States of Poetry Series Two - Victoria | 'Mirror, Palace' by Lisa Gorton

– if that indeed can be called composition –
wrote Coleridge –
in which the images rose up before him as things –

‘In the summer of the year – the Author, then in ill health, had
retired to a lonely farmhouse – ’
where, seated in his illeism by a window, the Author passed
into the background of his imagery –
                                           woods, clouds hanging over the sea
                                           in deeps of glass – ‘sole eye of all that world’, or
                                           vanishing point it
                                           floods back through – ‘huge fragments vaulted’ –

‘You must know that it is the greatest palace that ever was’ –
                                                                                                its rooms like clouds
following one another in an order hard to memorise –         ‘all gilt & painted
with figures of men & beasts & birds’ –                               its hall of statues –
                                                                         stopped machines –
leading away and back into that first astonishment –            its green smell
                                                                                   like the cry of a bird

A city at first light, long-shadowed streets –
An open plain of rubbish behind rails –
A sky afloat inside its landscape – clouds in the river,
wind in the dry mouths of the grass –
                                                                                               beating images
                                                                                               from their dark wings
quick shadows brightening –

‘So twice five miles’ – ‘So twice six miles of fertile ground
with Walls and Towers were compass’d round’ – ‘were girdled’ –

‘In Xamdu did Cublai Can’
ride out on his white horse
with a jaguar on its pommel, loosed
to hunt the animals stored
in the wide cage of his pleasure –
‘a stag, or goat, or fallow deer’ –
carcasses for his gyrfalcons in their mews –

A is for Alph – sacred river of
converging perspectival lines –
Momently it rises – momently
sinks back – into that lifeless ocean
the letter’s two struts stand
afloat on, raising its tower again –
– A woman crying in her wilderness
– A woman singing
– A ‘palace so devised that it can be taken down
and put up again
wheresoever the Emperor may command – ’

From far off, the Emperor hears his dead
in panoply of ice
speaking war through their long smiles –

‘And now once more / The pool becomes a mirror’ –

His poem is a mirror made of metal –
its one face the engraving of a landscape –
the other, polished to brightness,
keeps taking things into itself
and letting them go – A palace of images
that the Emperor walks about in –
its dome of air, its caves of ice,
in the flashing eye of a mirror, his floating hair –

‘The author continued about three hours in his chair’ –

The Author walked in
through the iron gate of its palace – Only
his shadow moved among the shadows –
He was in its hall of statues
when a sound of rain
opened like a door into that room where he slept as a child
and all night it rained, all night dark
poured onto its glass like rain –

‘Irrecoverable – ’ meaning, it couldn’t be finished –
Circumstantial as a preface, things rising up
out of their images before him –
                                            or ‘sunless sea’ –
Midway, the shadow floats – long-dead Emperor
with a voice of water, looking out
from mirrors with a face of false calm –

The Author watched his Person of Business
walking in from Porlock
among deep fields of grass – His hat like a stone
skimmed the tips of the seedheads, late-
summer pale, scattering
from the wind like light on water – and
elderflowers, poppies, speedwell, hyacinths –
                                     ‘I have annexed a fragment – ’

Lisa Gorton

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