Saturday, December 1, 2012

Not Pre-Raphaelite but... "Kubla Khan"--The Retry


A slight break from the Pre-Raphaelites here so I can indulge in some fun with the Romantic poets (of which I am also very fond.)

I admit that my two favorite poets are John Keats and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and this cartoon was done just for fun on Coleridge's birthday (October 21st).

Young Coleridge sporting an early mullet.

The Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by the Romantic Poets (Blake, Keats, Byron and Shelley) as well as the "founders",  William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Most people are familiar with the story of how the dream-like imagery of the poem "Kubla Khan" was interrupted by a knock on the door and a laudanum-using Coleridge went to attend to his visitor and completely forgot his train of thought. This story was famously spread by Coleridge himself, who claimed he was detained by a "person from Porlock".

Since then, a Person from Porlock has been used by a number of fantasy authors as a mystical being who interrupts some major, earth-shaking undertaking. But it was shrewd publicity stunt on Coleridge's part that gave this unfinished poem an air of mystery. It was Lord Byron himself who coaxed Coleridge into finally publishing it after he read it to him.

It begins:     
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. (lines 1–5)

And the last lines written:
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. (lines 48–54)

...which is when the Person from Porlock allegedly struck.

William Wordsworth
Not really known for practical jokes
 but what the heck...
Charles Lamb
Pretty much known for his practical jokes,
bad puns, and Essays of Elia.
Read up on this guy: he's fascinating!

I decided to have William Wordsworth and Coleridge's impish childhood friend Charles Lamb do some pranking on poor STC. (Or "Col", as he liked to be called rather than "Samuel", which he hated.)

For an excellent and epic biography about Coleridge I recommend Richard Holmes' 2-volume set:
 Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772-1804 and Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1804-1834 .

See you next time when we meet Pre-Raphaelite fanboy Arthur Hughes.


  1. I love Keats and Coleridge! To me, they're true poets, because they're full of vivid imagery and rich language (Wordsworth tends to be prosaic). I read the first Coleridge biography, which was fascinating, though I wish Holmes had explored Coleridge as a person and compared him to the other personalities of his time more. Though I was happy to see mentions of Southey. I haven't read the second one, will do so when i have time.

  2. Oh, and I love the laudanum bottle you drew! In your comic, is this the second time the Mysterious Person of Porlock strikes?

    Lamb is cool. (and funny). Are you putting in William Hazlitt?

    1. Thanks, Caroline! This could be the second time the Person from Porlock strikes...or the third, or fourth. (That naughty Wordsworth and Lamb.) I'm a big Charles Lamb fan-- I thought that whenever he showed up in the biographies of Coleridge that he was always astute and funny and had great taste in literature. (He was one of the few early supporters of Blake and Keats.)He was also an incredibly nice guy, generous when he had little money himself. When I was reading about Coleridge I found myself wanting to find out more about him and his sister Mary and have managed quite a little stack of books on them as well.

      I always read that Hazlitt was an unpleasant guy (although when he was still a painter --before he became a literary citic-- he did an excellent portrait of Lamb where you can even see his mismatched eyes, one blue, one brown.)

      I have a cartoon coming up about the only meeting Keats had with Coleridge-- which was by accident while both were taking a walk on Hampstead Heath.

  3. I heard Hazlitt was a harsh person ... but he had his sensitive moments too. I think he was too stubborn in his political principles, that was his problem. But he was an acute judge of character - many of these famous judges of character were never really altruistic. He was good friends with Charles Lamb, and he was one of the few who admired Keats in his lifetime. Keats in turn admired Hazlitt's lectures and adopted some of his ideas. I'm looking forward to that cartoon of my two Romantic favourites.

    I heard that Keats met Wordsworth but Wordsworth was pissed off when Keats tried to contradict his statements. Not a very liberal-minded person I think. Which is kind of weird when you consider he and his sister Dorothy had very liberal lives together in their youth.