Kubla Khan

Original Text: 
S. T. Coleridge, Christabel, 2nd edn. (London: William Bulmer, 1816). D-10 8859 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
2A stately pleasure-dome decree:
3Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
4Through caverns measureless to man
5      Down to a sunless sea.
6So twice five miles of fertile ground
7With walls and towers were girdled round:
8And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
9Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
10And here were forests ancient as the hills,
11Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
12But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
13Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
14A savage place! as holy and enchanted
15As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
16By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
17And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
18As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
19A mighty fountain momently was forced:
20Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
21Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
22Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
23And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
24It flung up momently the sacred river.
25Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
26Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
27Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
28And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
29And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
30Ancestral voices prophesying war!
31      The shadow of the dome of pleasure
32      Floated midway on the waves;
33      Where was heard the mingled measure
34      From the fountain and the caves.
35It was a miracle of rare device,
36A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
37      A damsel with a dulcimer
38      In a vision once I saw:
39      It was an Abyssinian maid,
40      And on her dulcimer she played,
41      Singing of Mount Abora.
42      Could I revive within me
43      Her symphony and song,
44      To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
45      That with music loud and long,
46      I would build that dome in air,
47      That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
48      And all who heard should see them there,
49      And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
50      His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
51      Weave a circle round him thrice,
52      And close your eyes with holy dread,
53      For he on honey-dew hath fed,
54      And drunk the milk of Paradise.


1] First published in 1816 with Christabel and "The Pains of Sleep" with the sub-heading: "Or, a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment." "Kubla Khan" was written probably in 1798, though Coleridge's own note says it was 1797. But controversy surrounds the date, the question as to whether the poem should be considered a complete whole or a fragment, its meaning, and the veracity of Coleridge's recollections. He states in his preface to the poem: "The following fragment is here published at the request of a poet of great and deserved celebrity [Lord Byron], and, as far as the Author's own opinions are concerned, rather as a psychological curiosity, than on the grounds 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 consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne 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':
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 awakening 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." "A person on business from Porlock" interrupted him and he was never able to recapture more than "some eight or ten scattered lines and images." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Kathleen Coburn; R. S. Woof
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.446.