2008 is the 40th anniversary year of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the American civil-rights campaigner and leader. Martin Luther King, like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, whose well-thumbed biography he often turned to for inspiration, followed the path of peaceful resistance. And like Gandhi (2008 sees his 60th death anniversary) King's peaceful tactics won the day.
So what's King's connection to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge? King, as we know was a great orator and an avid reader of poetry as are many great orators. One Coleridge poem which King mentions in his writings is the poem 'Kubla Khan', subtitled 'A Vision in a Dream. A fragment' by its author. The story goes that Coleridge fell asleep in his chair having been prescribed two grains of opium for an 'indisposition'. He had been reading 'Purchas's Pilgrimage' and in particular the sentence 'Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built...'. During his sleep the poet experienced what he called 'a vision', and on waking quickly jotted down its content. Unfortunately there was a knock at the door and his thought processes were disturbed. He was unable to recall other details when he returned to the work.
King was obviously aware of this story and may have been thinking of it when he wrote of 'the poem that remains unwritten because of the knock at the door'. As a tribute to King and Colerdige, and also to Gandhi, Poet-in-Residence offers 'the Fragment' under Coleridge's appropriate subtitle and recalls to mind King's immortal words "I have a dream."
A Vision in a Dream
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 here 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 ever 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 amid 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 amid 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 would 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
(Coleridge said that the complete poem would have run to at least 200 - 300 lines. But, as often happens in life there came 'the knock on the door')
Poet-in-Residence's footnote: There are many peoples in the world who have grievances. If these grievances are real and not imagined it may well pay the aggrieved peoples to consider pursuing the ways of King and Gandhi which are tried and tested methods and have been found to work in the long run. The path of violence never brings real and lasting rewards. Could it be that there is some universal law at work in the affairs of men?