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Samuel Taylor Coleridge

(1772-1834 / Devon / England)

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Kubla Khan


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.

Submitted: Monday, May 14, 2001

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  • Veteran Poet - 2,677 Points Terry Craddock (11/9/2014 7:59:00 PM)

    This poem still intrigues with the siren call of an incredibly powerful opium dream, I have loved these lines for decades and still long for the missing lines left unwritten by an ill timed strangers knock upon the door. (Report) Reply

  • Bronze Star - 5,992 Points Frank Avon (11/9/2014 3:49:00 AM)

    If I had to choose THE best poem in the English language (and what a difficult task that would be!) , I would choose this one. I had to grow into it, however; at one time I thought it was very nearly a nonsense poem, crazy like a dream. But over the years, it has become more and more meaningful. It deals conclusively with Coleridge's favorite theme: the Imagination, its working and its importance.

    Its subtlety and yet its accessibility, its intricate form and yet is quotability and simple syntax, its two dramatic parts which at first seem almost unrelated yet turn out to be complementary and perfectly unified - all of these aspects of the poem contribute to its overall quality. And, by the way, don't believe a word of Coleridge's excuse that it is incomplete. It is, indeed, complete and perfectly unified. It's readable and pleasurable without consulting any secondary sources, but if you want to know the sources of some of Coleridge's imagery and get a sense of what these images might have meant to him personally, consult John Livingstone Loewe's 'Road to Xanadu.' Also read the passage in the 'Biographia Literaria' which has to do with C's view of the 'commanding genius' and the creative (or imaginative) genius. Kublai Khan, of course, is the archetype of the 'commanding genius, ' one who hopes to create (or restore) an Eden, or Paradise on earth; the 'I' of the second part has the prospect of representing the creative (or imaginative) genius. The 'damsel w/ the dulcimer' is, as it were, his Muse, or his imaginative mind.

    Could I revive within me
    Her symphony and song,

    'I' would build the Eden that Kublai Khan envisioned, but without its flaw ('that deep romantic chasm, ' 'a savage place') and without its being subject to the ravages of time ('Ancestral voices prophesying war') . With 'music loud and long, ' or with poetry or one of the other arts, he would call forth 'that dome in air, / That sunny dome') . Of course, the general public is always suspicious of the creative genius, rejecting him/her and attempting to restore common-sense order of things:

    For he on honey-dew hath fed,
    And drunk the milk of Paradise.

    But even in their plaint they indirectly point to the success of his mission: the milk and honey of the Promised Land, the Paradise (the closing word of this complete, carefully crafted, imaginatively engrossing work of art) . (Report) Reply

    Rookie - 0 Points Tammi Macclellan Heupel (11/10/2014 5:22:00 PM)

    I couldn't agree with you more. This poem is THE best poem. It's seemingly simple complexities that weave into, through and around us again and again...an infinite ouroboros one could say ;)

    Bronze Star - 5,992 Points Frank Avon (11/9/2014 12:41:00 PM)

    Sorry, John Livingston LOWES.

    Coleridge's discussion of 'genius' is in Chapter 2 of 'Biographia Literaria.' Here is a significant quote:

    'While the [creative, or absolute genius] rest content between thought and reality, as it were in an intermundium of which their own living spirit supplies the substance, and their imagination the ever-varying form; the [commanding genius] must impress their preconceptions on the world without, in order to present them back to their own view with the satisfying degree of clearness, distinctness, and individuality. These in tranquil times are formed to exhibit a perfect poem in palace, or temple, or landscape-garden; or a tale of romance in canals that join sea with sea, or in walls of rock, which, shouldering back the billows, imitate the power, and supply the benevolence of nature to sheltered navies; or in aqueducts that, arching the wide vale from mountain to mountain, give a Palmyra to the desert. But alas! in times of tumult they are the men destined to come forth as the shaping spirit of ruin, to destroy the wisdom of ages in order to substitute the fancies of a day, and to change kings and kingdoms, as the wind shifts and shapes the clouds '

  • Gold Star - 33,636 Points Aftab Alam Khursheed (11/9/2014 3:11:00 AM)

    This poem is dream of STC yet Kubla Khan the Mongol Ruler established his kingdom in China..words are dreaming words very interesting this poem unlike Ancient Mariner very tough in its code AM is about the French Revolution and this is... lovely and famous poem of STC (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 1,391 Points Kevin Patrick (11/9/2012 10:54:00 PM)

    years ago I had a collection of romantic and victorian poetry this poem was in it, when I read it I could not help but think how similar it was to the lyrics to the RUSH song of the same name, and then I realized Neal Peart stolle it almost verbatum from this. Well he stole a masterful poem and turned it into a well crafted song. But Rime of the ancient Mariner is still the best work Coleridge EVER wrote (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 503 Points Paul Brookes (11/9/2012 6:49:00 AM)

    For once I agree with Mr Straw's assessment of this poem and of the Romantics too. The poem certainly resonates if imperfect, of the poets feeling on nature etc, and better by half than some of todays bleeding heart poetry which frankly is self indulgent and far to egocentric, with little beauty or poetic line to recommend it. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 416 Points Shahzia Batool (11/9/2012 2:02:00 AM)

    Pieces with Surrealistic suggestions can never be completed, and therein lies their intrinsic beauty -
    the charm of the poem advocates that it is conceived and composed by one who on honey-dew hath fed and drunk the milk of paradise... (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 2 Points Cameren Lee (1/20/2012 8:47:00 PM)

    This is a milestone in poetry, and not only because of its influence on psychedelia [I, for the record, discovered this poem upon learning that it was the influence for the classic Rush song/epic Xanadu. That may sabotage my credibility here, but at least I'm being honest.]. The Abyssinian maid really hit me personally. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Cs Vishwanathan (11/9/2010 5:29:00 AM)

    I concur with most of what Straw and Fraser say, particularly with these romanticists being masters of their craft. The mastery of craft itself is a measure of the poet's talent and genius. Coleridge, s corpus was amazingly uneven. Only in three or four poems his genius finds full expression - 'Kubla Khan' being one of them. Its last two verses give it a kind of closure and completeness which makes it a fully formed poem by itself despite the interruption by the 'man from Porlock'. Coleridge's poetry straddles Wordsworth's nature mysticism (romanticism?) and the world-well-lost romantic bravura of Shelly and Keats. He also foreshadows pre-Raphaelites. He also had in abundance what can only be called the dulcet measure of mellifluousness. Only Swinburne matches him in this. This quality of his poetry makes it live for us even now.
    sure (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 294 Points Ramesh T A (11/9/2009 10:49:00 AM)

    This is my all time favourite poem of Coleridge! It is the expression of his dream without any correction! Though it was stopped by some intruder it has become a complete piece of its own accord! Only few poets can do this magic! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Kevin Straw (11/9/2009 6:08:00 AM)

    Is it not a mystery how some poets can pack into a few words an energy that makes those words resound to every generation that reads them? This poem is a magnificent failure, but head and shoulders above many a mundane success. My only problem with the Romantic movement is that many poets have taken its message to be 'whatever you write is poetry if it's about your feelings'. Blake, Keats, Coleridge etc were masters of their craft - not just self-indulgent babblers using words to make a vague stab at describing what they feel. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Ian Fraser (2/6/2009 3:43:00 PM)

    This superb poem has had an influence across the centuries on many generations of the young, most notably upon the 'pychedelic' movement of the 1960s and is a perfect example of the style of writing of the Romantic movement with its exotic setting and grandiose, visionary style. There is a strong surreal element in it and indeed it is said that Coleridge did in fact write it under the influence of opium. It is also generally regarded as unfinished and there is a funny story attached to that. It is said that while he was writing, he was interrupted by a visitor from Porlock, a nearby village. When he returned to his desk he could no longer remember what he was going to write. Since then the phrase 'persons from Porlock' has come to mean irritating visitors who distract us from what we were doing. Despite this, many people like the way the poem ends with the wild image of the priestly mage who 'hath drunk the milk of paradise'.The whole poem has a lawless, uncontrolled feel about, though in fact it is written in a very strict classical meter, the iambic tetrameter, with a complex formal scheme of rhyme.. It is this contrast between the wild and ungovernable on the one hand and the classical on the other that gives the best writing of this period so much of its particular flavor. It is, however, quite easy to parody this style and I came across one young reader who thought it was something from Dungeons and Dragons! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 294 Points Ramesh T A (11/9/2008 1:43:00 AM)

    Wonderful poem I cherish most in my mind and cannot forget Coleridge forever due to the ex temporary expression of this dream poetry of the great romantic poet of UK! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie A Heritch (3/24/2005 1:38:00 PM)

    Appropriate for use with a study unit on Marco Polo, who served under Kublai Khan in China for 17 years. (Report) Reply

Read all 15 comments »

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