Throwing Shade on Samuel Taylor Coleridge

To criticise his wont it is; and thus a flame war, his…

Adrian Bagley
The Junction


A shadowy figure with a glint in his eye removes his mask.

Recently, I’ve started writing poetry. Before that, I’d mostly limited myself to prose — for the simple reason that poetry scared the living daylights out of me. But then my partner started dropping hints and, well, one thing led to another.

I am now five days into my burgeoning career as a starving poet. Much to my own surprise, I’ve written five poems in that time and feel quite proud. So proud, in fact, that I’ve already submitted four of them to literary journals (the long and nervous wait begins; watch this space for news).

Naturally, being a middle-aged white male, I have therefore declared myself an expert. I can’t help noticing, all of a sudden, that I can’t even read the acknowledged masters of the field without wanting (sacrilege!) to edit their greatest pieces.

Which brings me to the miscreant in question. Not that I have anything against Coleridge’s work as a whole. Eftsoons, I won’t hear a word against The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It’s Kubla Khan that’s giving me grief. It’s a beautiful read, but two lines from the opening are like fingernails down a blackboard to me— see if you can spot them.

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.

Is it just me? By publicly criticising the mighty Coleridge, has my ego finally burst its banks?

You decide. Because I swear the last four lines should go like this.

And there were gardens bright with rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny greenery.

It scans better. Simplicity, man. I mean, “spots of”? Really?

Why not go the whole hog?

And sort of bat-like things he did see,
Out of a druggèd reverie.

Also, this line from The Eolian Harp is just, well —

The stilly murmur of the distant Sea

— awful.

O silly stilly murmur, thee!

Mister Coleridge, I’m disappointed in you, sir.

But what of my own humble work —
What if some o’er-pampered berk,
In a surfeit of derision,
Should make his critical incision
And cast aside my pretty words;
Removing every other third,
Preferring those of his own making;
Liberties he would be taking.
My heart he would be breaking!

I, two centuries interred,
My shrewd rebuttal never heard,
Must lie and gently spin;
My dusty grave within.

Until at last, his turn should come
(As to the Reaper he succumbs)
And some other poet,
Flushed from drinking too much moët —
Eyes aflame with malice
And with wildly waving chalice —
Towards his sacred verse should head;
His beloved work to shred.

Boats float on a red sea beneath a sunset melting away into a dazzling amber lens flare. Captain: About the Author.
Photo: Molten Sky by the author

Adrian Bagley is a writer (and poet, oh yes!) from the south coast of England. He is currently working on his debut science fiction novel, Case in Point. He writes serious and humorous fiction in a variety of styles, matching the prose to the needs of the story.

He has severe M.E., which he combats with a strict regimen of blaspheming and coffee.



Adrian Bagley
The Junction

Adrian Bagley is a writer and poet from the south of England. He is currently working on his debut SF novel, Case in Point.