Xanadu – #AtoZChallenge2016

I’m participating in the #AtoZBloggingChallenge 2016 with the theme – Pins on the Map of my Memory – which is about places that bear a special connection with me for reasons mostly personal!


X for Xanadu

Today’s post is going to be a little different! So far, I have shared my personal travel experiences on each of my posts for the A to Z Challenge. Today, however, as an exception, I’m taking you on a journey that is not mine, but, as students of English Literature will agree, one that has been enjoyed by many. This journey into fantasy, takes you to strange exotic places, through a poem that happens to be one of the most famous and enduring poems in English literary history.

‘Kubla Khan’ is interesting because Samuel Taylor Coleridge is talking about an experience we’ve probably all had. At the bottom of all of these odd images and ideas, he’s just trying to tell us about a dream he had. It will remind you of waking up from a really amazing dream which you’ll feel you have to share with someone.

Even though it’s only a little more than fifty lines long, this poem takes you to exotic and intriguing places. Think of it as a short, strange movie that jumps between several settings to pull you along and keep you engaged. I can assure you that this poem will take you on a wild ride.

The poem describes Xanadu, the palace of Kubla Khan, a Mongol emperor and the grandson of Genghis Khan. The speaker starts by describing the setting of the Emperor’s palace, which he calls a “pleasure dome.” He describes the fertile land that surrounds the palace and the nearby area that is covered in streams, sweet-smelling trees, and beautiful forests.

The speaker then gets excited about the river again and tells us about the canyon through which it flows. He describes how the river leaps and smashes through the canyon, first exploding up into a noisy fountain and then finally sinking down and flowing through those underground caves into the ocean far away.

The speaker then goes on to describe Kubla Khan himself, who is listening to this noisy river and thinking about war. All of a sudden, the speaker moves away from this landscape and tells us about another vision he had, where he saw a woman playing an instrument and singing. The memory of her song fills him with longing, and he imagines himself singing his own song, using it to create a vision of Xanadu.

Here’s the poem for you. I hope you will enjoy it. 

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.

10 thoughts

  1. What can I say? I am a fan of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I even began learning his Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by memory but never did finish learning it all.

    Visiting from the A to Z Blog Challenge.

    Patricia @ EverythingMustChange

  2. Xanadu is a wonderful poem. Thanks for sharing. When I was stuck with X I did think of writing about this poem 😀 Luckily I found a place that I wanted to write about that begins with X. You have a lovely blog.

    1. Thank you so much, Kalpana. I was indeed stuck with the letter X. Will be interesting to read your post. Onto your blog now… as I got loads of pending posts to cover today and tomorrow 🙂

  3. Esha this poem is so sublime and rich in poetic descriptions of a faraway land, you do feel the pull of it! I have not read this earlier and your initial brief helped me understand the poem better. Now I know whom to turn to for poetry appreciation lessons!
    @KalaRavi16 from

    1. Thanks so much, Kala. I took the liberty to add those little notes because many people tell me they find poetry too abstract and cannot really fathom what the poet is trying to say…Anytime for a session of poetry, dear! Always up for it 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Vishal! The poem is very representative of Coleridge’s style of suspense and is very rich in imagery. I always feel it evokes a kind of magic in the reader’s mind…thought you’d like it when I was typing the poem 🙂

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