Kubla Khan

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Original Language English

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.

-- from The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics), by Samuel Taylor Coleridge / Edited by William Keach

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

It's Halloween today. As a child, next to Christmas, Halloween was always my favorite holiday. I loved the masks and costumes, toying with my identity, hiding behind what is seen. I loved the time of year, the chill breeze and thick sweaters, bare branches with a few bright leaves, the blue daylight illuminating it all. And, I have to admit, I loved the giddy, creeping sense of death... and the implied question of what lay beyond. Spirits, magic, monsters, and nighttime, they evoked in me a childish delight in the sense that there was something more to the world, something hidden, secret, another reality in the shadows. I felt the holiday tugging at me, my goosebumps an invitation into the unknown...

Happy Halloween!


This poem is the classic, the best known of all Coleridge's poems -- Kubla Khan. I hope it is obvious that you should read this poem aloud and really feel how its rhyme begins to play in the mind.

I chose it for today because, along with its imagery of an exotic, strange paradise, I've always found it just a bit haunting, even eerie. It's not only that we've encountered a new land, it's as if we've stepped into a new dimension, a land of Faerie and dream. The normal rules don't apply. Even the familiar can't be entirely trusted. But that little bit of uncertainty, mixed with wonder, serves to bring our attention fully into the present moment. Every detail, every little encounter is enriched as a result. Remembering this, we can discover Xanadu down any street on any day...

Recommended Books: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Major Works Samuel Taylor Coleridge The Annotated Ancient Mariner Coleridge's Writings: On the Sublime
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Kubla Khan