Kubla Khan
Analysis / Interpretation
by JM Schroeder



or  A VISION IN A DREAM  S. T. Coleridge




by Juergen Matthias Schroeder

KUBLA KHAN - music on cd - overview: streaming audio (QUICKTIME)



KUBLA KHAN - original poem by Coleridge ORIGINAL 


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree Where Alph...


music on cd  Kubla Khan - a vision in music on cd - overview: streaming audio (QUICKTIME)







a multi-media



other pages
on Romantic




This website is centred around my symphony "Kubla Khan",
which is based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's
famous "Vision In A Dream".

Apart from my music, there is a variety of material made both
for study and simply for the love of Romantic Poetry.

In my MULTI-MEDIA VOYAGE, graphic illustrations and music
line the sections of the text, and commentary on my music helps
to understand my quest for poetic synaesthesy.


Trying to grasp COLERIDGE’s imagery I have found MARCO POLO’s impressions of Kubla’s China particularly helpful and inspiring.

I hope my site will appeal to lovers of esoteric literature and music, students & teachers of English, music and arts. Teachers may use my material as a basis for interdisciplinary project work.

Juergen Matthias Schroeder



through lexemes and sounds



along the lines of the
original poem


facts and tales



S.T. Coleridge



















Marco Polo
At Kubla's




Kublai Khan (1215-1294) was "the fifth of the Mongol great khans and the founder of the Yüan Dynasty in China (1279-1368). He is best known in the West as the Cublai Kaan of Marco Polo... Kublai founded what was intended to be his brother's new capital but became in effect his own summer residence, the town of Kaiping. It later was named Shang-tu or 'Upper Capital' and was immortalised as the Xanadu of Coleridge's poem."
* 1 *


COLERIDGE himself indicates that he was inspired by travel literature (s.b.). In 'Purchas His Pilgrimage' (1613) SAMUEL PURCHAS reports: "In Xamdu did Cublai Can build a stately Palace, encompassing sixteene miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant springs, delightfull Streams, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure..." * 2 *


KERMODE also refers to J.L. LOWES who "demonstrated that other borrowings from Purchas are important, particularly from the account of Alvadine, the Old Man of the Mountain, who employed his earthly paradise or garden of delights to train the assassins whom he sent against his enemies."
* 3 *

BEER finds substantial parallels in J. RIDLEY'S Tales of the Genii in which the Merchant Abudah "was shown a vision of a dome, made entirely of precious stones and metals, which seemed to cover a whole plain and reach to the clouds, and who voyaged along a meandering river by woods of spices." BEER gives further examples taken from the Merchant's adventures, in which he perceives "huge fragments ..., a dismal chasm ... [and] warlike music" and comes to the conclusion "that the corresponding elements in Coleridge's poem are rooted deeply in recollected reading of Eastern romance." * 4 *


The subtitle of the poem is Or, a Vision in a dream. A Fragment. To the first publication of the poem, COLERIDGE adds the following explanatory note (excerpts): "... In consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been prescribed, from the effects of which he [COLERIDGE] 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.'"


According to his own account, COLERIDGE had the feeling that during his sleep "he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines..." and that "all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the corresponding expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and instantly wrote down the lines... At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business" * 5 * , which interrupted his recollection of ideas. In a note added to a manuscript copy COLERIDGE himself added that the vision was "brought on by two grains of Opium..." * 6 *


With regard to the Alph theme, Greek mythology may have inspired him: in one mythical account, Alpheus, the god who gave his name to the river, fell in love with a nymph by the name of Arethusa who fled from him; he pursued her and, after she has turned into a spring, "for love of her Alpheus mingled his waters with her." * 7 * In a different account, the earth opens up to prevent the latter, and the goddess Artemis guides her away "through underground channels..." * 8 *














TALES - MARCO POLO at KUBLA’S Court (1290)


Under KUBLA KHAN’s reign the Mongol Empire reached its greatest extent. KUBLA KHAN (1215 - 1294) was much interested in European Culture and invited MARCO POLO (1254-1324), the famous merchant and explorer, and other learned men to become his advisors.


Through MARCO POLO'S reports, KUBLA and his "legendary" summer residence Shang-Tu (the town of Kaiping), the "Upper Capital" became known in European literature.


COLERIDGE (1772-1850), who was a great reader of Oriental stories and travel reports, reportedly came across a collection of early travel accounts by SAMUEL PURCHAS ("Purchas His Pilgrimage") and immortalised Shang-Tu ("Xanadu") and his founder, in this famous poem: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan ...."


With PURCHAS being the main source of COLERIDGE’s inspirations, there does not seem to be a direct connection between COLERIDGE’s fragments and MARCO POLO’s accounts. This is all the more plausible since printed editions including the Italian version “Il millione” as well as its French (1865) and English (1903) editions did not appear before the second half of the 19th century. (They were based on a manuscript written down in French during MARCO POLO’s imprisonment.)


Yet I have found it most helpful and inspiring to study MARCO POLO’s “From Venice To China”, which, with its most illustrative - and also fanciful - imagery, provides an excellent background to the study and comprehension of the images used by COLERIDGE.


In MARCO POLO’s reports we come across descriptions of the palaces of Shang-tu (Kaiping), Cambalu (Peking), and of a pleasance seat in a grove (cf. “cedarn cover”). We are led into parks (cf “gardens bright”) and man-made caverns. MARCO POLO refers to mystic places and occurrences as such (cf. "deep romantic chasm", "demon lover", "ancestral voices") as well as to those responsible “by trade” for their explanation proper, the “Baksi”, the astrologers, whose magic, prophecies (cf. “prophecying war”) knowledge of, and contact with, the supernatural formed an essential and functional part of courtly life.


Through the effect of opium COLERIDGE's imagination went even farther beyond MARCO POLO’s version of what may have been historical truth...

An event like the eruption of the fountain is not mentioned in MARCO POLO’s book. Neither is it to be found in PURCHAS (s.a.). A likely source of the images used at that point could be eye-witness accounts of a volcanic eruption, which COLERIDGE may have read about in another report.


Another fascinating set of imagery which cannot be explained against the background of the above-mentioned travel reports is contained in the last section of the poem, a vision “expressis verbis” whose visual and acoustic impressions arouse the poet’s imaginary powers and enable him to form a paradise of his own.












* 1 * COLLIER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA, p. 190 back

* 2 * quoted after KERMODE et al., VOL. II, p. 255. back

* 3 * KERMODE et al., VOL. II, p. 255. back

* 4 * BEER, p. vi back

* 5 * quoted after BEER, p. 163 back

* 6 * quoted after BEER, p. 164 back

* 7 * GRIMAL, p. 36 back

* 8 * GRIMAL, p. 285 back












Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in 1772 as one of a clergyman’s 14 children. He lost his father at the age of 9. He attended Christ’s School in London and Jesus College at Cambridge. Coleridge was an eager reader of oriental travel literature. A failed cavalry career career left him without money; so, when turning to writing, he fitted all too well the picture of the penniless poet. He was a friend of Southey’s (Poet Laureate) and it was with him that he shared radical social ideas about a concept they called "Pantisocracy". In 1795 his friendship with Wordsworth began, and their ideas melted, in 1798 , in their Lyrical Ballads, the "Manifesto" of English Romanticism, to which Coleridge contributed the famous ballad "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner". In 1799, he studied language and philosophy in Germany. After his marriage in 1802, he was seized by psycho-somatic troubles and became addicted to the pain-killer opium. Another major setback was his separation from his wife. In spite of all these hardships he finished his famous critical work "Biographia Literaria" in 1817 and became even quite successful as a lecturer and editor. Coleridge died in 1834.

[MY] endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural or at least romantic ; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspense of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. BIOGRAPHIA LITERARIA











ABRAMS, M.H., A Glossary of Literary Terms, Holt et al, 3rd ed.,1971

BEER, J. (ed.), Coleridge Poems, rev. 1974, Dent & Sons 1975

BLAMIRES, H., A Short History of English Literature, Methuen 1974

COLLIER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA, Crowell-Collier Educational Corp., 1970

COLLINS (ed.), The Holy Bible (St. James Version), Collins 1958

FURST, L., European Romanticism, Methuen 1980

GRIMAL, The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology, 1991

KERMODE, F. etc., Oxford Anthology of English Literature, 4th ed., OUP, 1980

MORNER, K., RAUSCH, R., NTC's Dictionary of Literary Terms, 2nd ed., 1992

TAYLOR, E., The AB Guide to Music Theory, Vol I/II, Royal School of Music, 1989


A modern encounter through music, Chapter 5.5, A Vision of Paradise,
Duelmen 1996 / 2001










> SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE * texts, chronology, glossary Un. of Virginia
> S. T. COLERIDGE * Marjorie Tiefert's SUPPLEMENT to STC archive > poems > Kubla Khan
> ROMANTIC LINKS... * pages and texts, M. Gamer, Un. of Pennsylvania
> ROMANTICISM * URL list, Laura Mandell, Miami University
> THE ROMANTICS PAGE Gary Harrison, University of New Mexico
> ROMANTIC POETRY & PROSE: * bibliography Nicholas Halmi, Stanford, Washington
> ROMANTICISM ON THE NET * Online journal
> WILLIAMBLAKE.COM * cybersongs of innocence, Matthew Gilbert

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Juergen Matthias Schroeder  (c) 7 JAN 2002 


1 NOV 2009