‘Kubla Khan’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Kubla Khan

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (1772 1834)

“Or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment” (see below)

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.

This poem is considered one of Coleridge’s “mystery poems,” so described by critics for its otherworldly imagery and language, and for the puzzling, mysterious nature of the poem itself. I think of it as a hallucination in which the poet finds himself the narrator and a character, according to ‘The Poets’ Corner’, the book by John Lithgow.

Coleridge had an addiction to Laudanum, a powerful tincture of opium, which of course is what morphine and many other powerful opioid analgesic’s / pain-killers are made from. Today, the equivilant would be opium tincture, or morphine sulfate oral concentrate solution, Roxanol.

So Coleridge would take dose himself, and have visions & dreams, much like the stories of the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. When he awoke from his dream, he would write down in vivid detail everything that he saw and experienced.

The story goes that when he wrote Kubla Khan, he had just awoken from his drug-induced dream state and began to write. But before he could finish, he was interuppted by a visitor who had stopped by to say hello. When the visitor left, he began to try and finish writing his poem, but he could not remember enough to finish. So, Kubla Khan is a fragment; but what an amazing fragment!

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