Monday, February 9, 2009

A discovery and a memory



Every once in a while, some little nugget of information makes the penny drop for an Eureka moment. 'Every once in a while, some neuron finally fires in our brains and we have a huge realization.' Good old Hilary Price gets it right everytime!

Today I had one such moment of discovery.

Not being a literature major, my reading has been entirely my own, so I had not been exposed to Coleridge's Kubla Khan -
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...
till I read Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. The entire book is based on this one poem composed in 1798, with inputs from 'The Rime of the ancient mariner' as well. If you haven't read the book, I will not spoil the mystery, but suffice it to say that it is so well meshed with the plot that I still can't read this poem without remembering that story as the true meaning. Its not a poem that is easy to understand, and I often wondered how it was that Adams took so many liberties with it, insinuating meanings where surely there were none? The lines

...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 !...

translate as description of an alien spacecraft, where each movement of life is changed to music! He also depicts Coleridge as having been drugged when he wrote this poem, something which I wasn't sure could be right. Surely anyone would realize that Adams would not have written this without making sure of his facts? Or that if there has not been any uproar about the book's factual inaccuracy, then it is not, in fact, wrong? Not me. I wondered and wondered, and still could not decipher the poem, entangled as it was with Dirk Gently in my mind. So when I read this introductory note to the poem, written by Coleridge himself, it was one Eureka moment: no wonder I couldn't understand it! He was likely under the effect of opium at that time, and the whole thing was actually 'a vision in a dream' and not some fancy way of saying something else. Duh.

I daresay this little discovery of mine means nothing to you; those among you who were in the know all the time will even find it a little - dumb to say the least. But I am still bemused by it, so do pardon my indulgence today!

P.S. I would like to end by quoting another author's reinterpretation of an earlier rhyme, which makes this post kind of long, so am splitting it in two parts again today. The section on ABC is to follow :)

Here is J R R Tolkien's version of the rhyme 'The cat and the fiddle' which I really enjoy reading ever since I first found his books. What a beautiful way to explain the nonsensical verse!

The man in the moon stayed up too late

There is an inn a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill

The ostler has a tipsy cat
that plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he draws his bow,
Now squeaking high, now purring low,
now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog
that is mighty fond of jokes;
When there's good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests and laughs until he chokes.

They also keep a horn-ed cow
as proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail
and dance upon the green.

And O! the rows of silver dishes
and the store of silver spoons!
For Sunday there's a special pair,
And these they polish up with care
on saturday afternoons.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,
and the cat began to wail;
A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced,
and the little dog chased its tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,
and then rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale
and dawn was in the air.

Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat:
"The white horses of the Moon,
They neigh and champ their silver bits;
But their master's been and drowned his wits,
and the sun'll be rising soon!"

So the cat on his fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
a jig that would wake the dead:
He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon
"It's after three!" he said

They rolled the man slowly up the hill
and bundled him into the moon,
While his horses galloped up in rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
and a dish ran up with the spoon.

Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;
the dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
the guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor

With a ping and a pong the fiddle strings broke!
the cow jumped over the moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
With the silver Sunday spoon.

The round Moon rolled behind the hill,
as the sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
They all went back to bed!

He also wrote another poem to explain the nursery rhyme 'The man in the moon', which I discovered just today -

Why the man in the moon came down too soon


The Man in the Moon had silver shoon
And his beard was of silver thread;
He was girt with pure gold and inaureoled
With gold about his head.
Clad in silken robe in his great white globe
He opened an ivory door
With a crystal key, and in secrecy
He stole o'er a shadowy floor;

Down a filigree stair of spidery hair
He slipped in gleaming haste,
And laughing with glee to be merry and free
He swiftly earthward raced.
He was tired of his pearls and diamond twirls;
Of his pallid minaret
Dizzy and white at its lunar height
In a world of silver set;

And adventured this peril for ruby and beryl
And emerald and sapphire,
And all lustrous gems for new diadems,
Or to blazon his pale attire.
He was lonely too with nothing to do
But to stare at the golden world,
Or to strain at the hum that would distantly come
As it gaily past him whirled;

And at plenilune in his argent moon
He had wearily longed for Fire-
Not the limpid lights of wan selenites,
But a red terrestrial pyre
With impurpurate glows of crimson and rose
And leaping orange tongue;
For great seas of blues and the passionate hues
When a dancing dawn is young;

For the meadowy ways like chrysophrase
By winding Yare and Nen.
How he longed for the mirth of the populous Earth
And the sanguine blood of men;
And coveted song and laughter long
And viands hot and wine,
Eating pearly cakes of light snowflakes
And drinking thin
moonshine.

He twinkled his feet as he thought of the meat,
Of the punch and the peppery brew,
Till he tripped unaware on his slanting stair,
And fell like meteors do;
As the whickering sparks in splashing arcs
Of stars blown down like rain
From his laddery path took a foaming bath
In the ocean of Almain;

And began to think, lest he melt and stink,
What in the moon to do,
When a Yarmouth boat found him far afloat,
To the mazement of the crew
Caught in their net all shimmering wet
In a phosphorescent sheen
Of bluey whites and opal lights
And delicate liquid green

With the morning fish - 'twas his regal wish -
They packed him to Norwich town,
To get warm on gin in a Norfolk inn,
And dry his watery gown.
Though St. Peter's knell waked many a bell
In the city's ringing towers
To shout the news of his lunatic cruise
In the early morning hours,

No hearths were laid, not a breakfast made,
And no one would sell him gems;
He found ashes for fire, and his gay desire
For choruses and brave anthems
Met snores instead with all Norfolk abed,
And his round heart nearly broke,
More empty and cold than above of old,
Till he bartered his fairy cloak

With a half waked cook for a kitchen nook,
And his belt of gold for a smile,
And a priceless jewel for a bowl of gruel,
A sample cold and vile
Of the proud plum porridge of Anglian Norwich -
He arrived much too soon
For unusual guests on adventurous quests
From the Mountains of the Moon.

Someday I hope to share these gems with my children, and have a quiet chuckle about Tolkien's wonderful world...

4 comments:

priya kuriyan said...

Can't tell you how many such inane realizations I've had :) . There's always a sense of relief though once you've figured it out. Nice post.

Swati said...

Good to see you here Priya. Isn't the really trivial nature of these realizations amazing compared to that vast feeling of something being un-knotted within?

Nino's Mum said...

I came here to tell you I had very good fun reading the two poems and that Tolkien totally made me fall in love with the silly poem.
But then I read the above comment and stood (actually sat) very still.
We're a trio of girl friends, one of whom (Karishma) went to design school with Priya (NID Ahmedabad), and I've met her a couple of times and we used to call her Kurian. Small world or five point someone theory? :)

Phebe said...

Hi Swati,
Thanks for visiting my blog recently and lingering awhile. Thanks for leaving comments. Much appreciated. About the book sale, there are two per year so just keep on the lookout at my blogs. I will try and alert you if I remember the next time. Have an awesome day!