James Allen Hall, Director, Rose O’Neill Literary House
The first poem I loved as an angsty teenager was Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” which concerns the eponymous Chinese emperor and his summer palace, Xanadu. Kublai Khan chose a riverside location for his “stately pleasure-dome,” and the speaker of the poem describes Alph as a “sacred river” running “[t]hrough caverns measureless to man/ Down to a sunless sea.”
I loved getting lost in the landscape Coleridge describes, the language itself a kind of “sacred river.”
The first time I crossed the Chester River was in the moving truck that brought me from upstate New York to Chestertown. Later, I was standing at the foot of High Street, looking down the Chester River, thinking about how a river marks a place on the map even though it is never fixed: we never enter the same river twice.
In the poem, the river goes underground and then bursts up in fountains and amid “this tumult Kubla heard from far/ Ancestral voices prophesying war!” I like thinking about how the Chester, or any river for that matter, provides an anchor even as it permits change. I like thinking of the land as a poem, as Coleridge did — and the river as a kind of line break, where sound and meaning and the ancestors’ call gather us in their arms before we rush away changed, renewed, and more resolutely ourselves.