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Who Am I?

          by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

      A Rosicrucian Visit to Xanadu
           Fra. Donald W. Heller, VII°
                    3 May, 2014

It is amazing and amusing to observe just how much one's point of view color one's beliefs. It is especially revealing to observe how much people consider their beliefs to be facts, not subject to examination. Leonardo da Vinci claimed that the greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions. From a scientific point of view, there really are no facts, only models. People often exult in their clinging to opinions. For example, Existentialists believe that, just because they cannot conceive of the meaning or purpose of life, there is no meaning or purpose. Of course, everything I write here is my own opinion, based upon my own model, and therefore subject to modification as new data are discovered. Models are judged by how well they explain phenomena. In this study, the Rosicrucian model will be applied to a work that has been judged by every reviewer to be completely inexplicable.

Scientific models are based upon input from the senses, and therefore can only address matter and energy. They are completely silent about life and its source, and where matter and energy came from. Rosicrucian models, on the other hand, are based upon a larger domain. We would do well to recall the Aim of the SRICF:

The aim of the Society is to afford mutual aid and encouragement in working out the secrets of Nature; to facilitate the study of the system of Philosophy founded upon the Kabalah and the doctrines of Hermes Trismegistus, which was inculcated by the original Fratres Rosae Crucis, A.D. 1450; and to investigate the meaning and symbolism of all that now remains of the wisdom, art and literature of the ancient world.

Both the Kabbalah and the doctrines of Hermes Trismegistus, as recorded in the Corpus Hermeticum, clearly express the idea that the world is wholly in the Mind of a Supreme Being. Also, that reality is a Living Being, not just created by One, and expressed via the Holy Trinity of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, represented to us by the three pillars of God the Father (personified by the Sun and starry universe), God the Mother (personified by the nurturing Earth), and God the Son (personified by the candidate who is placed exactly between the pillars).

First, here is a summary of scholarly reviews of Kubla Khan, documented in the book, A Coleridge Companion, by John Spencer Hill. 

Thomas Moore, writing in the Edinburgh Review (Sep 1816), tartly asserted that the thing now before us, is utterly destitute of value" and he defied "any man to point out a passage of poetical merit" in it... 

"The poem itself is below criticism", declared the anonymous reviewer in the Monthly Review (Jan 1817) 

William Hazlitt claimed that Xanadu demonstrated that "Mr Coleridge can write better nonsense verses than any man in England" 

John Livingston Lowes:   "For Kubla Khan is as near enchantment, I suppose, as we are like to come in this dull world."  While one may track or attempt to track individual images to their sources, Kubla Khan as a whole remains utterly inexplicable -- a "dissolving phantasmagoria" of highly charged images whose streaming pagent is, in the final analysis, "as aimless as it is magnificent"

Elisabeth Schneider, too, suggests that a good part of the poem's charm and power derives from the fact that it is invested with "an air of meaning rather than meaning itself". 

The first and, for over a hundred years, almost the only reader to insist on the intelligibility and coherence of Kubla Khan was Shelley's novel-writing friend, Thomas Love Peacock:  "there are", he declared in 1818, "very few specimens of lyrical poetry so plain, so consistent, so completely simplex et unum from first to last".  Perhaps wisely, Peacock concluded his fragmentary essay with these words, thereby sparing himself the onerous task of explaining the consistency and meaning of so plain a poem as Kubla Khan.

More recent commentators, however, have been much bolder.  In the criticism of the last fifty years one may distinguish, broadly, four major approaches to Kubla Khan: 
(1) interpretations of it as a poem about the poetic process;
(2) readings of it as an exemplification of aspects of Coleridgean aesthetic theory;
(3) Freudian analyses; and
(4) Jungian interpretations.   While recent critics concur in finding a symbolic substructure in Kubla Khan, there is little agreement among them as to how that symbolism should be interpreted. (John Spencer Hill, A Coleridge Companion)

It seems to me that all of these reviews are strongly influenced by the scientific materialistic point of view. All it takes is a new unbiased reading of Kubla Khan from a Rosicrucian point of view to reveal the powerful and holy message that Coleridge was expressing in his poem.

I agree with Thomas Love Peacock. I'm not surprised that he found it difficult, probably impossible, to explain further. As the influential philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical."

To me, the meaning of the heart of the poem is obvious.  This poem is a love song to Sophia, the Mother Goddess, Isis, the very Earth we live in (not on!), who is alive to her most hidden recesses.  Any theosopher would also quickly see to the heart of the metaphor.  Not only is the poem beautiful, it is also reverent and erotic, and illustrative of the light and dark sides of gnosis.  Critics of Coleridge apparently think his muse was either Euterpe, the muse of music, or else Erato, the muse of love poetry.  When the poem is understood to its heart, it is obvious that his muse was Polyhymnia, the muse of sacred poetry.

I would like make the observation that our current zeitgeist is infused with an obsession with violence, conflict and war, and is revolted by any display of breasts, even for feeding babies, and any sexual play, especially by those in power. In a previous essay, it seemed that the reaction to any mention of orgasm, which is universally an integral part of animal life, was an uncomfortable and titillating throwback to Victorian morality.

First, I would like to note that the historical Kublai Khan was impressed by the Tibetan monks, and made Phagspa lama of a Buddhist order a member of his entourage. Phagspa bestowed on Kublai and his wife a Tantric Buddhist initiation!

For convenience in this exegesis, I have separated the poem into parts, and will treat each part in turn:

      Xanadu     Exegesis
    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.   An ordinary man ordered the pleasure-dome, as if Nature, the divinely produced pleasure-dome, were not enough.  Alph is the source of life (as from the alpha and omega), but the sunless sea is where Kubla built.
    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.   He built his paradise, but walled it off, as earls of the land have always done.  This was Kubla's attempt to create a home-made paradise.  But he made nothing, all the goodness was already there.  He just selfishly sealed it off as if to exclude the rabble.
   But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover! A savage place! as holy and enchanted As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted By woman wailing for her demon-lover!   This is nothing less than the sexual heart of Sophia, the Mother Goddess.  The metaphor of the vulva as savage, and holy, and enchanted.  Shows extreme desire; wailing for lover to return. Demon does not mean Satanic, only non-corporeal.  Coleridge needed four exclamation points for this part!
   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 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever It flung up momently the sacred river.   This is a blow-by-blow metaphor of a mighty Holy Orgasm, the result of which is the sacred river of life.  This is a myth of creation.  At once and ever means this did not happen long ago in the dim past, but is a continuous happening then, now, and forever.  Coleridge probably needed to smoke a cigarette, or more likely opium, after this part.
   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    Meandering (seemingly aimless) with a mazy motion. The maze seems aimless, but like all mazes it is completely goal-oriented (τέλος), and leads to the prize at the center if you know how to follow it correctly.  The ocean is lifeless, as all life is bestowed by the sacred river.  Compare this with "Darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters"
   And 'mid 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!   The evil to come (war) is from man, bringing his ignorance to the paradise of Sophia, the Mother Goddess.  Here is a man-made attempted imitation of paradise.  On the surface, a sunny pleasure-dome, but at its core, lifeless and cold as 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.   The damsel is from Abyssinia, in its time the oldest state in the world, where the earliest ancestors to the human species were discovered. It is also evocative of the Goddess singing from the abyss.  In the original manuscript, the line read Mount Amara, thus singing of love, but perhaps Coleridge thought that would be too heavy-handed, and kept his subtlety more hidden.
   Could I revive within me Her symphony and song, To such a deep delight 'twould win me, That with music loud and long, I would build that dome in air, That sunny dome! those caves of ice!   It was so beautiful, that Coleridge desired to build his own paradise; not actually on earth, but in his dreams.  However, he can't quite evoke the memory of his former vision.
   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.   "Them" refers to the God the Mother, the personification of Earth, and God the Father, the Creator and Her lover.  Coleridge is in holy awe at this vision of the Creation.  This is so evocative of Masonic (and similar) rituals, where a blindfolded initiate is led thrice around the Holy altar.

It is interesting and educational to note how Shakespeare described a similar metaphor in Venus and Adonis, where she (Venus, the Mother Goddess)  is "red and hot as coals of glowing fire", "trembling in her passion", with the reluctant Adonis in her arms:

      'Fondling,' she saith, 'since I have hemm'd thee here
     Within the circuit of this ivory pale,
     I'll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;
     Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale;  
       Graze on my lips; and if those hills be dry,  
       Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.
      'Within this limit is relief enough,
     Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain,
     Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,
     To shelter thee from tempest and from rain  
       Then be my deer, since I am such a park;  
       No dog shall rouse thee, though a thousand bark.'

The "pleasant fountains" are easily enough read.  How more obvious could Coleridge's "deep, romantic chasm with ceaseless turmoil seething" be?