Monday, April 28

Posted by Laurel Garver on Monday, April 28, 2014 8 comments
Kubla Khan
Or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Photo credit: alanmort from

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.

Source: English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967. 430-31.

I felt I had to throw in one of the Romantics, because they've come to define how so many conceive of poetry: strictly metered and rhymed and full of anachronistic vocabulary like damsel and thrice.

What I love about Kubla Khan is its song-like flow and dreamy quality. Coleridge himself admits this is a versification of "a vision in a dream." Now whether that dream took place during REM sleep or one of his opium benders isn't entirely clear. But clearly it does show that poetry doesn't have to be all about feelings or landscapes here and now. There's a rich tradition of exploring the mythic and fantastical in verse.

Have you ever written something inspired by a dream? If you were to write a poem about a mythical or fantasy world, which one would you choose? 


  1. I'd probably choose some form of mythology, Greek or Norse or such. I think a cornucopia of ideas there. This one was very beautiful, btw.

    Sheri at Writer's Alley

    Home of Rebel Writer CREED 2014
    Mighty Minion Bureau Team #atozchallenge

    1. There certainly are a cornucopia of ideas! When you're in the mood for formal poetry, Coleridge is a good go-to, as is Byron.

  2. Ooooo, it's been ages since I read that poem! And yes, I've written stories inspired by dreams.

    1. High school English literature, right? :-)

      Dreams can provide such interesting story prompts, because our usual filters are off when we sleep.

  3. Such interesting imagery in that poem. I do have story ideas inspired by dreams. They tend to run a little on the strange side. :)

    1. We each often have symbol systems that appear in our dreams. For some, for example, dogs are dangerous, for others they symbolize friendliness, loyalty and comfort. Those symbol systems can be useful for creating poems too. Annie Dillard, for example, uses dogs a lot in her poetry, always in the latter way I mentioned.

  4. I have always wanted to keep a prayer journal...but it never really panned out.

    1. Better to sporadically write entries than never, I think. Thanks for coming by!