Almost all children love to hear stories. I probably never outgrew that stage, because to this day my favourite poems are those which tell a story!
I was very young when I first read “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes.
His description of the night when the the Highwayman came riding is so graphic, that we immediately picture the scene in our imagination-
The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding–
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.
The story has all the drama of a thriller! When King George’s Redcoats tie up the landlord’s daughter, and sit down to wait for her lover- the highwayman- the poet tells us-
They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.
And also elements of a ghost story at the end, because, even after the lovers die-
And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
-the Highwayman still comes riding, and Bess, the landlord’s daughter can still be seen plaiting a love-knot in her hair at the window!
Another poem that I love is “Kubla Khan” by S.T.Coleridge.
There is an interesting story about how Coleridge came to write this wonderful poem. Coleridge claimed that he was inspired to write this poem because of an opium induced dream. While writing it down, he was interrupted. and lost ‘the vision’ of most of the dream. What was left is this poem.
History tells us that Kubla Khan claimed he had the mandate of heaven to rule, and obtained control over an entire kingdom. His summer home was in Shangdu/ Xanadu and he had a residence ‘suitable for a son of God’ built there.
Coleridge begins his story of the building of this palatial residence thus-
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.
To create the palace and the grounds-
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
The whole poem has a dreamlike quality which is heightened by the images which flow through the poem one after the other.
In later lines the images become fantastical-
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
Further on, the ordered atmosphere of Kubla Khan’s palace gives way to dark and menacing surroundings and situations which the emperor cannot control-
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
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 :
And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
At the end the poet identifies with Kubla Khan and the last stanza can be applied to both-
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,
And the last two lines are a reference to Kubla Khan’s power and wealth. He had bred 10,000 horses at this palace- and only he himself, and those who enjoyed his special favour were allowed to drink their milk-
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
What about you? Any story- poems that you specially like?