Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
She who succeeds in gaining the mastery
of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.
– Susan B. Anthony
April 19th is Bicycle Day, but not for the reason you are most likely thinking.
On April 19, 1943, chemist Albert Hofman, who worked for Sandoz in Bazel, Switzerland, ingested a minute amount—just 250 micrograms–of a compound derived from the ergot fungus. He soon felt so disoriented that as he rode his bicycle home, he experienced all the heavenly and hellish effects of lysergic acid diethylamide.
Hofmann’s discovery of the effects of LSD are now commemorated on April 19th as Bicycle Day.
Albert Hofman, described several decades later by a journalist as “a stooped, white-haired man with fierce, Churchillian mien,” contributed not only to our knowledge of LSD, but also did pioneering work on Psilocybe cubensis, the “magic mushroom” consumed by Indians in Mexico, and deduced that its primary active ingredient is psilocybin.
But poets have been “tripping out” long before Hofman’s illuminating journey home on his bicycle.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan” is one of the most famous examples. It was written in 1797.
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.
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.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
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!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
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
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
“Kubla Khan” from Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Complete Poems – Penguin Classics, 1997 edition
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) English poet, literary critic, philosopher, and theologian; co-founder with William Wordsworth of the Romantic Movement in English letters, and one of the Lake Poets (a subgroup of the Romantics, who all lived in the beautiful Lake District in North West England). Best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, but his critical work on William Shakespeare was highly influential, while his philosophical and theological writings were an inspiration to Ralph Waldo Emerson and American transcendentalism.
Edgar Allan Poe was the master of the macabre, both in poetry and prose, and his visions seemed to hover at the edge of madness – and sometimes to venture beyond the edge. He used his poem “The Conqueror Worm” in his short story “Ligeia” as the last composition of the title character while in her death throes.
The Conqueror Worm
by Edgar Allan Poe
Lo! ’t is a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly—
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
That motley drama—oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout,
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!—it writhes!—with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out—out are the lights—out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.
“The Conqueror Worm” from The Complete Poems and Stories of Edgar Allan Poe – Doubleday, 1966 edition
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) American writer, poet, editor, literary critic, and central figure in American Romanticism; he was a pioneer in popularizing the short story, known particularly for his tales of mystery and the macabre, and poems like “The Raven.” He died at age 40 in 1849, after being found delirious on the streets of Baltimore. An anonymous “memoir” signed “Ludwig” was printed in the New York Tribune on the day of Poe’s burial, and reprinted in newspapers across the country. It was written by his literary rival Rufus Wilmot Griswold, and filled with falsehoods which are the main source for the image of Poe as a depraved drug-and-alcohol-addicted madman, wandering the streets and muttering to himself. Though Poe was known as a drinker, his friends disputed that he was a drug user. After Poe’s death, Griswold bizarrely claimed that he was Poe’s literary executor, as he continued until his own death to inflict the maximum damage on Poe’s reputation.
Advancing into the 20th century, Susan Ludvigson gives us this poem, which may change how you look at fruit.
After He Called Her a Witch
by Susan Ludvigson
Special powers were attributed to the orange in
Renaissance England, Italy and Sicily. It was
believed witches could bring death to an enemy
by pinning the victim’s name to an orange and
leaving the orange in the chimney.
When he comes in, late again,
the whole house smells wonderful,
but he can’t quite recognize the scent.
The fire is almost out, a few ashes
flicker in the absent light,
and suddenly he recalls
his mother holding orange peels
over a flame, the singed skin
curling back like petals,
releasing the fragrance.
She did it daily, all one winter,
just for the pleasure.
He doesn’t see on the hearth
the remains of paper, traces
of his name printed in clear
black ink. He wonders how his wife
knew about sweetening their rooms
with oranges, wonders whether it means
the air is cleared,
she wants to make up.
He breathes the evening in,
Imagining her in bed, waiting for him,
forgiveness on her lips
like the taste of oranges.
“After He Called Her a Witch”– from Poetry magazine, November 1982, © 1982 by Susan Ludvigson
Susan Ludvigson (1942 – ) American poet born in Wisconsin; professor emeritus of English at Winthrop University, in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She is the author of ten collections of poetry, including: The Beautiful Noon of No Shadow (1986), Everything Winged Must Be Dreaming (1993), Trinity (1996), Sweet Confluence: New and Selected Poems (2000), and Escaping the House of Certainty (2006)
But of course, you can’t write a piece about Bicycle Day without a poem that is about bicycles. This one is from Pablo Neruda.
Ode to Bicycles
by Pablo Neruda
I was walking
a sizzling road:
the sun popped like
a field of blazing maize,
an infinite circle
with an empty
blue sky overhead.
A few bicycles
moment of summer,
Workers and girls
were riding to their
their heads to the sky,
sitting on the
of the whirling
as they rode by
bridges, rosebushes, brambles
I thought about evening when
sing, eat, raise
at the door,
does it have a soul,
and fallen there
a translucent insect
that will return to
when it’s needed,
when it’s light,
of each day.
“Ode to Bicycles” from The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, © 2003 by Fundación Pablo Neruda – Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) Chilean poet, diplomat, and former Chilean ambassador to France, considered Chile’s greatest poet. He won the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature, but his affiliation with the Communist Party stirred controversy.