The Miracle of Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan'

It’s part of the legend of the composition of the poem ‘Kubla Khan’ that it arose out of drug-induced reverie. Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge says as much in his foreword to the poem: ‘if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things… without any sensation or consciousness of effort’. And the fact that many poems arise out of potent images must certainly be true, whether drug-induced or not. What happens between the arising of an image, however strong, and the final result, is however, a matter of careful and conscious craftsmanship.

The first stanza introduces us to an image which has a mystery at its heart:

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.