"Kubla Khan: A Vision"
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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London : John Murray, 1816"Kubla Khan" was first published in 1816, in a volume containing three poems by Coleridge: this one, "Cristabel" and "The Pains of Sleep." We are reproducing the text of that first printing, which Coleridge did not alter much afterwards. Coleridge's claim that the poem was originally written 1798 seems entirely plausible, but is impossible to prove. We do know that the "poet of great and deserved celebrity" mentioned in Coleridge's prefatory note was Byron, who heard Coleridge recite the poem in 1815 or 1816, urged him to publish it, and probably helped him get the volume of poems published with the prestigious London publisher John Murray, who was Byron's publisher as well. Our page images are from the Google Books version of the first edition.

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Original spelling and capitalization is retained, though the long s has been silently modernized and ligatured forms are not encoded.

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Citation

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "Kubla Khan: A Vision". Cristabel, Kubla Khan: A Vision, The Pains of Sleep, John Murray, 1816 , 51-58 . Literature in Context: An Open Anthology. http://anthology.lib.virginia.edu/work/Coleridge/coleridge-kubla. Accessed: 2024-04-18T01:22:10.106Z

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Kubla Khan:
OR
A VISION IN A DREAM
OF THE
FRAGMENT OF KUBLA KHAN

The following fragment is here published at the request of a poet of great and deserved celebrity, and, as far as the Author's own opinions are concerned, rather as a psychological curiosity, than on the ground of any supposed poetic merits.

In the summer of the year 1797, the Author, then in ill health, had retired to a lonely farm-house between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire. In 52 consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyneanodyneanodyneThe "anodyne" was almost certainly laudanum, which combined powdered opium and alchohol. Laudanum was widely prescribed in this period for a variety of illnesses; Coleridge became addicted to the drug. had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his chair at the moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of the same substance, in "Purchas's Pilgrimage:"PurchasPurchasPurchas His Pilgrimage, a compilation of travel narratives assembled by Samuel Purchas and published in 1626. "Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall." The Author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awaking he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this 53 moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter:

Then all the charm Is broken—all that phantom-world so fair Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread, And each mis-shape the other. Stay awhile, Poor youth! who scarcely dar'st lift up thine eyes— The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon The visions will return! And lo, he stays, And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms Come trembling back, unite, and now once more The pool becomes a mirror.

Yet from the still surviving recollections in his 54 mind, the Author has frequently purposed to finish for himself what had been originally, as it were, given to him. Σαμερον αδιον ασω: but the to-morrow is yet to come.

As a contrast to this vision, I have annexed a fragment of a very different character, describing with equal fidelity the dream of pain and disease.

55 KUBLA KHAN. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran 5Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. So twice five miles of fertile ground With walls and towers were girdled round: 56 And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; 10 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 15As 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: 20Amid 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. 57 25Five 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 30Ancestral 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. 35It 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, 40And on her dulcimer she played, 58 Singing of Mount Abora. Could I revive within me Her symphony and song, To such a deep delight 'twould win me, 45That 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! 50 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.

Footnotes