A Stately Pleasure Dome

If the word “Xanadu” happens to come up at our dinner table (and doesn’t it come up from time to time at yours?) we can count on our son’s launching into Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” which he memorized at some point due to sheer fascination with the language.

Today is the birthday of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), and in his honor I post the opening lines of that poem. Along with it I post my daughter’s drawing, from our homeschooling Middle Ages block, of the rooftops of Xanadu, the summer residence of Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan), who ruled China during the years of Marco Polo’s visit and subsequent years of service to the Khan.


Cambalu, the winter capital, grew quite hot in summer, so Kublai had a northern marshy river valley drained and transformed into a vast park of gardens, teahouses, terraces, and winding waterways for pleasure boats and wild birds. (Here is Marco surveying the scene from a rooftop.) At its center was the palace of polished bamboo painted with vermilion and gold and elaborate murals.

Xanadu was destroyed in the 14th century, but Marco Polo’s descriptions were familiar and inspirational to later writers, one of whose works (Samuel Purchas’ 1613 Purchas His Pilgrimage) Coleridge had been reading one summer day in 1797 before falling into a deep, some say drug-induced, sleep. While he slept, Coleridge “dreamed” the poem as a series of vivid and haunting images and phrases, which he instantly wrote down upon awakening.

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…

For the rest, please see Poetry Out Loud. You will want to memorize it, too.

For another Coleridge poem, and a painting, please see Thou shalt wander like a breeze.


Brotherly Love Part 1

I post this travel sketch of a London street in honor of the birthday and birthplace of William Penn (1644-1718), who actually seems to have truly been the laudable character recorded in our childhood history books.


Son of a prosperous knighted admiral and his wife, herself the daughter of a rich Dutch merchant, Penn could have chosen to follow in the footsteps of others of his class, enjoying a life of comfortable privilege on property confiscated by Cromwell from political opponents and dispossessed Irish peasantry. He received the usual rigorous grammar school education accorded boys in his position, studying reading and writing, religion, mathematics, Latin, and Greek from 6am to 6pm, walking the two miles each way between home and the schoolhouse. Be sure to repeat this part to your children when they object to their many burdens.

One Sunday morning, William’s father invited Thomas Loe, a traveling preacher, to lead a service in the family castle. It was an invitation the Admiral had cause to regret, because Mr. Loe, a follower of George Fox, spoke so eloquently of Quakerism that he left a permanent impression upon young William.

At sixteen William went off to Oxford, encountering for the first time extravagantly dressed fellow students who, instead of studying, spent their time, and their parents’ money, playing cards, drinking, and one can only imagine what else. William, however, was drawn to a small handful of progressive, troublesome students who met to discuss surreptitiously such inflammatory subjects as freedom of worship, and who also dared to miss several chapel services. For which they were expelled. Whereas presumably the party-down crowd remained at Oxford as long as they faithfully paid their gambling debts.

Angry and disappointed, Willam’s father gave him a good beating and sent him off on the Grand Tour of Europe to knock some sense into him, an unusual approach to teenage misbehavior not in current use. Perhaps a taste of Parisian society, thought the Admiral, would show William the folly of his queer religious ideas! On the Continent, William acquired fluency in French and a much better wardrobe, but he soon tired of court life and resumed his studies among a group of French Huguenots who (for the moment, anyway) enjoyed an inspiring period of religious freedom.

Back home, although initially cutting an impressive new figure in society, William soon dashed his father’s hopes once again by attending Quaker meetings, sympathizing with the plight of thousands of Quakers imprisoned for their refusal to follow the Church of England, writing to the government in their defense, and eventually serving time in prison himself. On top of this he began to court a Quaker lass. His father was in despair. Beatings, lengthy trips to France, even threats of disinheritance had no effect. What could be done with such recalcitrant offspring?

To Be Continued

Today is also the birthday of Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), known as e e cummings. For a painting and a poem, please see this is the garden.




Today is the birthday of my cousin Dianne and her twin sister Monica. Dianne would have been 53. She passed away this past Sunday, October 2nd, after a year-long struggle with two rare blood disorders. Dianne was so optimistic and cheerful throughout the course of this painful condition and its equally (if not more) painful treatments that both family and hospital staff really thought she would pull through. She leaves behind a beloved husband and two sons, as well as the large extended family of siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews who provided a warm loving ongoing support system, for her and for each other. Now continuing, as necessary as ever in the wake of her loss.

I see that the card I made for her last birthday (detail above) has an entirely different meaning today.

CakeBeachDianne CakeAutLeaves2Monica


Let Me Sow Love

In honor of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, I post this painting of a view of his native town, along with the Peace Prayer of St. Francis, which expresses yearning for a kind of inner transformation difficult to achieve even over the course of a lifetime, but is worth regular inspirational revisiting. A baby step is at least a step.

Today is also the feast day, that is to say birthday, of writer and humorist Roy Blount, Jr. I don’t know if wild birds and hungry wolves eat tamely out of his hand, but dogs do. For a sketch, a riddle, and a mini-bio, please see Language Lover.


Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The Art of Cooking


Julia McWilliams Child (1912-2004) would probably be horrified at the departure from classic cuisine depicted herein, but I post it in a spirit of unequivocal admiration for her blend of the classic and the unconventional that made her both compelling and beloved.

Today is the birthday of the woman who probably did more than any other individual to open the eyes and broaden the palates of American cooks. I recall my mother and her best friend watching reruns of The French Chef and using their families as guinea pigs for meals drawn from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. For which we were not entirely grateful at the time—children being creatures of habit—but which inevitably expanded and uplifted our tastes. Happy Birthday Julia, and merci mille fois.

Today is also the Feast of the Assumption, one of the the many holy days which the French honor in sacred traditional fashion: that is, taking off from work and heading out of town for some R&R (if they are not already there, it being, after all, the month of August). For a comic, please see Assumption.



Move Eastward, Happy Earth

In honor of the birthday today of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), I post this painting and poem—also suitably celebratory for Trish and Jason’s anniversary.


Move eastward, happy earth, and leave
Yon orange sunset waning slow:
From fringes of the faded eve,
O, happy planet, eastward go:
Till over thy dark shoulder glow
Thy silver sister world, and rise
To glass herself in dewey eyes
That watch me from the glen below.
Ah, bear me with thee, lightly borne,
Dip forward under starry light,
And move me to my marriage-morn,
And round again to happy night.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson

CakeWeddingTrish & Jason


Eat Your Peas


Today is the birthday of Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), whose study of the humble pea led him to deduce the existence of what he called dominant and recessive traits, thereby perplexing and confusing his fellow scientists with a concept we all take for granted today. For his story, and pictures, please see Peas of Mind.


Dancing with the Daffodils

I post this ever-so-timely poem, along with a sketch of a neighbor’s garden, in honor of William Wordsworth (1770-1850), whose birthday it is today.


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

—William Wordsworth

For another Wordworth poem, a bio, and a painting, please see My Heart Leaps Up.