Thursday, 7 November 2019

Coleridge's Greek Ode: "Against The Slave Trade" (1792)



A student at Cambridge in 1792, Coleridge entered the competition for the university's Brown Medal ‘for a poem written in imitation of Sappho’. He worked hard composing his 100-line Greek ode, taking as his topic the evils of the slave trade, and in June he won the gold medal, formally reciting his winning ode before an audience of Fellows on 3rd July 1792. It’s not a poem that has endured, though: rarely discussed even by specialists and ignored or mocked by more general Coleridgeans. Richard Holmes [Coleridge: Early Visions (1989), 43] records that ‘Richard Porson, the new Professor of Greek, privately offered to show 134 examples of bad Greek in it … more than one error per line.’ Over a beer (we were at a conference I think) Edith Hall once asked me if I liked the poem, adding ‘it’s really not very good, I think’. Her Ancient Greek is vastly better than mine, so you should probably trust her assessment. Still: the claim that there are ‘134 examples of bad Greek’, even including the (notoriously tricky) judgement of dodgy metrical calls, is, simply, an untruth. Classicist James Diggle, more sober-headed than most Coleridge scholars, notes that ‘the reputation of Coleridge’s ode has never recovered from the blow that was dealt by an anonymous reviewer of Biographia Literaria in 1817’. He quotes the relevant passage:
His classical knowledge was found at the University to be equally superficial. He gained a prize there for a Greek Ode which for ever blasted his character as a scholar; all the rules of that language being therein perpetually violated. We were once present in a literary company, where Porson offered to shew in it, to a gentleman who was praising this Ode, 134 examples of bad Greek. [Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 2(1817), 12]
But despite the fact this story has often been reported (as Diggle says) ‘as if it were authenticated fact’ it is highly unlikely to be true. Porson offered to show 134 example of bad Greek in the poem?
I doubt it; and I doubt if he offered to. The reviewer begins with two sentences of humbug which he justifies in the third by invoking the authority of Porson. Since Porson was dead and the rest of the ‘literary company’ remains unnamed, the reviewer could cite Porson without fear of contradiction. ‘134 examples’: why, and when, did Porson made such a precise count? As an examiner? An examiner who could find so many (more than one per line) could not award the medal. Perhaps he was not an examiner; but, if not, motive and occasion are even harder to divine. At all events, only a few months later (January 1793) we find Porson examining Coleridge for the Craven Scholarship and judging him worthy to be on the shortlist of four out of seventeen candidates. Coleridge himself, who at this time idolized Porson, believed he had Porson’s vote. And he believed he would have won the medal again in the following year if only Porson had been an examiner. The idolatry continued even after the review was published. [Diggle, ‘Coleridge’s Greek Ode on the Slave Trade’, Notes and Queries (March 2002)].
Diggle, whose expertise really is ungainsayable, identifies maybe twelve instances of ‘wrong or dubious’ Greek in the poem, most of them pretty trivial (he also finds ‘a few false quantities’, which is venal rather than mortal sinning, I feel). Otherwise this is a pretty sound Greek ode. In other words: the ‘134 errors’ line is a canard, and insofar as there are errors they fall within the parameters not only of modern imitations of Ancient Greek verse, but of actual Ancient Greek verse, where such ‘errors’ are often found, are called ‘cruces’, and are either emended, explained away as ‘poetic licence’ or else ignored.

It raises an interesting, or interesting-to-me, question, though. How far are we even able to read a poem like this? We can decipher it, perhaps situate it in its particular neo-Greek tradition, register its various (sometimes rather clonking) intertextual allusions and games. But where I trust my sense of how an English poem works, how form and content work together, how expressive it may be in terms of imagery, how metrically monotonous or inventive and so on, I can't pretend that I have the same intuitive sense of how a Greek or Latin poem works. For instance, I understand (more or less) the prosodic rules to which these poems conform, and can, with a bit of labour, map out metrical patterns; but I can't really hear verse patterned according to long and short vowels. I simply don't tune-in to quantity in the way I can hear, and indeed grok pretty well, ictus, patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. Quantity is not intuitive for me in the way ictus is. That may be a shaming confession to make, I don't know; and there is a lot we don't know about how the ancients heard their verse (ictus may have played a larger part than is sometimes thought). But I daresay it does hamstring my critical faculties a little bit.

This also opens questions of audience. To read Sappho, or Pindar (or whoever), is a process of translation in a linguistic but also a cultural sense, one guided by a more or less tacit the original audience would have x'd or y'd to such a poem... With Coleridge's ode there was no ancient audience, and hypothecating one is only to emphasise the extent to which the poem is, inevitably, a fake antique. I mean, STC is perfectly above board about his poem's fakeness, not only in its authorship but in the body of the text itself: Thanatos, Themis and the other Greek divinities are period-appropriate, but there's no Ἰλβρεφωρoς [line 63] in the ancient world. But, see, that's interesting: presumably Coleridge wants us to read his Hellenization of Wilberforce's name and say to ourselves something like: ‘clearly this name would have started with a digamma in pre-classical Greek, but by Sappho's time ϝίλβρεφωρoς had become Ἰλβρεφωρoς...’ That's quite a sophisticated metatextual game, I'd say, even if it is one forced on Coleridge by classical Greek's lack of a ‘W’.

So my sense is that there's quite a lot of striking poetry in this Greek ode, for all that it's an exercise confected to a large extent out of bits and pieces from Aeschylus, Pindar and university text-books. Which is to say it's not merely an exercise, and several of these lines are nicely euphonious: Death flying the souls of murdered slaves over the uneven swell of the vast ocean Δασκίοις ἐπὶ ἀιρόμενοι πτερoισι/Tραχὺ μακρῶ Ὠκεᾰνῶ [lines 9-10] is a couplet with a lovely rise and fall musicality to it; or there's the insistent but not over-played k-alliteration of ρῶ Κήρυκ' Ἐλέω, κλάδοισιν/Ὠς κατάσκιον κεφελὰν ἐλάιας! [lines 61-62], presaging the arrival of Wilberforce as if clanging a bell. Some of the imagery is stock-footage, but some is striking, and the whole thing reads to me as heartfelt. See what you think:


Ω σκότω πύλας, Θανατε, προλείπων
Ές γένος σπεύδων ἵθι ζεύχθεν
Ὀυ ξενισθήσῃ γενύων σπαραγμοῖς
                 Ὀυδ’ ὀλολυγμῷ,

Ἀλλὰ καὶ κύκλοισι χοροιτύποισιν
Κἀσμάτων χαρᾷ; φοβερὸς μὲν ἐσσί,
Ἀλλ' ὁμῶς Ἐλευθερίᾳ συνοικεῖς,
                 Στυγνὲ Τύραννε!

Δασκίοις ἐπὶ ἀιρόμενοι πτερoισι
Tραχὺ μακρῶ Ὠκεᾰνῶ δι’οἶδμα                 [10]
Ἀδονᾶν φῐ́λας ἐς ἔδρας πέτωνται
                 Γαν τε πατρώαν

Ἔνθα μὰν ἔρασταὶ ἐρωμένῃσιν
Ἀμπὶ κρουνοῖσιν κιτρίων ὑπ' ἀλσῶν,
Oἶα πρὸς βροτῶν ἔπαθον βροτοί, τὰ
                 Δεινὰ λέγοντι.

Φευ, κόρω Nᾶσοι φονίω γέμουσαι
Δυσθεατοῖς ἀμφιθαλεῖς κακοῖσι
Πᾶ νοσεῖ λιμὸς, βρέμεταί τε πλάγα
                 Ἀιματόεσσα,                               [20]

Ἀμμέων ἴω ποσάκις πρόσηζεν
Ὀππάτεσσι δακρυόεσσ' ὀμίχλη,
Ποσσάκις κ' ᾄμα κραδία στέναζεν!
                 Ἀινοπαθει γὰρ

Δουλίᾳ γέννᾳ Βαρέως συναλγῷ,
Ὠς ἀφωντήῳ στεναχεῦντι πενθεῖ,
Ὠς πόνων δίναις στυγέρων κύκλουνται,
                 Τέκνα Ἀνάγκας.

Ἀμέπῃσ' ἔπει ἀφιλῃσιν ἄμπι
Κᾶυμα, καὶ Λοιμὸς, Καματός τ' ἄφερτος         [30]
Μάρναται, καὶ Μναμοσύνας τὰ πικρὰ
                 Φάσματα λυγρᾶς.

Φεῦ· κάμοντας Μάστις ἄγρυπνος ὀρμα,
Ἄλιον πρίν ἄν ἐπέγειρεν Ἄως·
Κ' Ἄματος δύνει γλυκύδερκες ἄστρον,
                 Πένθεα δ' ἀνθεῖ

Ἐις ἄεν· ψυχὰν γὰρ ἀωρόνυκτα
Δέιματ' ἐμπλήττει, κότον ἐμπνέοντα·
Ὄμμα κοιμᾶται μελέοις Φόβος δὲ
                  Ὄυδεποτ' ὐπνοῖ.                        [40]

Ἐι δὲ τὶ ψεῦδος μεθέπῳντι ἄδυ
Ἔλπιδος σκίαις μετ' ὀνειροφάντοις,
Ὺβρέως ἀνιστάμενοι τάχ' ὀιστροῖς
                 Ἀλιθιῶνται.

Ω κακοῖσι Δουλοσύνας χλίοντες,
Ἀθλίων ω βοσκόμενοι διοιγμοῖς,
Πᾶιδες ὔβρισται Κόρω, ἀυτάδελφον,
                 Αἶμα δρέποντες,

Ὀυ ρα προσδέρκει τάδ' ἄφυκτον
Ὄμμα; Ὀυ ρα κ'ἄμειψιν Νεμέσις τινάσσει    [50]
Πυρπνόαν; ἀκούετ'; ἤ οὐκ ακούετ';
                  Ὠς χθόνα πάλλει

Πνεύματ' ἐκ ρίζων, καὶ ὐποστένοντι
Γᾶς μυχοὶ, βυθόι τε μυκῶνται ἀινῶς,
Ἐγκοτεῖν τοὺς νέρθεν ὐπεγγύωντες
                 Τοῖς κτανέουσιν!

Ἀλλὰ τίς μ' ᾄχω μελίγαρυς, οἶαι
Δωριᾶν ριπὰι κιθαρᾶν, προσέπτα;
Τίς ποτιστάζει ψιθύρισμον ἄδυν
                 Μάλθακα φώυα;                           [60]

Οἶ! ὀρῶ Κήρυκ' Ἐλέω, κλάδοισιν
Ὠς κατάσκιον κεφελὰν ἐλάιας!
Οἶ! λόγων τέων γάνος, Ἰλβρεφωρσεῦ
                 Χρύσεον ἄιω!

“Πάγα Δακρύων ὄσια, σταλαγμῶν
“Νῦν ἄλις τέων· στεροπᾷ ξεναρκεῖ
“Τᾶς δικᾶς ἀτυζόμενον τεθνάζει
                  “Πῆμα δάμασθεν.

“Ἐμπέσει δ' ἀκταῖς Λιβυκῇσιν οὐκέτ’
“Ἀ χάρις χρυσῶ ἄχαρις βδέλυκτα,                  [70]
“Οἴα ύ ἰππέυει καπυροῖς ἀήταις
                  “ Ἔκπνοα λοιμῶ

“Πάτριδος πόρρω συνομαιμένων τε
“Γῆρας οὐ μόχθοις ἀνόμος παλαίσει
“Τῶ βιῶ ποιφύγματα δύντοσαἴ· αἴ·
                  “ Ἄγρια φυσῶν.

“Ὀυ φόβῳ Μάθηρ ἄμα θεσπιωδῷ
“Στάθεσιν βρέφος πελάσει πινώδες·
“ Ὀυ· περισσῶς ἐκτέταται γὰρ ἤδη
                  “Δούλιον Ἆμαρ.                             [80]

“Ὄιτινες, Δούλοι βλοσυρῶν Δυνάστων,
“Δάκρυον τέυυειν Ελέω παρειὰν
“Οὐδαμῶς ἴδον, μελέοι, πάθοντες
                  “Θπάυματ' ἀκούειν.

“Ὕμμι τὰι Παῖδες Θέμιτος γενοῦνται
“Ἀνθεμίζουσαι βρόδα τᾶς Γαλανᾶς,
“ Ἴρον ἠδ' Ἐλευθερίας σέβας δὴ,
                  “Μάτρος ἀέθλων.”

Τοῖ' ἔπεμψαν ἰμερόεντα μᾶλλον
Ἀῦραι ἤ Νίκας περ’ ὄχος βράδυνθεν                 [90]
Τῶν ἀνηριθμῶν ἰάχαι, Θριαμβω
                  Ἄματι τερπνῶ.

Χᾶιρ’ ὄς εὖ νωμᾶς Ἐλέω τὸν οἴακ’!
Ἐργμάτων καλῶν Ἀγάπη πτεροῖσι
Δακρύων ἔντοσθε γέλωτα θεῖσα
                 Σὲ στεφανώσει.

Ἤδε Μοῖσα, τᾶν Ἀρετᾶν ὀπαδὸς,
Σεῖο μεμνᾶσθαι συνεχῶς φιλήσει·
Τλαμόνων ἤδ’ εὐλογίαις πρὸς ἄιθερ’
                 Οὔνομ’ ἀίζει.                                     [100]


In English:
           
Departing through gates of darkness, O Death
you hurry to a folk chained by misery
not to be met with people tearing their cheeks
                 or ululation,

but instead with dancing in a circle
and songs of joy; for though you are fearful,
you also are where Freedom's dwelling is found,
                 sternest of Lords!

Carried on your colourless wings
over the uneven swell of the great Ocean,          [10]
they fly to their yearned-for homes
                 in their native land.

There, beside the flowing fountains, where
lemon-tree groves abound, telling lovers how
men treated them, though they were themselves men,
                 with such horror.

How sad it is: islands crammed with killing
all around blooming with terrible evils
sickening famine, the sound of whips echo,
                 so much blood,                                        [20]

how often, alas, has a tear-filled mist
descended over my eyes, how often
has my sorrow-filled heart groaned!
                 And the suffering

race of slaves has my weighted sympathy,
as they groan in unspeakable grief,
as they labour in their hateful circles:
                 Necessity's children.

During those loveless days when
Scorching heat, and hunger, and exhaustion         [30]
they battle with the bitternesses of Memory's
                 mournful phantasms.

Alas; the unsleeping Scourge drives them,
exhausted with work before the dawn;
Day's star, looking sweetly on, sinks down,
                 as sorrows still rise

and forever; their souls breathe midnight
terrors, and are struck down by angry force;
their eyes see only misery, and a Fear
                  that never sleeps      .                        [40]

Yet if they seek the sweet delusions
of hope, of dream-glimpsed shadows,
this is but Hubris and its waking sting
                 bewilders them.

You who revel in slavery's evil,
richly fed by the groans of the wretched,
you overreaching children of Excess, who spill
                 your brothers' blood:

are you not seen by the Inescapable
Eye? Are you not threatened by Nemesis's        [50]
fiery breath? Do you hear? Can't you hear?
                  how chthonic winds

shake the roots of the world, how caves
groan beneath us all, such terrible roars
from the bowels of the earth pledging revenge
                 against the killers!

And what honied echo, like the
strumming of a Dorian guitar, comes now?
What softness is this that sprinkles
                 such sweet whispers?                         [60]

There! I see a Herald of Pity, an olive-sprig
upon his brow to shade his head!
There! I hear your words, Wilberforce!
                 their golden joy!

“Fountain of holy tears, your pourings
“now must cease, dry-up, as the
“stranger-helping lightning flash of Justice
                  “subdues Misery.

“No longer will Libya's shore oppress you,
“or the charm of charmless Gold bring horror,    [70]
“or parching desert-storms carry
                  “Pestilence's breath.

“Though fatherland and folk are far distant
“no longer will Old Age wrestle lawlessness
“as the last gasps of a life, alas, dying
                  “wildly blow.

“No longer, too, will the Mother feed
“her grimy child at her breast in fear.
“No longer! this already too much prolonged
                  “day of Slavery.                                    [80]

“You who, the slaves of violent masters,
“never saw a single rolling tear of pity
“wet their cheeks, you who have suffered things
                  “staggering to hear.

“the daughters of Themis shall come to you
“with garlands of pale-blue honeysuckle
“ for peace, and holy Freedom shall come,
                  “Mother of Festivity.”

Breezes sent blowing with great love
accompanying the ever-delayed chariot of Nike,             [90]
are the shouts of countless voices, of Triumph's
                  joyous songs.

Hail, you whose hand steers the rudder of Pity!
High spiritual Love, winging all good deeds
blending laughter in among her tears, shall
                 crown you with honours.

And the Muse, Virtue's attendant,
will always remember you with love·
and the victims' blessings shall shoot to heaven
                 lifting up your name.                                     [100]


The Dorian guitar of line 58 is actually a cither, κιθαρα, more lyre than stratocaster—but then again κιθαρα is the root of our word ‘guitar’, and STC is clear that his lyre is being strummed rather than plucked or bowed (and the intimate relationship between guitars and slave/post-slave traditions of lament we call the Blues, whence rock, roll and the entire edifice of contemporary popular music, seemed to me worth flagging, even in passing). The deities Death (Θάνατος in line 1) and Nemesis (line 50) are well-enough known, but it might be worth glossing Themis (line 85; she's the Greek goddess of law and justice), explaining that Nike in line 90 means ‘Victory’ and noting that the ‘Love’ Coleridge invokes at the poem's end is not Philia, Philautia or Eros but Agape.

It seems that Coleridge found in William Bowles's poem ‘The Dying Slave’ (1791) the notion of slaves believing their souls would return to their homeland if they died on the passage. As for William Wilberforce (1759-1833): the earnest young (at this point) MP and anti-slavery campaigner is surely well known, even today. Slavery had been illegal in Britain since the Somersett v Stewart lawsuit in 1772 (although it seems the Judge, Lord Mansfield, never said the words reputed to him: ‘the air of England is too pure for any slave to breathe’, more's the pity). But the triangular trade, as it was called, continued long after this date: slaves from Africa to the West Indes and America, tobacco, cotton and sugar from these plantations to Europe, rum and various goods from Europe to Africa. Coleridge himself urged his friends to foreswear sugar and tobacco, in the hope that commercial boycott might disrupt the slave trade. Wilberforce believed direct legislation a better prospect. After the general election of June 1790, Wilberforce introduced the first parliamentary bill to abolish the international slave trade in April 1791. It was debated for two days, but was then defeated by 163 votes to 88 (the British political climate was nervy about the French Revolution, as well as about increasing radicalism at home and reports of slave revolts in the French West Indies). Wilberforce reintroduced his bill in 1792 but it was again defeated, or more precisely was stymied: Home Secretary Lord Melville proposed a compromise amendment, so-called ‘gradual abolition’ over an unspecified number of years. With this the bill was passed by 230 to 85 votes, but the point of the compromise was to ensure that actual abolition would be delayed indefinitely. When Coleridge, in his ode, talks about ‘the ever-delayed chariot of Nike’ (or Victory) in line 90, this is what he's referring to. When another vote to abolish slavery was brought to Parliament, in February 1793. It was defeated by eight votes. Thereafter the war with France stole the cause's thunder and it wasn't picked up again until the early nineteenth-century.


Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Two Lines on the Poet Laureate



Mays in his Poetical Works [1:89] prints this couplet as original Coleridge (though not, as you can see, without reservations). In fact it's Ovid, or more precisely Ovid as translated by Charles Avison.



Ovid's Latin is Metamorphosis 1:111-112, and means more strictly ‘rivers of milk and nectar ran across the plains, and golden honey was distilled out of the oak.’ Conceivably Coleridge quotes the translation rather than the original because Evans lacked Latin. ‘Canary’ is Canary wine, the stuff Shakespeare calls ‘Sack’; the ‘Guineas’ referred to are guinea peaches, a variety of the fruit much prized in the eighteenth-century.

Charles Avison (1709-70) was an English composer (many decades later Robert Browning wrote a poem in dialogue with him) and musical theorist. The passage screenshotted above is from pp.24-25 of An Essay on Musical Expression (1752), Avison's influential, if controversial, treatise on music composition and practice that argues (inter alia) that music expresses things words cannot.

Now I'm aware of course that tracking down hitherto unidentified quotations in the Coleridgean corpus is more-or-less dry and dusty work. But in this case the identification has some potentially interesting implications. It shows something that, so far as I know, has not previously been known about Coleridge: namely, that he was reading Avison's Essay (in late 1792 or more likely in early 1793), something that connects with youthful Coleridge's enthusiasm for Hartley. This is because as Herbert M. Schueller argues Avison's affective model of musical expressiveness was linked to Hartley, and more specifically Hartley's argument ‘that the pleasures of music which are of real value are the intellectual ones, and the most easily described of the intellectual pleasures seemed to be the associative type. Charles Avison thought that music elevates and enlivens the Fancy, obviously an associative faculty for him’ [Herbert M. Schueller, ‘The Pleasures of Music: Speculation in British Music Criticism, 1750-1800’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 8:3 (1950), pp. 155-171]. Schueller calls Avison's Essay ‘the focal point for the eighteenth century doctrine of music as imitation and expression’. It's interesting that Coleridge was reading it.

The big book on Coleridge and music is yet to be written, and this small datum might have some place in it, when it is finally assembled. Here's elderly Coleridge's Table Talk (July 1833 this, so right at the end of his life) on the topic:
Some music is above me; most music is beneath me., I like Beethoven and Mozart — or else some of the aerial compositions of the elder Italians, as Palestrina and Carissimi. And I love Purcell. The best sort of music is what it should be — sacred; the next best, the military, has fallen to the lot of the Devil. Good music never tires me, nor sends me to sleep. I feel physically refreshed and strengthened by it, as Milton says he did. I could write as good verses now as ever I did, if I were perfectly free from vexations, and were in the ad libitum hearing of fine music, which has a sensible effect in harmonizing my thoughts, and in animating and, as it were, lubricating my inventive faculty.
Quite a lot of potentially interesting stuff here, I think.

Friday, 11 October 2019

As Green As Emerald


Ancient Mariner, of course:
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald. [lines 51-54]
Why green, though? Icebergs are white, as any fule kno. Ah, but Coleridge had never seen one with his own eyes. His sense of what an iceberg was, I now realise, came not just from books but from a particular book: David Crantz's two-volume History of Greenland (1767). We know Coleridge read this work because he makes reference to it in a footnote to ‘Destiny of Nations’, by way of explicating the famous ‘Wizard of Greenland’ passage (lines 98-112) from that poem. ‘Destiny’ was originally part of Southey's Joan of Arc (1796), and was republished as a Coleridge-only standalone in Sybilline Leaves (1817). Here's the relevant bit:



So: Coleridge was reading Crantz's History of Greenland in the mid-1790s, which is to say in the run-up to writing Ancient Mariner. And what does Crantz have to say about icebergs? I'm glad you asked:



So that's where STC's green icebergs come from!

And actually this context gives us new information regarding the poem. Perhaps we think of the phantasmagoric landscapes (or seascapes) through which the mariner travels as old, in some sense; importing ancientness from protagonist to environment—I suppose because his adventures seem like a personal psychodrama projected outward onto the big screen of the world. But maybe that's not what's going on here. When the mariner enters the land of mist and snow, he is entering a new world, with fresh-minted ice (not, so far as Coleridge believed, older, melted-and-refrozen bergs). That's interesting, I think.

Monday, 9 September 2019

France: Odes




STC wrote ‘France: an Ode’ early in 1798. It was published in the Morning Post, April 16th 1798, and later reprinted, in slightly revised form, in the Courier in 1804. It traces Coleridge's initial passionate enthusiasm for the revolution, and his later disillusionment when the French army invaded neutral Switzerland.

There were plenty of patriotic or servile odes published under the title ‘To France’ in the eighteenth-century. For instance, ‘Ad Galliam’ (1723) by Nicholas Piat, which (dedicated as it is to Louis XV) opens:
Non id supremus scilicet Arbiter,
Vis unde terris regia profluit,
Intendat, ut celso verendi
De solio sine laude Reges
Ignava molli Sceptra gerant manu;
Sed fata praestent Civibus ut suis
Beata, tranquillamque servent
Incolumi Patriae salutem.

[‘It is, of course, not that the supreme Ruler need pay attention to the wave that flows through the land addessed to the high glories of his throne, unlike those soft and lazy kings who grip the scepter; but citizens should nonetheless offer praise for their happy fate, and most peacefully should serve: so may I offer thanks to you for the health and safety of the nation’]
This ode traces Louis' royal glory and prestige back to Clovis, the legendary bringer of Christianity to France (‘Hâc arte sueti Franciadum Duces/Intaminatis fulgere honoribus:/Qui primus erexit perennes,/Christe, Tibi Clodovaus aras!’ ‘In such art the Rulers of France are entitled to untarnishable bright honours ever since Clovis first raised your everlasting altars, O Christ!’). Of course Coleridge's ode was written not in praise of French monarchy but French revolutionary liberty, and in condemning the tyranny of France's invasion of Switzerland, Coleridge is, very obviously, turning this sycophantic mode on its head.

I've no evidence that Coleridge read Piat; although he was surely aware of this broader kind of writing. But I'm sure he read another, much more famous Latin poem written in praise of France: George Buchanan's ‘Desiderium Lutetiae’ (written 1552; first published as the third of Buchanan's Silvae, 1567), in which the poet, miserable in Portugal, addresses Paris, the city he loved best, as ‘Amaryllis’, styling her a pastoral maid and himself a lovelorn pastoral swain, Daphnis. It was one of Buchanan's most famous poems, at least in terms of his secular output (his Latin paraphrases of the Psalms may have had wider and deeper reach).

We know that Coleridge was reading Buchanan in the 1790s because he took Buchanan's collected poems out of Jesus library in 1794. J C C Mays [‘Coleridge's Borrowings from Jesus College Library 1791-1794’, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 8:5 (1985), 557-581] notes the borrowing (‘1794 11th May; in Coleridge's hand, George Buchanan, Poemata quae extant (Leyden, 1628) 12mo’) and thinks ‘the borrowing is probably connected with Coleridge's plans to publish Imitations from the Modern Latin Poets, which he advertised in the Cambridge Intelligencer for 14 June. He was the only person to borrow the book at Jesus between 1783 and 1805.’

In the event, and although STC published a few English versions of shorter Latin epigrams by Buchanan (for instance: ‘Epigram on Zoilus’ (1799), which also appeared in the Morning Post; Poetical Works 326) he didn't understake a translation of Buchanan's most famous poem, perhaps because he came upon the 1742 version by the blind Scottish poem Thomas Blacklock. Blacklock's poems had been republished in a new edition in 1793 (Coleridge makes reference to Blacklock in a notebook entry of 1803: Notebooks 1:1692). You can find the Blacklock's imitation here, though it's not a very close translation

So: here's the ‘Desiderium Lutetiae’:
O formosa Amarylli, tuo jam septima bruma
Me procul aspectu, jam septima detinet aestas:
Sed neque septima bruma nivalibus horrida nimbis,
Septima nec rapidis candens fervoribus aestas
Extinxit vigiles nostro sub pectore curas.
Tu mihi mane novo carmen, dum roscida tondet
Arva pecus, medio tu carmen solis in aestu,
Et cum jam longas praeceps nox porrigit umbras:
Nec mihi quae tenebris condit nox omnia vultus
Est potis occultare tuos, te nocte sub atra                [10]
Alloquor, amplector, falsaque in imagine somni
Gaudia sollicitam palpant evanida mentem.
At cum somnus abit, curis cum luce renatis
Tecta miser fugio, tanquam mihi tecta doloris
Semina subjiciant, et solid moestus in agris
Qua vagus error agit feror, & deserta querelis
Antra meis, silvasque & conscia faxa fatigo.
Sola meos planctus Echo miserata gementi
Adgemit, & quoties suspiria pectore duco,
Hæc quoque vicino toties suspirat ab antro.              [20]
Sæpe super celsæ prærupta cacumina rupis
In mare prospiciens, spumantia cœrula demens
Alloquor, & surdis jacto irrita vota procellis:

O mare! quæque maris vitreas, Nereides, undas
Finditis, in vestros placidæ me admittite portus:
Aut hoc si nimium est, nec naufragus ire recuso,
Dummodo dilectas teneam vel naufragus oras.
O quoties dixi Zephyris properantibus illuc,
Felices pulchram visuri Amaryllida venti,
Sic neque Pyrene duris in cotibus alas                     [30]
Atterat, & vestros non rumpant nubila cursus,
Dicite vesanos Amaryllidi Daphnidos ignes.
O quoties Euro levibus cum raderet alis
AEquora, dicebam, Felix Amaryllide visa,
Dic mihi, Num meminit nostri? num mutua sentit
Vulnera? num veteris vivunt vestigia flammæ?
Ille ferox contra rauco cum murmure stridens
Avolat irato similis, mihi frigore pectus
Congelat, exanimes torpor gravis alligat artus.
Nec me pastorum recreant solamina, nec me            [40]
Fistula, Nympharumque leves per prata choreæ,
Nec quæ capripedes modulantur carmina Panes:
Una meos sic est prædata Amaryllis amores.

Et me tympana docta ciere canora Lycisca,
Et me blanda Melænis amavit, Iberides ambæ,
Ambæ florentes annis, opibusque superbæ:
Et mihi dotales centum cum matribus agnos
Ipsi promisere patres, mihi munera matres
Spondebant clam multa: meum nec munera pectus,
Nec nivei movere suis cum matribus agni,                [50]
Nec quas blanditias teneræ dixere puellæ,
Nec quas delicias teneræ fecere puellæ.
Quantum ver hyemem, vietum puer integer ævi,
Ter viduam thalamis virgo matura parentem,
Quam superat Durium Rhodanus, quam Sequana Mundam,
Lenis Arar Sycorim, Ligeris formosus Iberum,
Francigenas inter Ligeris pulcherrimus amnes:
Tantum omnes vincit Nymphas Amaryllis lberas.
Sæpe suos vultus speculata Melænis in unda,
Composuit, pinxitque oculos, finxitque capillum,        [60]
Et voluit, simul & meruit formosa videri.
Sæpe mihi dixit, Animi male perdite Daphni,
Cur tibi longinquos libet insanire furores?
Et quod ames dare nostra potest tibi terra, racemos
Collige purpureos, & spes ne concipe lentas.
Sæpe choros festos me prætereunte, Lycisca
Cernere dissimulans, vultusque aversa canebat
Hæc, pedibus terram, & manibus cava tympana pulsans;
Et Nemesis gravis ira, atque irritabile numen,
Et Nemesis laesos etiam punitur amores.                      [70]
Vidi ego dum leporem venator captat, echinum
Spernere, post vanos redeuntem deinde labores,
Vespere nec retulisse domum leporem nec echinum.
Vidi ego qui mullum peteret piscator, & arctis
Retibus implicitam tincam sprevisset opimam,
Vespere nec retulisse domum mullum neque tincam.
Vidi ego qui calamos crescentes ordine risit
Pastor arundineos, dum torno rasile buxum
Frustra amat, (interea calamos quos riserat, alter
Pastor habet,) fragiles contentum inflare cicutas.         [80]
Sic solet immodicos Nemesis contundere fastus.

Hæc & plura Melænis, & hæc & plura Lycisca
Cantabant surdas frustra mihi semper ad aures.
Sed canis ante lupas, & taurus diliget ursas,
Et vulpem lepores, & amabit dama leænas,
Quam vel tympana docta ciere canora Lycisca
Mutabit nostros vel blanda Melænis amores,
Et prius æquoribus pisces, & montibus umbræ,
Et volucres deerunt silvis, & murmura ventis,
Quam mihi discedent formosae Amaryllidos ignes:       [90]
Illa mihi rudibus succendit pectora flammis,
Finiet illa meos moriens morientis amores.
‘O lovely Amaryllis’, ‘O formosa Amarylli’ is Vergillian: Eclogue 1 line 5 praises formosam Amaryllida, echoing Vergil’s Theocritan original (both the 3rd and 4th of whose Idylls address ὦ χαρίεσσ᾽ ᾿Αμαρυλλί, in Latin O formosa Amarylli); but Buchanan allegorises his love-longing; the two lovely nymphs Melaenis and Lycisca, are the Portuguese towns of Coimbra and Evora, where Buchanan spent most of his time, and whose charms, though not negligible, are outshone by those of Paris. Likewise the generic pastoral rivers mentioned in the poem, Durius, Munda, Sycoris and Oberus are the Iberian rivers Douro, Mondego, Segre and Ebro.

Here's my line-by-line Englishing
Missing Paris

Lovely Amaryllis! Seven winters gone
and seven long summers since I saw your face,
though endless sevens, winter snowstorm clouds,
roasting blasts of summer passing, nothing
could ever quench the fervour in my breast.
You're the song I sing at dawn, as the flock returns
to crop the dew-wet grass; it's you in the hot noon
and when the night is long and shadow stretches
night embalms everything, but not for me
since you are there, hidden behind the darkness:           [10]
in dreams I talk to you, embrace you, share
the complex joys of my mind's idea of you.
When sleep is lost to day my cares are reborn
I leave the town—the houses blanks to me
units of subduing pain—and rush through fields,
sad-hearted fugitive, hopeless escapee:
through caves, through woods I haul my weary thoughts.
Grieving Echo hears me gasp my groans
and groans back as me to my chest's tempo,
the very caves sigh round me as I do.                            [20]
Sometimes I loiter on tall, rugged cliffs
watching a sky-blue sea thrash itself foam-mad
and yell my yearning at the deaf-eared storm:

“Carry me over waves of sea-coloured glass
Nereids, gently across to my safe harbour.
If safety's too much, I'm fine with shipwreck,
provided such dangers bring me to my love.”
How often I've addressed the quick winds, saying:
“You fortunate breeze, you will see Amaryllis;
I pray no Pyrenees crags bruise your wings                   [30]
no clouds chafe you as you go rushing on
to tell Amaryllis of Daphnis’s wild desires.
How often I've asked Euro, as his wings
scrape foam from wavetops: is Amaryllis well?
does she still remember me? does she feel
the pain I do? Does our flame still live in her?
But the wild wind recoiled with a rasping
angry rush, dashed off, chilled the soul in my breast
seizing up my veins, freezing my helpless limbs.
Nor can I take comfort now in rural thoughts:              [40]
meadow nymphs dancing to a shepherd’s pipe
nimble-footed, singing songs of feasting
all tainted now by thoughts of Amaryllis.”

Lycisca taught me rhythms from the drum,
and gorgeous Melaenis is crowned with love;
both rightly proud of their  youthful beauty.
And I've been promised a hundred fatted lambs
as dowry by their fathers, their mothers,
promising extra gifts. Pledges that don’t move me,
no matter that the lambs are white as snow;                  [50]
nor sensual words low-spoken by these girls,
such promises could never change my mind.
Wizened winter to the boyish blush of spring—
that, times three, is how they fall short of my girl;
As Durius trumps the Rhone, Seine the Munda,
as Sycoris is lovelier than Saone, Ebro than the Loire,
(though the Loire is France’s loveliest river!)
so Amaryllis bests Iberian nymphs.
Melaenis saw her face in the waters' mirror,
her colour, painted eyes, her fine dressed hair,             [60]
thought to herself she was the lovely one.
“Such agony” (she said), “in Daphnis’s soul!
Why waste your love on what is far away?
Why blank the attractions of our earth, our clustered
black-and-purple grapes—why yearn for what's not here?”

I've watched Lycisca at the festival
Pretending I'm not there, sly-glancing, beating
her foot, pounding the hollow drum, singing:
“Nemesis is cruel, my lad, a wild god,
Nemesis will punish your transgressions.                     [70]
I've seen the hunter chase the hare, and ignore
the easy hedgehog, only to return hungry
at dusk, bringing home neither hare nor hog;
seen fisherman lay nets for deep-sea mullet
ignoring rich schools of small tench; returning
home at last with neither tench nor mullet.
And I, I sneered at basic reeds, desiring
instead the polished lathe-turned shepherd's flute
vainly wanting what I could not have, ignoring
slender hemlock: though it's fine for playing!               [80]
So Nemesis works, crushing insolent pride.”

This (and more) Melaenis and Lycisca sang
to ears that were quite deaf to all their words.
Dogs shall love wolves and bulls shall yearn for bears
hares adore foxes and deers pair off with lions
before the rhythms of Lycisca’s music or
Melaenis’s smooth beauty change my love.
Fish will leave the sea and mountains lie down,
birds quit the woods, the winds give up their roar
before my fire for Amaryllis fades.                               [90]
It was she who lit these hot flames in my heart
Only when she dies will my death bring their end.

The question that interests me, my interests being of a desiccated nature, is whether there's anything of Buchanan in Coleridge's famous ode. Like Buchanan, Coleridge styles his panegyric to France (or at least to liberty) as a pastoral. ‘France: an Ode’ is divided into five, numbered and rhyming verse-paragraphs. The first and the last of these in particular inhabit the voice of a pastoral swain, roaming the wilderness and lamenting his lost love (2 and 3, with their references to giants and dragons and so on, are more Spenserian-allegorical). But bookending the plem with two chunks of solid pastoral inflect the poem in particular ways. For Coleridge this is not Letita but Liberty, not Paris but what Paris once, briefly, was for his imagination, during the revolution. That this ode to idyllic liberty (or this idyll to the odd liberty) takes the form of pastoral is not adventitious. Coleridge's thesis is that nature is ‘free’ because free from human tyranny: nobody tells the winds where to blow, the sea how to flow and so on, nobody, that is, except God, or Necessity, or whatever. But the more usual forms of the pastoral idyll are that of a lover's lament or dispossessed-peasant's misery (the ‘song contest’ and the ‘here comes the Golden Age!’ forms crop up far less frequently in the post-classical pastoral tradition), so Coleridge's ‘ode’ is not a celebratory hymn or considered meditation upon Liberty, but a lament that Liberty is far from him.

That the first stanza includes many of the features of Buchanan's poem (his ‘O mare!’ in STC's poem line 3's ‘ye ocean-waves!’, his panegyric to clouds and winds and waves as the forces that will reunite him with his loved one, the night-bird-singing solace of the night etc) probably reflects nothing beyond the fact that, this late in the day, pastoral conventions have worn their groove smooth in the European poetic tradition. But I genuinely wonder if Coleridge's last stanza/verse-paragraph:
Thou speedest on thy subtle pinions,
The guide of homeless winds, and playmate of the waves!
And there I felt thee!—on that sea-cliff's verge,
Whose pines, scarce travelled by the breeze above,
Had made one murmur with the distant surge!
Yes, while I stood and gazed, my temples bare,
And shot my being through earth, sea, and air,
Possessing all things with intensest love,
O Liberty! my spirit felt thee there. [lines 97-105]
... consciously or otherwise mimics Buchanan's
Sæpe super celsæ prærupta cacumina rupis
In mare prospiciens, spumantia cœrula demens
Alloquor, & surdis jacto irrita vota procellis:

O mare! quæque maris vitreas, Nereides, undas
Finditis, in vestros placidæ me admittite portus:
Aut hoc si nimium est, nec naufragus ire recuso,
Dummodo dilectas teneam vel naufragus oras. [Buchanan, lines 21-7]

Sunday, 14 July 2019

"Siege of Jerusalem by Titus"



Four charméd Spirits of Vengeance here
   Impatient wait
By hour, by day, by month, by year—
   They watch yon gate
No measure of time so small as to relax
   Their Ward,
Nor long enough t'exhaust or weary out
   Their guard.

In 1802 Coleridge wrote to Tom Wedgwood:
Dear sir, indulge me with looking still further on in my literary life. I have, since my twentieth year, meditated an heroic poem on the ‘Siege of Jerusalem’ by Titus. This is the pride and the stronghold of my hope, but I never think of it except in my best moods. The work to which I dedicate the ensuing years of my life is one which highly pleased Leslie, in prospective. [20 Oct 1802; CL 2:876]
This epic never got itself written, of course, despite STCs earnest dedication here. ‘Leslie’ is the Edinburgh scientist and professor John Leslie (the first man to produce artificial ice by using an air pump to freeze water) who had been Tom Wedgwood's tutor at the family home, 1791-2, and with whom Coleridge had, evidently, been in communication, although no letters between the two men—if any were written—survive.

This idea kept returning to Coleridge through his writing life, although in increasingly ubi sunt mode. In 1820 he wrote to Thomas Allsop: ‘alas! for the proud times when I planned, when I had present to my mind the materials as well as the Scheme of ... the Epic Poem on what still appears to me the one only fit subject remaining for an Epic Poem, Jerusalem beseiged & destroyed by Titus’ [20 Mar 1820; CL 4:28]. And here he is near the end of his life:
The destruction of Jerusalem is the only subject now remaining for an Epic Poem—a subject which should interest all Christendom, as the Fall of Man, or as the War of Troy did all Greece. There would be difficulties—as there are in all subjects—and they must be mitigated, palliated and thrown into the shade, as Milton has done with the numerous ones in the Paradise Lost; but there would be a greater assemblage of grandeur and splendor than can now be found in any other theme. As for the old Mythology—incredulus odi; and yet there must be a mythology for an epic poem; here there would be the completion of the prophecies—the termination of the first revealed national religion under the violence of Paganism as the immediate forerunner and condition of the spread of a revealed mundane religion; the character of the Roman and the Jew, the awfulness, the completeness, the justice. No materials would be wanted beyond the Bible, Josephus, Philo-Judaeus and the Zelotae. I schemed it at twenty-five—but alas! it was a scheme only for me! Venturum expectat. [Table Talk 24 April 1832; CC 14:289]
I suppose ‘it was a scheme only for me’ means ‘a scheme is all it ever was, for me’: it never got beyond the stage of my scheme to become an actual poem. Venturum expectat means ‘it awaits one who is yet to come’. The following year he was less sanguine:
I have already told you that in my opinion the Destruction of Jerusalem is the only subject for an Epic poem now left—yet with all its great capabilities, it has this one insurmountable defect—that whereas a poem, to be epic, must have a personal interest, in this subject no skill or genius could possibly preserve the interest for a hero from being merged in the interest for the Event. The fact is, the Event is too sublime and overwhelming. [Table Talk 2 Sept 1833; CC 14:441]
What interests me is this: what might this poem have looked like, if it had ever been written?

There are hints as to how Coleridge might have developed this idea. One we can glean from his reading of, and marginalia upon, a commentary upon the Revelation of St John by the German theologian Johann Gottfried Eichhorn: Commentarius in apocalypsin Joannis (1791). Eichhorn's is a work which reads Revelation as (in George Whalley's words) ‘a poetic and obscurely symbolic representation of the triumph of Christianity over Judaism: ACT 1, the Fall of Jerusalem; ACT II, the fall of Rome or the victory of the Christians over the Gentiles; ACT III the Heavenly Jerusalem.’ Coleridge's annotations date from some time between 1817 and 1822. So, Eichhorn glosses the following passage (as a for-instance) as being a poetical version of Titus's sacking of Rome:
13 And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,
14 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.
15 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.
16 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
19 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. [Revelation 9:13-19]
Coleridge follows him down this peculiar rabbit hole. Why do these horses have mouths in their heads and their tails?
It appears, I own, somewhat fanciful; but I cannot frown away the suggestion that the power being in the Mouths, and even the Tails having Mouths, is meant to express the fact that the great superiority of the Roman Armies over the Zelotae and other Fanatics of Judaea & Jersualem (the Scorpion-Locusts) consisted not in Courage or Warlike Skill; but in admirable Officering even of the lowest portions of the Forces brought by Vespasian & Titus—
It was the Discipline—the Voice—the Word of Command—
Hmm. A little earlier, Coleridge scribbles a gloss upon Eichhorn's gloss of  the Johannine ‘four angels were loosed which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year’.
Most poetic & vivid they are—. See Ode on the Departing Year, and the Personification of Destruction, with lidless dragon eyes Dreaming on the marge of a Volcano of the predestined prey—the Fiend-hag on her perilous Couch doth leap Muttering distempered Triumph in her charmed Sleep. So here—the four Spirits of Vengeance
     Impatient waiting with unsleeping
to By hour, by day, by month, by year—

No measure of time so small as to relax their Ward, None long enough to exhaust & weary out/  [Marginalia, CC 12.2 515]
This looks to me like STC starting to block out poetry for Titus's Siege of Jerusalem: as it might be
Four charméd Spirits of Vengeance here
   Impatient wait
By hour, by day, by month, by year—
   They watch yon gate
No measure of time so small as to relax
   Their Ward,
Nor long enough t'exhaust or weary out
   Their guard.
and so on. The bit of his own ‘Ode on the Departing Year’ (1791) to which he is here referring is this one (lines 140-48):
The nations curse thee. They with eager wondering
Shall hear Destruction, like a vulture, scream!
Strange-eyed Destruction! who with many a dream
Of central fires through neither seas upthundering
Soothes her fierce solitude; yet as she lies
By livid fount, or red volcanic stream,
If ever to her lidless dragon-eyes,
O Albion! thy predestined ruins rise,
The fiend-hag on her perilous couch doth leap,
Muttering distempered triumph in her charmed sleep. 
What about the detail that the the four angels, or Spirits of Vengeance are ‘bound in the great river Euphrates’ [Rev 9:14]? Eichhorn comments:
Qui carceris locus soli debetur poetae ingenio, nullamque patitur ex historia excidii Hierosolymitani interpretationem. Poesis enim prophetica postulat, ut singula in carmine declaranda ad loca certa personasque certas. revocentur. Quid? quod nee Romanus exercitus, ad Judaos coercendos ab Euphrate progressos dici poterat; is enim ex Achaia profectus Alexandriam petiit et legionibus Ptolemaidis et Caesreae auctus in Judeam irrupit, vid. Josephus de bello Judaico lib 3. C. 1. 3.
This location for imprisonment is merely the fancy of the poet; it permits no interpretation that relates to the actual destruction of Jerusalem. For indeed, poetic prophesy is premised on the idea that each thing mentioned in the poem must relate to specific places and specific people. What follows? The Roman army might be said to have advanced on and surrounded the Jews from the Euphrates; after all, it had set off from Achaia, travelled to Alexandria, and reinforced by the legions of Ptolemais and of Caesara, had invaded Judea (See Josephus Jewish War, 3:1.3.) [Eichhorn
Commentarius in apocalypsin Joannis (1791), 2:35]
Coleridge is unimpressed by this Eichhornian literalism.
P.35. I wonder at this assertion from so acute and ingenious a Man as Eichhorn. First, as I have noted—if Rome was to be symbolized as Babylon, the River must be the Euphrates. But that the four mighty Destroyers were bound up [in] the great River—‘up a great River, great as any Sea’ [Osorio IV:232] is according to the code of popular Beliefs—the bad Spirits are sent bound to the bottom of the Red SEA—. But a Sea would not have been appropriate or designative of the Roman Power—while the Tyber was a perfect Synonime of Rome, and the trite poetic Exponent of the Roman Power—Now the Tyber could not but be changed into the Euphrates ... Four giant Daemons could not be imagined bound or chained up in a vast City—this would have been too indefinite—But neither in any Dungeon or Tower in the Babylon—this would have been as much too narrow, & besides too gross an outrage to probability, & above all too little ghostliness/—With great Judgement therefore the sublime Seer transfers their prison to the River but amplifies the River into all the magnificence of a Sea for the Imagination of the Readers. Only read the Greek words aloud [‘τοὺς τέσσαρας ἀγγέλους τοὺς δεδεμένους ἐπὶ τῷ ποταμῷ τῷ μεγάλῳ Εὐφράτῃ’] ore rotundo and you will feel the effect—Add to all this the Hebrew Associations with the Euphrates—Captivity after bloody Wars, and the Seige, Sack and utter Destruction of their Chief City & Temple! Is it not, I say again, striking that Eichhorn should overlook all these so striking and exquisite properties in a “soli debetur poetae ingenio”!!—
[Marginalia, CC 12.2 512]
In his ‘Kubla Khan’ and the Fall of Jerusalem: The Mythological School in Biblical Criticism and Secular Literature (Cambridge 1975), E. S. Shaffer quotes this passage ‘as characteristic of the symbolism of Kubla’.
First, the three great sacred cities—Jerusalem, Babylon and Rome—are blended; the symbolism is not sequential, as in Eichhorn’s scheme, but simultaneous. Because Rome too must fall, and the city of wickedness is Babylon, the captive demons in Jerusalem may be imprisoned in ‘the Euphrates’ … the references are interchangeable, they flow in and out of each other. Geographical mobility is uncannily combined with exact location, timelessness with precise and known history. The superimposition and blending of meaning is perfect. Especially characteristic of Kubla is the way the river expands at a touch into a sea—size as immaterial as place and time—while retaining all the connotations of that particular named river and acquiring all those of the sea.’ [Shaffer, 101]
This would be more convincing if it weren't so anachronistic, shifting comments STC wrote 1817-22 back in time so they can inform the writing of ‘Kubla Khan’. Although having said that, and as I argued in this earlier post, I can well believe (though Shaffer doesn't say anything about this) that STC was reading Josephus with enough attention for this passage describing the old Temple at Jerusalem as both a sunlit golden eminence and a mountain of snow to have stuck in his poetic inspiration, and to have informed his automatic-writing account of Kubla's Xanadian pleasure dome (‘that sunny dome! those caves of ice!’):
Τὸ δ' ἔξωθεν αὐτοῦ πρόσωπον οὐδὲν οὔτ' εἰς ψυχῆς οὔτ' εἰς ὀμμάτων ἔκπληξιν ἀπέλειπεν: πλαξὶ γὰρ χρυσοῦ στιβαραῖς κεκαλυμμένος πάντοθεν ὑπὸ τὰς πρώτας ἀνατολὰς πυρωδεστάτην ἀπέπαλλεν αὐγὴν καὶ τῶν βιαζομένων ἰδεῖν τὰς ὄψεις ὥσπερ ἡλιακαῖς ἀκτῖσιν ἀπέστρεφεν. τοῖς γε μὴν ἀφικνουμένοις ξένοις πόῤῥωθεν ὅμοιος ὄρει χιόνος πλήρει κατεφαίνετο: καὶ γὰρ καθὰ μὴ κεχρύσωτο λευκότατος ἦν.

Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men's minds or their eyes; for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun's own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were coming to it at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white. [Josephus, Jewish War, 5.5.6]
So we might want to argue that, amongst the many other things we can say of ‘Kubla Khan’, it's a kind of dry-run for Coleridge's Siege of Jerusalem by Titus.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Josephus and "Kubla Khan"



When, on a day in September 1797, Coleridge put down his copy of Purchas His Pilgrimes to drift off into another one of his opium sleeps, the passage he had been reading was this one:
In Xandu did Cublai Can build a stately Pallace, encompassing sixteen miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant Springs, delightfull streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure, which may be moved from place to place.
On waking from his sleep, he started writing:
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.
...and so on, until the visitor from Porlock interrupted him and the rest of the epic was lost. So far, so famous.

What do we know about this ‘dome’? It sits above a hidden river called Alph (for Alphabet, according to Ted Hughes) that flows underground and then bursts out in sublime magnificence (‘from this chasm/A mighty fountain momently was forced/Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst/It flung up momently the sacred river’). The dome itself sits inside a walled area; and marks a remarkable kind of material oxymoron in which warm, golden sunlight and freezing white ice combine:
It was a miracle of rare device,
⁠A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
That couplet is the hinge point in the poem. After those lines we move on to the Abyssinian damsel with her dulcimer singing of a magical mountain called Abora (A + B for the alphabet; ora, calling us to prayer, according to Ted Hughes), which brings us back to the poem's core oxymoron: ‘that sunny dome! those caves of ice!’

I'm talking, here, about sources for this poem. But even John Livingstone Lowes' eloquent and wide-ranging source-study The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination (1927; rpt. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955) can't do much more with ‘Kubla Khan’ than this, since STC lays it all out for us so thoroughly. On the other hand, Lowes is interested in the fact that Josephus crops up in another masterpiece from this era, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Josephus? The same. Bear with me.

In Mariner the oxymoron of hot sun and frozen ice is unpicked by being narrativized, with the mariner passing from the latter zone to the former. At exactly the moment of transition (‘And some in dreams assurèd were/Of the Spirit that plagued us so;/Nine fathom deep he had followed us/From the land of mist and snow’) Coleridge adds this gloss:
A Spirit had followed them; one of the invisible inhabitants of this planet, neither departed souls nor angels; concerning whom the learned Jew Josephus, and the Platonic Constantinopolitan, Michael Psellus, may be consulted. They are very numerous, and there is no climate or element without one or more.
Here's Dorothy Bilik:
In discussing the gloss to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Livingstone Lowes asks, ‘but what is the learned Jew, Josephus, doing in that galley?’ Josephus (c. C.E. 37-100), unlike the Neoplatonist Michael Psellus with whom he is coupled, is not an authority on demonology. However, Lowes points out that Josephus and others wrote about Cain; and Cain, together with the Wandering Jew, combined with Wordsworth's suggestions and other influences, culminated, because of Coleridgean magic, in the haunting figure of the ancient Mariner. Coleridge's notebook entries for 1796 include excerpts, in Greek, from Josephus' Antiquities; in an 1802 entry Coleridge refers to Josephus' The Jewish Wars. [Bilik, ‘Josephus, Mosollamus, and the Ancient Mariner’, Studies in Philology, 86:1 (1989), 87]
I don't think the reference to Josephus has anything to do with Cain, as it happens. But I do think it's significant, and not just for the Mariner.

We know Coleridge was reading Josephus at this time, because Josephus's Jewish War is the main source for our knowledge of Titus's seige and sack of Jerusalem in AD 70. For a long time, Coleridge planned an ambitious epic on that subject. In 1802 he wrote to Tom Wedgwood:
I have, since my twentieth year, meditated an heroic poem on the ‘Siege of Jerusalem’ by Titus. This is the pride and the stronghold of my hope, but I never think of it except in my best moods. The work to which I dedicate the ensuing years of my life. [20 Oct 1802; CL 2:876]
When Titus finally captured Jerusalem he destroyed the city and its temple, and the Jewish people went from being a nation centred on a temple, run by a High Priest, to a diasporic congeries of peoples, carrying their synagogues with them wherever they went, and guided not by priests but rabbis.

There's Jerusalem, at the head of this post: a territory of twice five cubits walled around, and most notable now for the golden dome of its mosque. This most holy of Judaeo-Christian cities is now the site of (what Coleridge would have regarded as) a pagan, oriental dome, a structure which, however magnificent, is built on a hidden tumult which vocalises as ancestral voices prophesying war (which ancestors? The Jews, as the precursors of Christianity. Which war? The recapture of Jerusalem).


Coleridge had been reading Josephus's account of Titus's capture of Jerusalem closely, planning and revolving the great epic he hoped to write, ostentatiously dedicating the remainder of his life as a poet to the project. It came to nothing, of course. Instead Coleridge wrote, in a kind of trance, a strange epic opening, the suggestive ruin of an epic, like a single wall of an uncomplete temple. A poem about a dome bathed in golden sunlight that is also, impossibly, a kind of concavity of ice, the dialectic of antithetical shapes and temperatures subliming into beauty (the most beautiful poem Coleridge ever composed, certainly). And here is Josephus's description the Great Temple of Jerusalem, before its destruction:
Τὸ δ' ἔξωθεν αὐτοῦ πρόσωπον οὐδὲν οὔτ' εἰς ψυχῆς οὔτ' εἰς ὀμμάτων ἔκπληξιν ἀπέλειπεν: πλαξὶ γὰρ χρυσοῦ στιβαραῖς κεκαλυμμένος πάντοθεν ὑπὸ τὰς πρώτας ἀνατολὰς πυρωδεστάτην ἀπέπαλλεν αὐγὴν καὶ τῶν βιαζομένων ἰδεῖν τὰς ὄψεις ὥσπερ ἡλιακαῖς ἀκτῖσιν ἀπέστρεφεν. τοῖς γε μὴν ἀφικνουμένοις ξένοις πόῤῥωθεν ὅμοιος ὄρει χιόνος πλήρει κατεφαίνετο: καὶ γὰρ καθὰ μὴ κεχρύσωτο λευκότατος ἦν.

Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men's minds or their eyes; for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun's own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were coming to it at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white. [Josephus, Jewish War, 5.5.6]
You may try and tell me that this passage wasn't in Coleridge's poetic subconscious when he wrote ‘Kubla Khan’. You may try it, but I won't believe you.

The thing is, if we see this as one of the shaping influences that went into the poem, it alters the way we read the whole work, I think. It means that, in an oblique way, Xanadu becomes a kind of convex upside-down iteration of the concavity of Titus's hollowing-out of Jerusalem; a strange symbolic reinscription of that historical drama. The river becomes the flow of Christian faith, underground during the era of the Jews, but bursting into the sunlight in sublime wonder and terror with Christ's crucifixion (at Jerusalem, of course). The subterranean cave of ice becomes the glorious snowy mountain of Abora, which is also, in Coleridge's potent concision of imagery, the golden mountain-dome of Xanadu itself.

Jerusalem; Heirusalem; Xarusalem. Enough! Or—too much?


Saturday, 6 July 2019

"The Eo-nauts" (1813)


A curio, this: a pamphlet published in 1813 as by ‘Lemuel Gulliver’, supposedly a descendent of Swift's celebrated traveller, although in fact this was written by Elizabeth Susanna Graham (1764-1844, née Davenport, wife to and then widow of Thomas Graham, of Edmond Castle, Cumberland, and Lincoln's Inn [not to be confused with this Thomas Graham]). It's a poem written, so far as I can tell, in order to mock the East India Company Act of 1813, also known as the Charter Act 1813, which licensed the British East India Company's ongoing exploitation of India. Graham, fictionalising India as ‘Laputa’, appears to have regarded the whole enterprise as a reprise of the South Sea Bubble, from a century earlier. This is how the poem opens:
Impatient, on his oozy bed,
Where Fate so long had bound him
Rouz’d Speculation rears his head,
And wildly glares around him.

His bosom boils, his seething brains
With countless Visions teem;
His mind such wefted schemes contains
As wove the South Sea dream.

With Eastern treasures stor’d, he fills,
Or seems to fill his coffer,
And thinks to find the golden hills
And long lost mines of Ophir.

Of north-east passage without squalls,
He’s raving—sine fine-—
And veining Panama with CANALS,
For shorter cuts to China.

’Tis done! —the deed’s accomplish’d now—
The East’s wide trade is free;
And every bold adventurer’s prow
Darkens th’afrighted sea.

From Michael’s Mount to farthest North,
See bustle and confusion,
O’er whom, with wild shrieks, sallies forth
The Spirit of Delusion.
So why am I blogging about this obscure little tidbit on my Coleridge blog? Well, the whole poem is larded with sarcastic footnotes, containing many quotations, all made up by Graham but all attributed either to notable names or else to generic figures. As it might be:



There are loads of these, including pseudo-scholarly tables showing India to be so poor only a fool would think a fortune could be won there:



Anyway, late in the poem Graham includes a dig at Coleridge. This quatrain:
There Speculation’s sons may dash,
Where trade no bound restrains,
Which asks nor capital of cash,
Nor capital of brains.
—has the following note appended:



No such person as ‘Mr Wiske’ and no such play as China Hoy, although there certainly was a person called ‘Mr Coleridge’ of course. Still, 1813 seems to me late in the day to be twitting Coleridge for his Pantisocratic scheme, given that its failure was two decades in the past—if that is indeed what Graham is doing here. Perhaps Coleridge is invoked merely as the author of a well-known poem about a crazy sea-voyage. The archaic English is perhaps a dig at the olde-worlde Lyrical Ballads version of Ancient Mariner, and ‘Mr Wiske’ a jab at Wordsworth (although—why ‘whisk’? Why ‘China ahoy’? It can't be a ‘Kubla Khan’ thing since that poem, though written in 1797, wasn't published until 1816; and Graham didn't know or have any interactions with Coleridge. I remain puzzled.)