Kubla Khan – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Kubla Khan is a transcription of a dream-vision Samuel Taylor Coleridge experienced whilst under the influence of opium, the entire poem was inspired by a travel book, Purchas His Pilgrimage. Coleridge began to focus on the line “at Zanadu Kubla Khan built a pleasure palace”, this line opened Coleridge’s vision to begin writing the poem in a waking dream. We see him travel through central Asia visiting the land of Kubla Khan. The poem, apparently left unfinished due to being interrupted during his opium induced vision, however the poem beautifully describes the city of Xanadu from the giant plants, sweet fragrance of nature and people of the land. As Coleridge becomes more transfixed in his vision we see a deeper level of imagination as Coleridge looks upon the land where he notices a woman waling over her “demon-lover”. This line begins to see the supernatural imagery, which the dream-like vision is starting to change into a supernatural world.
The Lammas Hireling – Ian Duhig
Throughout 7 volumes of poetry, and numerous essays, Ian Duhig shows that he is no stranger to fantasy. However, his complex ideas on the genre are most prominent in his well renown poem, ‘The Lammas Hireling’.
The poem is one that blurs boundaries between reality and myth, the disturbed and the stable, horror and trauma. Duhig masterfully mythologises trauma, delving into folklore of witches and devils all tied together by the narrator’s untrustworthy account of a supposed ‘warlock’ hired as a farm hand. The poem persists to be disturbing, as it pushes readers with extreme images of fantastical evil haunting a man that might simply just be crazy. As often described, Duhig is deeply complex and clever. He employs this heavily within ‘The Lammas Hireling’, ultimately revealing the first person narrative as a church confession, further mixing Duhig’s concoction of fantastical evil and mental trauma, with religious consequence for the narrator and the reliance on it for escape from fantasy.
Although not the most overtly fantastical poem, Duhig blends elements of the genre, mythicising a troubled mind, and blending them in with the consequences of mental trauma. He essentially makes a fantasy out of the damaged human mind.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci – John Keats
Not to sound like an English Literature nerd, but John Keats has got to be one of my favourite poets, and not just because he was a member of the ICONIC chaotic trio that was made up of himself, Percy Shelley and madman Lord Byron. His works are beautiful, and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, first published in 1819 is beautiful for so many reasons. First being, it’s a poem that is entirely based on one’s own interpretations. Is the titular Dame taken advantage of by the knight, an allegorical implication of industrialisation in the 19th century, or does she take revenge against the knight, destroying him in her fury, implying that nature will always triumph? La Belle herself is ethereal, a ‘faerys child’ the classic picture of fame in romantic literature. The knight in contrast is metallic, hard and rough, uncertain with this ‘lady of the meads’ but tempted by her regardless. For a poem centred on desire, it’s far from being a love story, instead descending into horror with its descriptors of the knight’s nightmares of ‘pale kings and princes’, crying out ‘in the gloam’. It equally explores the pure, innocent beauty of fantasy, and it’s dark, twisted and gnarled side, suggesting to me that it’s amongst the very best of the poetry genre.
The Stolen Child – W.B. Yeats
The Stolen Child by William Butler Yeats is a simple storyline that we have seen many times before Yeats and have seen many times after. But the sheer beauty of the poem is enough to read over and over again as if it is the first of its kind. Yeats was often inspired by fantastical Irish folklore, harking to the forests, traditionally the home of the faerie folk.
Changelings are a familiar trope in European folklore, but is particularly poignant in Irish tales: the faeries swap their unwanted babies for human children, leaving humans behind with sickly children that either does not pick up language very well or are extremely eloquent with no in-between. Interestingly, Yeats tells this story from the perspective of the faeries persuading the human child to come away with them to the forest, describing the wonders of the woodland, the variety of food from stolen cherries to trout, and the dances that are enjoyed while the human world is full of worry and anxiety.
You don’t have to be a child for Yeats to convince you as he whisks you away to a serene and beautiful place just for a couple of minutes.