One night in October, 1797, the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge awoke from an opium-influenced dream. Before he nodded off, he’d been reading a description of Shangdu–aka Xanadu–a city built by Mongol Emporer Kubla Khan as the his summer residence. Coleridge’s dream was so vivid that he immediately set quill to parchment to transform his inspiration into a poem.
Entitled, “Kubla Khan,” it’s only 54 lines long. Dense, but delightful, it is deservedly famous. Read it here.
The first five lines are among the most well-known in English-language poetry:
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.
From there, he describes the landscape and its wonders, including a chasm, a fountain, and the river–“five miles meandering with a mazy motion”–that flows to the sea. The imagery is fantastic, the language sensational, and the impression otherwordly, yet lucid.