Apocalypse Now

Both Wordsworth’s vision of the dream of the Arab and Coleridge’s of the pleasure dome of Kubla Khan reflect an understanding of apocalypse as a cyclic phenomenon.   In the dream of the Arab, Wordsworth’s prophet-Arab describes the coming apocalypse as another destruction by water, like the Great Deluge of the time of Noah, though Wordsworth is fully aware of the tradition of God’s promise never again to flood the earth and the prediction of Revelation that the next and last apocalypse would be rather by fire and stone.   His vision thus suggests a repeat of a past apocalypse in the present, despite all tradition to the contrary.  In the vision of Kubla Khan, Coleridge too reflects this cyclic understanding of destruction and rebirth through in the poetic form he gives his vision.  The poem begins as a recollection of Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome as it was in Kubla’s time, but by the last stanza it has morphed into a tale of reconstruction of this past phenomenon within the present.  The author has become the new Kubla Khan, the new constructor of the pleasure dome, a phenomenon doomed by the paradox of its nature (being both sunny and composed of ice) to inevitable renewed destruction.

Yet certain details in both The Prelude and Kubla Khan would seem to carry this notion of the cyclic apocalypse still farther: Both suggest an idea of apocalypse as not only repeating, but ever-present, ever-recurring.  All time is a time of apocalypse.  In book six of The Prelude, Wordsworth describes the “Characters of the great apocalypse” as “the types and symbols of eternity, / Of first, and last, and midst, and without end” (my emphasis).  The pattern of apocalypse is the pattern of eternity, “first, and last, and midst, ” and this presence and pattern is “without end.”  The “characters of the apocalypse” will always be us.  In Kubla Khan the idea of the ever-present apocalypse lies in the seamless morphing from Kubla Khan as the constructor of the pleasure dome to the author as the re-constructor.   There is a shift from the vision being purely about a past phenomenon that has ceased to exist to a renewal of this doomed, fragile, paradoxical phenomenon in the present.  Now is the time of the apocalypse.


~ by mahler1860 on September 13, 2012.

One Response to “Apocalypse Now”

  1. This reading of Wordsworth and Coleridge is knowledge-centered, which is empathetic to the awakening and prophetic wisdom offered by both Coleridge and Wordsworth. The declaration of “Kubla Khan” as providing a “cyclic understanding of destruction and rebirth” is reminiscent of Coleridge preference for glorious characterizations and eye opening moments, such as the instance (on page 639) that “the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto” (5). Well-done on the accurate description of the import of vision, renewal, and apocalyptic knowledge and prophetic liberalism in both Coleridge and Wordsworth’s works.

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