Kubla Khan

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

2 min read by Dmitri. Published in Essays, Stories.

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:

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

❦❧ An excerpt from Coleridge’s 1798 poem.

A fragment of a fragment; above is an excerpt from Coleridge’s unfinished poem, inspired by an opium-induced dream and interrupted by a person from Porlock.

The poem is covered in mystery; neither its meaning, circumstances of writing or publication have a definite answer. Even the date of completion ranges from 1797 to 1799. The author would not publish it until 1816 when by request from Lord Byron, it finally went into print.

As conjectured by historians, Coleridge dreamed up over three hundred lines worth of verses. Alas, the dreaded Porlock person has interrupted S. T. in the process; once the poet finally got back to it, the memory of the dream faded. Consequently, he never seemed to have taken to it with as much interest as the rest of the world has, years later.

Along with other great works of art, Kubla Khan has many interpretations, some of which theorize the poem as a metaphor for imagination with its vices and virtues. I took it literally, letting its powerful language lead me into a concoction of memories and imagination about living in a lush tropical kingdom.

The photographs I chose for illustration were captured around Northern Thailand in its enigmatic deep greens with a decade-old Japanese slide film.