement later in the poems, others yet lying abandoned where they fell, like drifted leaves. It is a mirror of the fitful and kaleidoscopic moods and a record of the germinal ideas of one of the most supremely gifted and utterly incalculable spirits ever let loose upon the planet.

    And it is like nothing else in the world so much as a jungle, illuminated eerily with patches of phosphorescent light, and peopled with uncanny life and strange exotic flowers.

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    But it is teeming and fecund soil, and out of it later rose, like exhalations, gleaming and aerial shapes. How those shining shapes arose from chaos it will be our ultimate task to see.

    SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY - Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu

    But our way at the moment lies through a veritable tohu-bohu, which is "neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire, But all these in their pregnant causes mix'd Confusedly. On the one hand is a natural leaning toward all achievable lucidity of outline and arrangement. The document, on the other hand, of which above all things I wish to give a true impression, is almost everything else under Heaven, but lucid it emphatically is not.

    It is singularly like a collection of the flashing, fleeting, random, and disjointed thoughts and fancies which dart, with the happy inconsequence of aquatic insects, across the surface of the stream of consciousness — all jotted down impartially by an interested, and sometimes amazed, Recording Angel. A shower of meteors is not more erratic, and you cannot impose upon a shower of meteors the luminous sequence of the wheeling constellations without its forthwith ceasing to be the thing it is.

    And it is precisely the incredible olla-podrida, as it is which I am anxious, before going farther, to set forth: confusion at its worst confounded, as the elemental stuff of poetry — its "materies Without more ado, then, let us plunge into the wilderness which the strange document before us exhibits. Mays traces the changes in the several versions published in Coleridge's lifetime and shows how Wordsworth's troubled reaction to the poem influenced its subsequent interpretation.

    Coleridge's notebooks

    Using a combination of close reading and broad historical considerations, reception theory, and book history, Mays surveys the poem's continuing life in illustrated editions and educational textbooks; its passage through the vicissitudes of New Criticism and critical theory; and, in a final chapter, its surprising affinities with some experimental poems of the present time. Skip to main content Skip to table of contents. Advertisement Hide. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. Authors view affiliations J. Front Matter Pages i-xiv. Taking Bearings, Setting a Course. Pages What Does the Poem Do?

    As a Poem of the Imagination.