Thursday, March 08, 2007

Kubla Khan

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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 blossom'd many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But O, 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 reach'd 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 play'd,
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.

* * *

I've got a paper due soon in Poetics class, a poem analysis of one of the poems we were assigned in class. I was thinking I could do this poem. The trouble is, I don't know what to say about it. Of course, everyone knows that it was composed on an opium trip. That doesn't seem to me to be the point, though. I don't know what it is I like so much about it -- maybe the imagery, maybe the meter, and maybe it's just the all-pervasive sense of mystery. We finish the poem still unsure what it's about -- and yet, the way Coleridge has led me to wonder and speculate what it is about leaves me with prickles when I put the poem down. I want to know how he gives me that feeling, and I guess that's why I want to write about this poem.

I hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew.

1 comment:

Santiago said...


the sublime, the mystery, look at it dumbly. it is negative theology.

also: watch X-Men 3, the final battle scene is an homage to this poem. I swear! High Romanticism. Watch it and we'll talk.